Pioneering Women in Poker: Phyllis Caro, Part 1 by Patricia Chavira

phyllis-caro-photo

In the poker world, the name Caro represents integrity in poker. But before Phyllis Caro became the well-respected casino executive she is known as today, she worked her way up the ranks starting as a dealer.

She played 7-card stud in the 70’s at Caesars Palace. At the time, poker was a small community where everyone knew each other. She was going back and forth between Las Vegas and New York, where she is originally from.

While she was in Vegas in 1979, she had a neighbor who was a box man at the El Cortez, which just opened a poker room in Downtown Las Vegas. She was asked to shill for a few days, and so began Phyllis’ first foray into the poker business.

The next day the room had four tables, and they still needed help, so she sat in the box. The room was very successful from the beginning. Over the years, she dealt at the Las Vegas Club, Aladdin and Golden Nugget.

She was dealing at the Golden Nugget in 1982 when Bill Boyd replaced Pineapple with a new game called Nugget Hold’em. This game would become Omaha, which Robert Turner brought to Boyd.

Not only was Phyllis there at the start of Omaha, she would also meet someone at the Golden Nugget who would take her life in a new direction. That person was Mike Caro.

They married in 1983, and Phyllis quit dealing and helped Mike write books. During that time, Mike was invited to a seminar in Redding, California, where George Hardie was also in attendance.

He told them he was going to open the biggest poker room in California and asked Mike to be involved. Hardie wanted to run a clean, honest poker room, and the Caros were the perfect people to help him.

Before the Bicycle Club opened, Phyllis helped interview and audition dealers and set up the casino staffing. She was offered any job she wanted. She became dealer coordinator.

Hardie had a new vision for California gaming, and it was different from the rampant cheating that defined Gardena at the time. It was so bad, Mike said, “I didn’t know poker was a team sport.” They had their work cut out for them.

In Part 2, read about how Phyllis helped shape the future of poker in California.

Patricia Chavira is a freelance writer specializing in poker. She writes the “Poker Scene” column for Gaming Today. Follow her on Twitter @pinkchippoker.

Modern Poker Pioneers: Steve Wynn and Bobby Baldwin

Bobby Baldwin WSOP 

Steve Wynn and Bobby Baldwin deserve credit for the poker explosion in Las Vegas. Bobby Baldwin, under Steve Wynn, opened three rooms as President of the Mirage and controlled a third of the poker revenue in Nevada. Baldwin is one of those rare breed of people in the gambling world who has achieved great success both as a legendary poker player and as a successful casino executive.

Poker Hall of Famer Baldwin won the World Series of Poker Main Event in 1978 at the age of 28 becoming the youngest winner in its history at the time. The record was broken in 1980 when Stu Ungar became the Main Event champion. Joe Cada currently holds the record for youngest WSOP Main Event winner ever when he won the event in 2009 at the age of 21. Baldwin went on to win 4 WSOP gold bracelets all between 1977-1979, an impressive record for any poker player.

In the 80s Baldwin transitioned to the casino business when he became a consultant for the Golden Nugget and was named its president in 1984. In 1987 he was selected to head the Mirage, which opened on November 22, 1989 on the site of the former Castaways, which was owned by Howard Hughes. All the way back in 1980, Steve Wynn envisioned building the first major resort in Las Vegas in 25 years at a time when tourism in Las Vegas was in decline.

He used the working nameGolden Nugget on the Strip” for this project. This ultimately became the Mirage, which was the most expensive hotel-casino at the time and set the stage for the implosion of the old casinos and the rise of the mega-resorts that dot the Las Vegas Strip today. Baldwin would help lead this march into the modern gaming era. In 2000, he was named Chief Financial Officer of Mirage Resorts under Steve Wynn and upon the merger of Mirage Resort and MGM Grand, Baldwin became CEO of the Mirage Resorts subsidiary of MGM Mirage.

A major part of this dream team on the poker side was Doug Dalton. Dalton got his start in poker operations in 1978 helping his friend Chip Reese run the poker room at the Dunes. Dalton was hired by Baldwin to work in the Golden Nugget Poker Room, where he worked until 1988. He was poker manager of the Mirage in its golden years from 1994-1998 until he became the Director of Poker Operations at the Bellagio until 2012.

