Pioneering Women in Poker: Phyllis Caro, Part 2

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Last week I wrote about how Phyllis Caro got her start in poker and how she ended up working with her husband at the time, Mike Caro, and founder of the Bicycle Club, George Hardie, to clean up poker in California.

People like myself who have been playing poker since the boom times have no idea how bad it was, especially for the dealers. As a dealer herself at one time, Phyllis can tell you some horror stories, but as she says, it was an accepted part of poker.

Players acted out and blamed the dealers for everything. She says players were not only verbally abusive towards dealers, but physically as well.  My husband Robert Turner described a horrific incident where a player actually got out a lighter and tried to burn a dealer.

It did not happen overnight, but Phyllis was instrumental in helping stop dealer abuse. Players were given warnings and then time out (yes, like children). Poker was changed forever once management took a stance against dealer abuse.

Phyllis continued to rise through the ranks from Dealer Coordinator to Vice President of Casino Operations of the Bicycle Club. In between, she worked tournaments becoming the first female Tournament Director making such innovations as starting the first non-smoking tournaments.

Always an advocate for women in poker, she started the annual Queen of Hearts tournament, which runs to this day; in fact, it was just held this Sunday at the Bike.

As Tournament Director of the Bike, she also ran the second largest tournament in the industry at the time, the Diamond Jim Brady. In 1993, when Phyllis became the Vice President of Casino Operations, she was the first female to hold that position in the industry.

In April 1990, the Bicycle Club was seized by federal authorities making federal government part owner of the most valuable asset ever seized at that time under federal racketeering laws.

The government appointed a trustee named Harry Richard to oversee operations at the Bike. Under the trusteeship, Phyllis fought to keep poker honest. As Phyllis says, “Mike ingrained the fact that all games should be honest.”

In 1995, Phyllis was hired as Casino Manager at Hollywood Park Casino and eventually became Director of Poker Operations where she continued making history.

Phyllis may be retired from poker now, but she will always stand for integrity in poker; she has committed her life to it.

Listen to me and Robert discussing Phyllis’ career on High Roller Radio here: https://youtu.be/bmhuFvCUw38

 

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

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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.

Announcing the Poker Industry Hall of Fame

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The poker industry is over a hundred years old, and many individuals have never been recognized for their contributions to the industry. Many pioneers of poker need to be honored, and what better place than the new Poker Industry Hall of Fame.

The time has come for the creation of the Poker Industry Hall of Fame to preserve and honor those individuals that built the game of poker and established a framework for the players to achieve their dreams.

Today poker is accepted around the world, and I want to preserve its past for future generations by honoring those individuals who built and managed poker rooms, brought innovations to the industry or wrote about the game we all love.

Founders of Los Angeles Poker Industry

GeorgeHardie

George Hardie

When you think of what group of industry leaders who should be inducted into the Poker Industry Hall of Fame, the first ten or so are no brainers. We can start in Los Angeles with the founders of the poker industry:

Russell Miller, original owner of the Normandie Casino in Gardena, California.

George Hardie, founder of the Bicycle Casino in Bell Gardens, which at one time was the largest card club in the world.

George Tumanjan, one of the most loved and respected men in poker history, who  founded the Commerce Casino.

Larry Flynt, defender of the First Amendment, who loved poker so much that he built his own poker club, the Hustler Casino, in Gardena, California.

Visionaries of the Las Vegas Poker Industry

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Bill Boyd

In Las Vegas, you have Benny Binion and his son Jack Binion, the owners of Binion’s Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas who created the World Series of Poker, the largest and most prestigious poker tournament in the world.

Bill Boyd, the father of Las Vegas poker and legendary poker room manager of the Golden Nugget and the person who gave me my first casino job.

Steve Wynn, the visionary casino owner who took poker to the next level with his love of the game and its players.

Bobby Baldwin, a world-class poker player and gaming industry leader who never forgot the game that launch his career and who ensured poker was always showcased in Steve Wynn’s casinos.

Lyle Berman, the successful businessman who loved poker so much he built a gaming company around it and financed the World Poker Tour.

There are so many other deserving individuals that need to be honored and inducted in the new Poker Industry Hall of Fame:

Industry leaders like John Sutton of the Bicycle Casino and Jerry Stensrud of the Commerce Casino.

Mike Caro, poker teacher and writer.

