Before the Poker Boom: Poker in the 90s

Trump

In the 80s poker had become primarily a west coast phenomenon, but thanks to poker pioneers like Steve Wynn, Jack Binion, Lyle Berman, George Hardie and even Donald Trump, poker would expand across the United States in the 90s.

I became casino marketing director of the Bicycle Casino in 1991. Knowing I was from Alabama, the Bicycle Casino’s founder George Hardie sent me to Tunica, Mississippi, to scout the area for a large poker casino he had planned to develop there.

As I looked out at the cotton fields and the raging Mississippi river, I remember looking forward to running a poker room in the south; it would be going back home for me. I had hosted many games in that area for years and finally would have a chance to offer the players a legal and safe environment to play where they would not have to worry about law enforcement or hijackers.

Hardie had options on land around Robinson and the Tunica area, which would later be sold to Lyle Berman. Berman is one of the best Omaha players in the world. He would visit the Bicycle Casino to play in the Diamond Jim Brady tournaments and became good friends with Hardie. Hardie had an ambition to build the largest poker room in the world in Mississippi and purchased a piece of property called Buck Lake around Tunica.

Hardie had lobbied to have the nearest casino to Memphis, Tennessee. He would later sell that property to Berman, who built the Grand Casino in Tunica in 1996, which helped establish poker in Mississippi. Jack Binion also purchased land to build the Horseshoe casino, which opened the previous year. Poker had finally arrived in the south.

Ken Lambert Jr., Regional Director of Operations for the Heartland Poker Tour, recalls opening day of Jack Binion’s Horseshoe Casino in Tunica where he was director of poker operations, “We finally opened in February of 1995 to long lines of excited players. The lines extended hundreds of feet. It was a cold day, but to warm as many of the guests as he could, Jack emptied out his gift shop and began handing out any type of cold apparel that was on hand.”

Lambert continues, “I had 10 poker tables opened and ready to go as players rushed to the room to be the first to play a hand in Tunica at Jack Binion’s Horseshoe. Not long after opening, the poker room expanded to 12 tables and the rest was history. We had the biggest players in the world come play. The new dealers were dealing games they had only heard about, $4,000/$8,000 limit Hold’em and the Pot-Limit Omaha had a $75,000 max bet.”

When poker exploded in the 1980s and 1990s, I felt like Forrest Gump. I was lucky enough to see landmark events in poker history firsthand and even established a record myself. I became the first player to have four consecutive cashes in the WSOP Main Event in 1991, 1992, 1993 and 1994. My highest finish was 6th in 1994. Ronnie Bardah set a new record in 2014 with five consecutive cashes in the Main Event.

On the east coast, poker was also having its own boom. In Nolan Dalla’s article “The Early Years of the Atlantic City Poker Scene,” Dalla says, “The epicenter of the East Coast poker universe instantly became the Trump Taj Mahal, which opened the sparkling 50-table room in the Summer of 1993.”

Poker Hall of Famer Jack McClelland was hired by Donald Trump in 1996 as poker tournament director to establish a major poker tournament on the east coast. Trump created the United States Poker Championship tournament, which was a prestigious stop on the professional poker circuit for years and was televised on ESPN. McClelland says Trump was a no-nonsense, get-it-done right kind of guy. He really enjoyed working for him.

I remember going to the opening of most of these new poker rooms. Poker now had a showcase across the United States. This developed thousands of new poker players. Poker had arrived as a must-have amenity in casinos to reach out to a new demographic of gamblers.

The 90s was a great decade for me personally as I found success both in casino boardrooms and on the felt. In part 2, I will discuss the poker boom in Las Vegas. Steve Wynn, with the help of Bobby Baldwin as his president, opened Bellagio, which would be a game changer in the history of poker.

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 the 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.

Robert has over 30 years’ experience in casino marketing and player development. He can be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting, marketing and coaching. Follow Robert on Twitter @thechipburner.

Before the Poker Boom: Poker in the 90s

Trump

In the 80s poker had become primarily a west coast phenomenon, but thanks to poker pioneers like Steve Wynn, Jack Binion, Lyle Berman, George Hardie and even Donald Trump, poker would expand across the United States in the 90s.

I became casino marketing director of the Bicycle Casino in 1991. Knowing I was from Alabama, the Bicycle Casino’s founder George Hardie sent me to Tunica, Mississippi, to scout the area for a large poker casino he had planned to develop there.

As I looked out at the cotton fields and the raging Mississippi river, I remember looking forward to running a poker room in the south; it would be going back home for me. I had hosted many games in that area for years and finally would have a chance to offer the players a legal and safe environment to play where they would not have to worry about law enforcement or hijackers.