When Steve Wynn opened the billion-dollar Bellagio in 1998 on the site of the legendary Dunes casino, it ushered in a new standard of luxury in Las Vegas. A poker room had to be built that would match Wynn’s high standards. Separated from the main floor by two glass doors, Bobby’s Room offers privacy for its high-stakes players, but always has one glass door open as Nevada law prohibits private games in casinos.

Dalton tells the story of how they originally were going to call Bobby’s Room Chip’s Room, but Reese personally nixed that idea by saying people would rather play with Bobby than him. It was decided to make the game in Bobby’s Room a $20,000 buy-in, and the idea really took off. Crowds would gather to catch a glimpse of their favorite poker stars playing in the “Big Game” and get their pictures taken with the legend of poker. Pots in this game have reportedly exceeded $1 million. Bobby’s Room added glamour to poker that it had never seen before.

Dalton says they decided to open the room the same day Steve Wynn was opening his new Wynn resort. He got a call from a Wynn executive who told him, “Doug, some day you will be retired on a beach somewhere and regret this day.”

With Wynn as the visionary, Baldwin was a poker icon who had the power to make sure poker stayed front and center in Las Vegas. These modern poker pioneers helped set the stage for the poker boom that was about to come. Poker was poised to become a global phenomenon in the new millennium, and the rest is history.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and casino/billiard marketing expert. Robert is most well-known for creating the game of Omaha poker and introducing it to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. He created Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995. He also helped create Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002.

He has spent over 30 years in casino marketing and player development. He has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM. He is currently working as a casino consultant.

Robert can be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting, marketing and coaching. Find Robert on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner.

The First Poker Boom

Stardust

I was discussing music with my wife while we were listening to satellite radio in the car. Some stations were listed by decades. I knew just about every song from the 1960s and 1970s, and I had in fact seen many groups in concert from that era, but I knew nothing of the 1980s, the decade my wife grew up in.

Then the thought struck me that I knew nothing about the 80s because I had gambled away a whole decade. I spent so much time playing poker tournaments and live poker that nothing crossed my mind but poker. I traveled all over the world playing cards seven days a week without stopping to smell the roses.

In that decade, I probably won hundreds of tournament. At the time, it would not be unusual to play in Las Vegas in a poker room with 4-8 tables. The Stardust and Golden Nugget, which were the two biggest rooms in Las Vegas and the world at the time, featured only 15-20 tables.

I felt there was nothing more for me to accomplish, so I decided to retire at 32. I was living in Alabama at the time. I had bought a 2,500 square- foot home with five bedrooms and a huge pool. My mortgage payment was $99.00 a month. It was a great life I had built all from poker.

Then everything changed. California legalized Texas Hold’em around 1986. I was in Alabama thinking of all that gold, and I left for California to seek my second fortune. I was not wrong; poker became huge in Los Angeles and all of California.

In the 80s poker really exploded. George Hardie had a dream to build the largest poker room in the world when he opened the Bicycle Club in Bell Gardens, California, on November 30, 1984. The Commerce Casino opened the year before. These were super poker rooms and brought in new demographics to poker. Hold’em appealed more to the mainstream than lowball. These rooms were no longer considered second class but rather showplaces with the focus on poker for the first time in gaming history.

I was offered a job as a poker manager, then general manager at the Horseshoe in Gardena, California. At the time, everyone was spreading limit poker. Poker players were coming over from Las Vegas and the rest of the world to play poker in California. These players were used to playing PLO and Seven Stud Hi/Lo, so I introduced these games into the game mix in California.

The owners offered me ten percent of the casino to spread the new games as it was all new to them, and they had no business to speak of. I soon found myself in charge of a California casino. I developed twenty poker games in 90 days. It was a dream job.

Las Vegas was now trying to catch up to California. Eric Drache, Poker Hall of Famer, said Steve Wynn was interested in purchasing the Commerce Casino, but laws in California prohibited Las Vegas’ licensees from owning casinos in California.