Phyllis Caro Yazbek, the first female Vice President of Poker Operations.

Linda Johnson, the First Lady of Poker who has dedicated her life to spreading her love of poker all over the world.

So many other people who deserve to be in the first Poker Industry Hall of Fame, such as writers Nolan Dalla and David Sklansky; Bruno Fitoussi, founder of the Aviation Club, who established poker in France; Jim Albrecht, who was the tournament director of the WSOP for over a decade; Doug Dalton, who managed the best poker rooms in the world; and Eric Drache, the first poker executive host.

We can’t forget casino owners Leo Chu, who owned three casinos in Los Angeles, and Haig Kelegian, who owns numerous casinos throughout California. The often-forgotten people of the media would also be honored. June Field, the founder of Card Player magazine; Barry Shulman, current owner of Card Player; the late gaming media pioneer Stan Sludikoff; and Eileen DiRocco, who carried on her husband Chuck DiRocco’s legacy by continuing to publish Gaming Today.

The first Poker Industry Hall of Fame has much work ahead of it to preserve the history of the game of poker and honor those who created it.

I look forward to hearing from people in the poker industry with your input.

Email me at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com. All suggestions greatly appreciated.

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.

 

Gardena: Poker Capital of the World

facebook_1461345592678 (1)Robert Turner as part of Larry Flynt’s  Original Hustler Casino Management Team

The Normandie Casino has been rumored to be an acquisition of the Hustler Casino by Larry Flynt. If this happens, the Gardena poker legacy will be gone, and all that will be left is one corporation controlling the remaining two.

Poker was started in Gardena in 1936 by legendary card club owners Ernie Primm and Russ Miller, the patriarch of the Miller family who owns the Normandie Casino.

The six clubs of poker that made up the Gardena landscape are now just a memory, and if Larry Flynt takes over the Normandie Casino, the last of the original six, a poker era will varnish forever.

As I reflect back, it has occurred to me that I managed four of the six casinos in Gardena, a small city ten miles outside Downtown Los Angeles. When poker boomed in California with the legalization of Hold’em around 1986, many characters came out to play in Gardena, including myself.

A Storied History: The Horseshoe Club

Horseshoe Club Gardena

Some were very famous for their play while others were notorious for having a shady past like Shoeshine Nick. Legendary poker author Mike Caro was also part of Gardena history.

Caro recalls of that time, “Old Gardena was a poker garden where money grew, but there was also treachery, and you had to avoid the cheating. You dealt your own cards, which was fine, but so did they, and there was always danger.”

Caro continues, “The producer — weak players who provided you profit — came, and many went broke or disappeared. But along came new producers, so you survived. It was five-card draw, high or low, and the draw could determine your fate for now. But there was always tomorrow. So, we won.”

“Gardena called itself the Poker Capital of the World. And it really was,” Caro concludes.

I agree with him. When I was General Manager of the Horseshoe Club in 1986, I had many problems to solve including rampant cheating, which I solved with stationary dealers. Before that, each player took turns dealing, which led to mechanics and teams plying their trade at the expense of the producers.

Some of the problems I had to deal with at the Horseshoe not only had to do with the players but also involved the owners. One day I discovered a security guard in the count room area taking chips out of the drop boxes.

After an investigation, it was determined that one of the owners had given him the key. That particular owner was the general partner of the casino; I knew my days were numbered there. The casino was sold, and my contract was bought out. It was closed for remodeling, and it never reopened.

Poker Legends in Gardena

Huck Seed

1996 WSOP Main Event Winner Huck Seed

 

But while I worked there, I added new games, such as seven-card stud and Pot-Limit Omaha (PLO), which was spread in California for the first time at the Horseshoe. These games attracted the best poker players in the world. Regulars in these games were Freddie Deeb, Phil Hellmuth and Johnny Chan.

Hellmuth would fly into Los Angeles, take a taxi to Gardena to play PLO and sometimes he would go broke and turn right around. The first time I met World Series of Poker Main Event winner Huck Seed was in Gardena. He was playing $15/$30 Limit Hold’em and was a consistent winner, who showed greatness even at that time.

The first World Championship of Omaha was played in Gardena at the Horseshoe. It featured a $500 buy-in, and people came from all over the country to play.