Hardie had options on land around Robinson and the Tunica area, which would later be sold to Lyle Berman. Berman is one of the best Omaha players in the world. He would visit the Bicycle Casino to play in the Diamond Jim Brady tournaments and became good friends with Hardie. Hardie had an ambition to build the largest poker room in the world in Mississippi and purchased a piece of property called Buck Lake around Tunica.

Hardie had lobbied to have the nearest casino to Memphis, Tennessee. He would later sell that property to Berman, who built the Grand Casino in Tunica in 1996, which helped establish poker in Mississippi. Jack Binion also purchased land to build the Horseshoe casino, which opened the previous year. Poker had finally arrived in the south.

Ken Lambert Jr., Regional Director of Operations for the Heartland Poker Tour, recalls opening day of Jack Binion’s Horseshoe Casino in Tunica where he was director of poker operations, “We finally opened in February of 1995 to long lines of excited players. The lines extended hundreds of feet. It was a cold day, but to warm as many of the guests as he could, Jack emptied out his gift shop and began handing out any type of cold apparel that was on hand.”

Lambert continues, “I had 10 poker tables opened and ready to go as players rushed to the room to be the first to play a hand in Tunica at Jack Binion’s Horseshoe. Not long after opening, the poker room expanded to 12 tables and the rest was history. We had the biggest players in the world come play. The new dealers were dealing games they had only heard about, $4,000/$8,000 limit Hold’em and the Pot-Limit Omaha had a $75,000 max bet.”

When the poker explosion happened in the 1980s and 1990s, I felt like Forrest Gump. I was lucky enough to see landmark events in poker history firsthand and even established a record myself. I became the first player to have four consecutive cashes in the WSOP Main Event in 1991, 1992, 1993 and 1994. My highest finish was 6th in 1994. Ronnie Bardah set a new record in 2014 with five consecutive cashes in the Main Event.

On the east coast, poker was also having its own boom. In Nolan Dalla’s article “The Early Years of the Atlantic City Poker Scene,” Dalla says, “The epicenter of the East Coast poker universe instantly became the Trump Taj Mahal, which opened the sparkling 50-table room in the Summer of 1993.”

Poker Hall of Famer Jack McClelland was hired by Donald Trump in 1996 as poker tournament director to establish a major poker tournament on the east coast. Trump created the United States Poker Championship tournament, which was a prestigious stop on the professional poker circuit for years and was televised on ESPN. McClelland recalls Trump as a no-nonsense, get-it-done-right kind of guy. He really enjoyed working for him.

I remember going to the opening of most of these new poker rooms in the south and on the east coast. Poker now had a showcase across the United States. This developed thousands of new poker players. Poker had arrived as a must-have amenity in casinos to reach out to a new demographic of gamblers.

The 90s was a great decade for me personally, as I found success both in casino boardrooms and on the felt. In part 2, I will discuss the poker boom in Las Vegas. Steve Wynn, with the help of Bobby Baldwin as his president, opened Bellagio, which would be a game changer in the history of poker.

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 the 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.

Robert has over 30 years’ experience in casino marketing and player development. He can be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting, marketing and coaching. Follow Robert on Twitter @thechipburner.

Before Poker Was Cool, Part 2: Lyle Berman

Lyle Berman

It’s hard to write in a single article about all the contributions Lyle Berman has made to the gaming industry. Lyle, like Jack Binion and Steve Wynn before him, had a great passion and respect for poker and its players. Lyle was not just a lover of poker but one of the most successful entrepreneurs the gaming world has ever seen. He has headed such diverse operations from the Rainforest Café restaurant chain to Grand Casinos, Inc., and he was instrumental in the development of the World Poker Tour. His name has become synonymous with gaming in the last two decades.

What is unique about Lyle is not only is he a successful businessman, but he is also an accomplished poker player. Lyle has three World Series of Poker bracelets to his name and based on these contributions to the game he was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2002.

After I had retired from poker in my 30’s, my friend Billy Thomas called me and said, “Robert, how can you not go to California? They have legalized hold’em, and there will be thousands of players who will switch from low ball and draw to hold’em.” I explained to Billy we needed at least $15,000 each for us to go and that I was retired and had promised my wife I wouldn’t use any of the money I had won to go back on the road to play.

He said Lyle Berman will give us a bankroll–all you have to do is call him. I did just that, and Lyle sent around $15,000 each right into the cage at the Bicycle Casino. Lyle helped many poker players in the 80’s and 90’s (more than anyone I know), which turned out to be great investments. But he didn’t do it for the money; he did it because they were his friends. Players from Stu Ungar, Jack Keller and T.J. Cloutier all benefitted from his generosity.