Steve Wynn set a new standard when he built the Mirage in Las Vegas at a cost of $630 million, which was the most expensive hotel-casino in history at the time. When the Mirage opened in November 22, 1989, it featured the best poker room in Las Vegas with 31 tables. In 1990 Donald Trump opened the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, which would feature the east coast’s largest poker room. Foxwoods opened their casino and featured poker a few years later.

All of these great rooms laid the groundwork for the next poker boom that would take place from 2000 to 2010. I was at the right place at the right time to be a part of both history-making decades. With that much poker being showcased coast to coast, you can see how a person could get totally consumed by it.

I worked so hard for so many years that I lost contact with the outside world. The 1980s were a total blur. If something wasn’t poker or casino-related, it wasn’t on my radar. My friend Eric Drache said he lost the 70s when he moved from New Jersey to Las Vegas, so I’m not alone in this.

I became so consumed by work and gambling that it was like I lived in two worlds—one world with family and friends and regular life and then there was this other world that consisted of non-stop grinding.

Was my poker success worth it? Looking back on the amount of work and poker playing that I did, I would say no. I would not recommend that to anyone. But as Eric Drache said, “What else could we have done?”

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and billiards/casino marketing expert. Robert is most well-known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. He created Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995 and Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002.

He has over 30 years’ experience in casino marketing and player development. Find Robert on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner. He can be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting and teaching.

The Best Poker Player I Ever Met

Charlie Esslinger, left, with Jeanette Suttle and long-time  Las Vegas pro Harry Suttle

Charlie Esslinger, left, with Jeanette Suttle and long-time Las Vegas pro Harry Suttle

My father would always stop at a bait shop and small grocery store in Farley, Alabama, before we went fishing. One day he introduced me to a man he said was a professional gambler whose family owned the bait shop.

My dad told me never to play poker with that man. I was seven years old, and I never forgot his words.

Years later when I was the manager of a high-end men’s store, the owner said, “Robert, I want you to meet Mr. Esslinger. He wants us to order some suits and special white-on-white shirts.”

The man was the professional gambler my dad had introduced me to when I was seven. Charlie Esslinger ordered a dozen shirts and four suits by Hickey Freeman made of Italian wool and silk.

He looked more like a banker than a gambler.

About two months went by after he picked up his suits. He came back into the store and ordered the same items. I said, “Charlie, this is the same order as last time.” He said, “Yes. I left those suits in Las Vegas. I didn’t feel like packing.”

When I started hosting my own poker game, I asked Charlie to play. He said he lived in the same apartment complex, and he may stop over.

Thus began a long relationship with the man my dad said never play poker with.

Charlie would play every day. I was mesmerized by him; he never lost, not one time in the fifteen years I knew him. It got to a point where everyone thought he must be cheating, but I knew it was something else. Could he be the best limit poker player alive?

One night Charlie invited me over for a little party he was having at his place. Inside Charlie had about six girls dancing all over the apartment. During the festivities, Charlie dropped his wallet on the floor.

I told Charlie I kicked his wallet under the couch. He said, “Robert the girls will get it all anyways.” He was quite the philosopher.

Charlie then took me aside and said, “Robert you have to change the hustler crowd you’re hanging around with.”

Charlie continued, “Everyone likes you, and you have a gift for cards, but the guys you hang out with will get you in a lot of trouble.” I took his advice, and it changed my life.

Not long afterwards, the players all refused to play in my home game. I asked them why. They said unless I barred Charlie, they would never play at my place again.

I had to call Charlie and tell the one person who I considered my mentor and friend that he was barred from my game for no other reason than he was too good.

A few years later I was hosting a bigger game, and the players agreed to invite Charlie back. That lasted 30 days. They selected a spokesperson to tell me that they would never play with me if I didn’t bar Charlie. The live producer in the game said, “Charlie is my friend, but I can’t beat him at poker.”

Again I had to bar him for winning.

How does a man go twenty five years and never lose a day in his life until he decided to throw a party at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas? Charlie found a way, and he did it every year.

He would play his cards face up just to give back some of the money he beat the players out of every day. If he caught a pair, he would cap every bet, and then laugh if he drew out. He would lose around $10,000 just for fun.

During these times, he would get drunk and give the cocktail waitresses hundred dollar tips until finally Bill Boyd would have security take him to his room. The next day I would see him with a hangover in the poker room back to grinding away.