I left Gardena for nine years while I managed other clubs, such as the Regency, the Bicycle Club and Hollywood Park Casino. I returned to Gardena in 2000 to open Hustler Casino with Larry Flynt as his executive host in charge of the house players and, of course, promoting Omaha.

Eric Drache and Yosh Nakano created a huge stud game hosted by Larry Flynt himself at the Hustler with great players from all over the world. Regulars in that game included a who’s who of poker royalty—Doyle Brunson, Chip Reese, Barry Greenstein, Phil Ivey, Thor Hansen and Danny Robison.

In 2006, I was hired as the poker manager of Normandie Casino. I remember Mike Sexton roasting me for my sixtieth birthday and referring to my Horseshoe days in 1986. He said, “Robert Turner came a long way in his poker career—right across the street.”

At one time, the Horseshoe was located right across the street from the Normandie Casino. It is pretty funny that after twenty years I had come right back to where I started, the other side of the street.

Today the Normandie is facing some serious fines and legal issues, so passing the torch to Larry Flynt may be their best opportunity.

Only time will tell where Larry Flynt takes Gardena, the former poker capital of the world. He owns it all now.

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. Subscribe to Robert’s blog “Beyond the Numbers” to receive notifications of new posts by email.

Pot-Limit Omaha: Poker’s Next Big Thing

PLO

I’ve been teaching my wife Patty how to play Pot-Limit Omaha (PLO) this week, and it got me to thinking about the differences between PLO and Omaha High-Low, which I taught her how to play two years ago.

PLO is an entirely different game than Omaha High-Low because you have to manage the betting so as to draw as cheaply as possible or attack the pots aggressively as most European players do. The British have a perfect name for the game–pop it up or fold Omaha.

When you switch to Omaha from Hold’em, you’ll notice it has so much more gamble while at same time it’s a game of the nuts with back door outs which creates a lot of action. Like any poker game, the best players will win the most money.

You must have more discipline in Omaha poker. Just because you have four private cards doesn’t mean you should play more hands.

Starting hand selection is a key feature of any poker game. My friend Greg Gensicki, a specialist in mixed games, puts it this way: “To the unsuspecting, it would seem every hand is playable. ‘How can I miss when I am getting four, count ’em, four cards?!’  Years spent playing seven card stud instilled in me the importance of appropriate starting hand selection.  The same holds true for Omaha.”

Greg continues, “Well coordinated hands (e.g. KQJT, T987) fare much better than uncoordinated ones (e.g. KQT6, T945). Coordinated suited and double suited hands can provide redraws for the win when your less discerning opponent has the same hand. They can be the difference between having a lowly open-ended straight draw or a powerhouse having 20+ outs.”

Secondly, you want to get in the pot as cheaply as possible to see the flop. I like to say No-Limit Hold’em is played before the flop and PLO is played on the flop. Just like any poker game, you can expand your hands selection playing short-handed versus a full game.

Lastly, the real finesse of Omaha begins after the flop. Since it’s usually a multi-way pot, not only are you analyzing multiple hands and players, but you must decide how fast and furious you want to proceed. You must continuously evaluate what to do since so many changes occur in Omaha on every street.

As my friend Greg says, “Whereas Texas Hold’em is often a game of pairs and position, Pot- Limit Omaha is apt to be about straights, flushes and full houses due to each player holding four starting cards. Experienced Hold’em players new to the game quickly learn, to their chagrin, top pair top kicker doesn’t have the same value.”

In the book “Mastering Hold’em & Omaha Poker” by Mike Cappelletti, Mike Caro writes, “It would not be surprising if Omaha surpassed hold’em in popularity sometime within the next 40 years.”

I agree. I predict this is the year that Omaha will explode in popularity, especially at the World Series of Poker this summer, where I believe the cash games will double in number. It took a while, but Omaha is growing on the West Coast faster than any other poker game.

Omaha has really grown in the Southern California. The most popular game played is a mix format of eight hands of Omaha High-Low and eight hands of High only. High only is a much easier transition from Hold’em than Omaha High-Low; it’s Hold’em on steroids.

In Los Angeles, PLO has quadrupled in the past year with more young players stepping up from No Limit Hold’em. It seems they are tired of coin-flip poker and want a better game to protect their money. Mastering Omaha will open lots of opportunities for your poker earning power.