I remember when I called Mike Sexton to tell him I wanted to roast him at the Bicycle Casino. Mike said, “Robert, I am not the one who should be honored with a roast. No one has done more for poker than Lyle Berman.” So the Bicycle had a big party to honor Lyle.

Lyle wanted me to help him turn around the Stratosphere after it had failed. Lyle invited me to meet him for breakfast at the casino. There was a newspaper lying on the table with a headline shouting, “Stratosphere Fails.” Lyle said to me that he had replaced the president yesterday and was meeting with the new president in a few hours. I was wondering how Lyle could handle all the stress.

As we started to eat, Lyle noticed the cream cheese. He couldn’t believe that they were using the wrong brand. He asked to speak to his food and beverage director. Lyle proceeded to tell him that this particular brand of cream cheese was unacceptable. I knew that with this streak of perfectionism Lyle could handle the stress of the casino transition. I wish I could remember the brand of cream cheese that he hated to see if the company is still in business.

Another legendary story involved Doyle, Chip and Bobby Baldwin. We were all at Bob Stupak’s Vegas World during a poker tournament before Lyle bought it. There was a rumor going around that a big Omaha game was being planned, and Lyle was the main attraction. The sharks waited on Lyle to start the game, and after a few hours the buzz around the room was how big a game it turned out to be.

All of sudden it broke up, and everyone wondered what happened. Lyle had busted Doyle, Chip and Bobby out of $400,000 and had quit to go to a dinner or a meeting. The look on their faces was priceless. That was classic Lyle.

From then on Lyle was not the main attraction. He became one of the best Omaha players in the world. He continued to play some of the highest stakes cash games in the world, but no matter how successful Lyle became in business, he never gave up on his friends or the poker world.

Lyle would visit the Bicycle Casino to play in the Legends of Poker and became friends with George Hardie. George had an ambition to build the largest poker room in the world in Mississippi and purchased a piece of property called Buck Lake around Tunica. George had lobbied to have the nearest casino to Memphis, Tennessee. He would later sell that property to Lyle, who built the Grand Casino in Tunica, which helped established poker in Mississippi.

In my next article I will talk about how George Hardie changed the California gaming industry.

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 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 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 group.

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.

So You Want to Be a Poker Pro?

Rounders

The following article originally appeared on cardplayerlifestyle.com.  Thanks to Robbie Strazynski for allowing me to reprint it.

After 50 years of playing poker, I have gained some insights along the way that might help anyone considering becoming a professional poker player. Like any endeavor in life, there are great rewards as well as pitfalls, and it is necessary to be fully aware of them before making such a life-changing decision.

You’ve Got to Have Poker Plan

Unless you inherited a great deal of money or sold a tech company and have a bankroll of millions of dollars, you are going to need a plan. You need enough courage and discipline to elevate your game in steps. This means if you win $200 at the $3/$6 game one day, jump over to the $6/$12 or $200 No Limit, and if you can win $500 at that table, go to the next level and so on.

You must move up in limits and games. You can’t just grind it out. You must parlay the money. The days you are winning are the times to push it up. In my case, I was fortunate that tournaments were introduced in the early 70s, and I was able to parlay tournament wins into buy-ins into bigger tournaments, and I did well enough that I was able to retire at 36.

In the 80s, when hold’em was legalized in California, I decided to come out of retirement and move out west. I started playing $20/$40 and wondered how anyone could survive playing at that level.

I calculated that you had to win over $60,000 a year, plus another $30,000 to $60,000 in collections to cover your expenses and to be able to deposit even a single dollar into a savings account. And that budget did not account for losses! It is said that poker wins and losses are year-to-year, but your personal expenses are day-to-day, and that’s why it is imperative that you push your game up and manage your bankroll.

Understand Your Potential to Win

poker rake

It’s tough to beat a game with a huge rake

To become a pro, you must have an understanding of your potential profits and losses and ask yourself what you can win in this game. A good friend of mine named Ray Hall, who was my road partner at the time, taught me about the importance of understanding and analyzing a game. We once traveled to Texas to play in a No Limit game. At the time, he was playing in games with buy-ins starting around $2,000 with no cap, which was huge for the 70s. I was only playing $20/$40. This place provided both games.

The first night Ray beat the game for $15,000. I won around $500 and thought it was a good night. I said to Ray, “That was a good night for you, right?” I was shocked by his answer when he said, “It was a good night, but I think we should check out of the motel and go back to Alabama.” We had planned to stay a few weeks.