They had to change some poker rules just for Charlie. He would sit at the poker table listening to music on a transistor radio, and the players would complain. The Golden Nugget had to ban music at the table. The next day Charlie would read several newspapers, and the players complained again, so they instituted a no-reading rule at the poker table.

Charlie would sit there and not play a hand for hours, and then he would be in a massive pot. The board would read QQ772, and Charlie would show Q7. I tried for years to figure out how he did it. To this day, it is still a mystery.

In Part 2, I have more tales to tell about my mentor Charlie Esslinger.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and billiards/casino marketing expert. Robert is most well known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. He created Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995 and Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002.

He has over 30 years experience in casino marketing and player development. Find Robert on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner. He can also be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting and teaching.

A Buyer’s Market: The New Poker Rewards Programs

Poker Promotions

I remember something Bill Boyd, a Poker Hall of Fame member and the legendary poker room manager at the Golden Nugget, told me when I worked as a host for him around 1978. I asked Bill for a comp for two very loyal customers who wanted to have dinner in the restaurant.

Bill said to me it’s better to comp after they eat and do it as a surprise. He said if you comp players up front, they will eat you out of house and home.  Bill would walk into the restaurant and pick the check up after they finished eating. He saved the Golden Nugget a fortune.

It is a lesson I have never forgotten.

I have been on both sides of giving and receiving comps. Most of my meals over the past 25 years have been comped, but I have also used them to great advantage when I have hosted games, so I understand there must be a balance between cost controls for casinos and their value as a marketing tool to retain players.

Comps in Las Vegas always had limits to manage the cost. I remember in the old days the Stardust only had a free buffet, but regardless of the form they take, food comps have been the main marketing hook for casinos for sixty years, especially in California.

The cost of free food for top-section poker players has cost the top card rooms in Los Angeles millions of dollars a year. It was not uncommon for players to order up to $50 at a time and eat a few bites only to discard the food and order again an hour later.

I remember the Bicycle Casino would offer free food to Omaha players in smaller limits during certain lunch hours to get the games started. I would sometimes see 9 steaks and just as many shrimp cocktails and desserts ordered at once.

This kind of abuse reached a tipping point where it just was not cost effective to continue this traditional practice. Starting in March, card rooms in Southern California instituted a new policy.

From now on players will earn a certain amount of money per hour based upon their play. Reward cards and tracking systems are becoming the norm, and they are just as valuable to the players as they are to the casinos.

Both recreational players and pros alike need to understand the system and maximize the value they can derive from it. If you want to survive as a professional player, understanding the reward system is vital for you to be a winner.

Whether the rewards are in the form of freeroll tournaments or other special promotions, such as discounted hotel rates, not taking advantage of them is like throwing money away. Utilizing the money returned as perks can be the difference between being a winning or losing player in poker.

Some casinos do an outstanding job with player rewards such as Hollywood Park Casino. Hollywood Park Casino pays up to $6 an hour in some games, and players can use their points for cash and free massages if they wish.

In some card rooms, players get increased points for certain slow periods and certain days. However, nothing beats cash back or rakeback for players trying to earn.

Because the rake makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the game to be profitable for the players, it is imperative that players research the best rakeback deals. The hourly rakeback added to a player’s reward card can be applied to a player’s bankroll and help offset the heavy cost of the rake on a player’s earnings.

Even as we see read about a number of poker rooms closing, we also have many poker room expansions, such as The Gardens building a mega casino in Hawaiian Gardens, California.

In Bell Gardens The Bicycle Casino is adding a brand-new Hotel Casino, and the most ambitious project of all is Hollywood Park Casino’s new billion-dollar entertainment complex and state-of-the-art poker room.

The power is in the players’ hands now as casino marketing departments scramble for players. The rewards will get even better, so learn to use them to your advantage and remember it’s all about the ability to earn.

In my next article, I will cover specific rewards programs and promotions in poker rooms from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and billiards/casino marketing expert. Robert is most well known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. He created Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995 and Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002.

He has over 30 years experience in casino marketing and player development. Find Robert on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner. He can also be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting and teaching.