As Mike Cappelletti writes in his book, “For many players, it is much easier to win at Omaha than hold’em simply because few players play Omaha correctly. Even most decent-to-good Omaha players cost themselves money by playing incorrectly both before and after the flop.”

Every game has its learning curve. I recommend you read all you can on the subject then choose games with players entering many pots and raising a lot of hands. To get better, you have to practice.

Over the past three years I had the opportunity to teach my wife not only about Omaha but about poker and the poker life. She made me look at poker through new eyes and fall in love with the game all over again.

I want to dedicate this article to my wife who has helped me take a long look at my poker career and help me put into words the experiences of playing for over 50 years.

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.

Honor and Integrity in Poker and Gambling

Bicycle Casino

The poker world has been rocked in recent years by various scandals from the Absolute Poker super user and the collapse of Full Tilt Poker to the recent Borgata counterfeit chips scandal. This got me to thinking about honor and integrity in gambling and reminded me of the words a bookie in Alabama told me over 35 years ago.

Eddie was the life of our home poker games for years. Every Tuesday he would come by our game and settle up with the poker players, and then he would throw a little money away in the game. He was not really trying to win; he just liked to gamble.

This week was different. He owed around $25,000 and called to say he would need a week to settle up. This sent shockwaves through our small poker world. How could this happen?

When he stopped by the next week, I called him into a room and said, “Eddie, what happened? You have always been so honorable.” He said, “The truth is I didn’t pay attention to my business. I always wrote the parlays and teasers and put them in a cigar box and looked at them on Monday mornings because they were usually losing propositions. This time they all won, and it was for over $1 million. I got broke. I’m now poor Ed. Robert, you can only be honorable as long as you can be honorable.”

The mistake Eddie made took away his honor, but he had confronted the issue head on; he didn’t try to hide from it. The following story told to me by legendary Las Vegas bookmaker Jimmy Vaccaro, now running the South Point’s Race and Sports Marketing division, demonstrates the opposite.

Jimmy was talking to a bookmaker friend of his that was having a bad season. He said, “Jimmy, it has all come down to an airplane game.” Jimmy asked him what an airplane game was, and he replied, “I’m going to the airport to watch the game. If my players lose the game, I’m back in action and have a bankroll. If my players win, then I’m catching a plane to who knows where.”

Poker in California was in a similar predicament at one time. For over 50 years, California had become the training ground for the best cheats in the world because everybody handled the deck in pass-the-deal games. This created games that were plagued by everything from petty cheating to full-blown organized theft.

However, when hold’em was legalized in California, it changed everything. George Hardie and Mike Caro were at the forefront of this change. As Caro says, “I realized that the old days of pass-the-deal and five-card draw would vanish.” He explains that this change would “lead to a complete rethinking of the California poker product with professional dealers and much safer and ethical games.”

After George Hardie cleaned up the games, I remember a couple of cheaters came down from Northern California and cheated the high-limit games at the Bicycle Casino with marked cards which they had managed to get a floor person to put in. This resulted in thousands of dollars being lost at the big game. Hardie instructed his management team to give the players their money back, which was over a hundred thousand dollars.

Hardie could do this because he had the money, and it protected the integrity of the game and the business he founded. He let people know he would do whatever it took to restore the honor of the game.

I faced similar challenges as the General Manager of the Horseshoe Casino in Gardena, California, as we transitioned from the old pass-the-deal days to center dealers. Changing the way people perceived the card room was my biggest task.

Today the new frontier is online gaming, and it is experiencing some of these same growing pains. Caro, along with his colleague Bill Handy, continues to advance ethical poker by working on a new system called COPS to detect online cheating. This shows how things change and still stay the same.

This takes me back to the words Eddie said at the beginning of the article. You can be honorable only as long as you can be honorable. And in the case of Borgata, regulation can only go so far; you can only regulate what you can regulate.

If someone is determined to cheat, he will find a way. We, as players, always need to be vigilant to protect each other and the game we love. That is the only honorable thing to do.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and 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 Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002, and he also created Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino and the National Championship of Poker for Hollywood Park Casino both in 1995.

In the year 2000, he created World Team Poker, the first professional league for poker. He has spent over 30 years in casino marketing and player development and has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM. He is currently working with his new companies Crown Digital Games developing mobile apps and Vision Poker, a poker marketing and managing group.

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