I asked him why and he said, “Robert, they are raking the game $5 a hand. No poker player alive can beat that rake.” I never paid that much attention to the rake before. I just thought it was the cost of doing business. You have to pay attention to what is on the table, what’s coming off the table and what your chances are of beating that game. If you don’t do that, you’re drawing dead.

Choose Your Opponents Wisely

shark fish

You’d much rather be the shark than the fish

Another element of your game you must master is choosing your opponents wisely. The players that have always caused me the most difficulty were the ones who were looking to exploit every single edge and when there was no edge, they would quit the game and look for the next easy spot.

These players are the survivors in the poker world that have stood the test of time. Whether you like their style or not, they are the true pros. To survive like them, you must look for the edge every day of your pro poker career if you want to stay in the game, and that starts by avoiding playing with them at all costs and selecting games you can beat.

A story that illustrates this concept comes from my days playing gin rummy. I once played a guy named Eddie, who supposedly was Stu Ungar’s mentor in gin rummy. Now I was playing the master and I knew I was outclassed. However, I got lucky in this match and beat him, which was a devastating blow to him.

Later in a bar that night at the Tropicana in Las Vegas, he challenged me to go to his room and play some more gin rummy. I knew this would not be a good situation for various reasons. I looked at Eddie and said, “Why don’t we find someone we can beat?” He understood exactly what that meant.

Why would you ever play a match where it was dead even or your opponent played better? I can’t stress enough the importance of choosing your game wisely and matching up with your opponents carefully to maintain an edge.

Understand When You’ll Have an Edge

edge pokerThis is the reason pros love mixed games so much. They are always looking for weaker opponents who haven’t mastered some of the games to create an edge for themselves. Without the ability to do this, there is no reason to sit at the table. This is the cardinal rule of poker. You must master at least four different games to play at a world-class level.

The following story is an extreme example of how critical it is for professional poker players to find players they can beat. It will also help you understand the psychology of gamblers. It involves my long-time friend Ray Hall again (or Mighty Ray Hall, as he liked to call himself). He is also one of the funniest guys I have ever been around in gambling.

I was invited to a game in Georgia where I was told they were playing 14-handed hold’em. They were literally using a rake to push the chips across the table because the pots were so big. The host said the only bad thing was that they were raking $15 a hand, but it is the wildest game you will ever see. I called up Ray and he said, “I can’t beat a short-handed game, much less a 14-handed game.”

When I told him the details, he quickly changed his tune and said, “When can you leave? Let’s go now.” I asked, “Ray, what about the rake?” I will never forget his response. He said, “If those fools are allowing that rake, I want to meet them because I am sure I can beat them!”

When we arrived, I saw the biggest table I had ever seen, with a paper grocery bag underneath it being used as the drop box. Ray was right – that was the liveliest group of people I had ever played poker with. They didn’t care about the rake; they just wanted to gamble. He had a better understanding of the mentality of gamblers than I had at the time.

Check Your Ego at the Door

This next subject is rarely spoken about, but it is the Achilles’ heel of many pros (in my opinion), and that is ego. A friend of mine who had cashed in several tournaments for over $2 million in one year’s time asked me for some career advice. I told him to take $60,000 and hire a PR firm to help with his image so as to create a legacy that might help him with sponsorships and teaching in the future when things went south.

He agreed, but I knew it was a long shot that he would heed the advice. He has now fallen on hard times, and all I can wonder is why didn’t he invest in himself when he had the chance? His ego made him believe he was going to win forever.

Reflecting Back on My Years Playing Poker

What have I learned after all these years of playing poker? To play professionally, you need to protect your bankroll, choose your games and opponents wisely, take advantage of every edge you can find, and, most importantly, have balance in your life.

Poker has given me a blessed life, but it has not been without regrets. If you allow it to, poker will take a toll on your personal life. Poker Hall of Fame member Fred “Sarge” Ferris, after he found out he was dying, told Doyle Brunson to “stop and smell the roses.”

The game may reward you with material things for your family and bless you with memories you may not have otherwise had. That said, reflecting back on my years of playing, I have to say I wish I had spent more precious time with my family and a little less time playing. Remember, the game is not going anywhere. Keep your friends and family close because you can’t make it without their support.

I hope you take all of this advice to heart. These are things I wish someone had told me. If you see me at the table, or Ray Hall (who, at nearly 80 years old, still plays poker in Tunica, Mississippi), feel free to share your stories about your life on the felt.

About

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and marketing expert.  Robert is most well-known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986.  He also created the Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995. He 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 and has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM Grand.  He is currently working with his new companies Crown Digital Games developing mobile apps and Vision Poker, a poker marketing group.

Robert is available for consulting, marketing or teaching. Reach him at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com.