Time to Change the Game

Mike Sexton

I have been defending poker my whole career. When I was an executive host for MGM, I booked a well-known poker player, who got drunk and knocked a female security guard across a gaming table. I was called because he was escorted off the property, and they asked me what to do about him.

He had a high-end sports car in valet, his things still in the room, and they wanted to know how to move forward. I have always been an advocate for my players. In a board meeting, I was able to convince them to give him a second chance.

Now that I reflect back on that, I think it was the wrong decision.

This customer was an elite poker player, and instead of being an ambassador for the game, he was the exact opposite. Rather than promote the game that he made millions playing, he gave it a black eye.

But I wasn’t blameless either. Because he was also a table games player, it was in my best interest to keep him as a customer. At the time, I earned my living off players that I would bring into the MGM.

Knowing what I know now, I probably should have allowed the lifetime ban to stand. The message I was sending was that money was more important than doing the right thing.

Speaking of bad ambassadors of poker, this next player takes the cake. I was playing at a card room in Los Angeles in a major tournament when a young player with a Team PokerStars patch walked in late with a small entourage. I didn’t know who he was, but the floor staff was shaking his hand.

He sat down at my table and immediately started criticizing people’s play. He knocked the tournament and the structure and was just a complete jerk. I went over to the tournament director, and said, “Surely, this guy can’t represent PokerStars.” He said yes he does.

This was the exact opposite of what an ambassador for poker should be. Instead of shaking hands with the players, he berated them. He acted like this tournament was below him.
Watching that was a disgrace. It’s time for the pros to be the protectors of the game.

We Need More Poker Ambassadors

TDA

Of course there are many icons of the game who are outstanding individuals. Mike Sexton is a perfect example of a poker ambassador. He is someone who has helped grow and protect the game. He is also a gentleman; when he sits at the table, you know you’re dealing with a class act.

Linda Johnson is another poker personality who has spent her career protecting the game. Matt Savage, along with Jan Fisher and David Lamb, co-founded the Tournament Directors Association.

The TEA has done great job of standardizing poker tournament rules worldwide. It’s now time for that same body to come up with a code of conduct and set of disciplinary standards to stop abuse at the poker table.

Some tournaments have done such things as penalizing players for using bad language. But we need to take it further.

It won’t be easy, but it is necessary to grow the poker industry by bringing in more recreational players. It may not be obvious to most, but I believe that a contributing factor to closing some poker rooms is the problems at the tables.

Too many professional players have taken a lot from the game without giving anything back. If you are going to call yourself a professional poker player, you also need to be a protector of the game.

Poker is out of the back room now and on the world stage on television and digital platforms. People watch poker all over the world. What they see, they emulate.

The world is watching. It’s time to change the game now.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player 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.

Robert has over 30 years’ experience 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.

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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.