When Robert Turner speaks, we should listen

Mar 12, 2013 3:00 AM

Robert Turner’s recent four-part commentary in GamingToday caused me to sit up and take notice.

I have long admired Robert for his many contributions to our poker world; we are fortunate to have him involved.

On several occasions, he has taken the time to meet with our Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Group and share his winning secrets.

Robert gave us the game of Omaha, created several top tournaments, including Legends of Poker, Live at the Bike, and World Team Poker, and played a major role in helping Phyllis Caro and me organize the California Poker Players Conference, held at the Hollywood Park Casino several years ago that included many of the top poker experts in the U.S.

Robert has many accomplishments, including 33 career poker titles and 254 cashes! He gained the nickname “Chip Burner” for his fast and furious playing style.

Having worked in various management capacities in many casinos, Turner is well qualified to critique the brick-and-mortar (B&M) casinos – as he does in his four-part commentary.

In “A bit of ‘Old Vegas’ needed for casinos to survive,” Robert once again is making a significant contribution to our poker world. The casinos would be wise to listen to his sage advice.

He warns casinos significant changes are needed if they are to survive into the future. It is just a question of time before online poker is back in full swing, bigger and better than ever. The brick-and-mortar casinos would be prudent to prepare for the competition that will surely attract many players away from them.

Many of our Claude Pepper Seniors who used to play in local casinos, have “discovered” the high cost of the drops in their favored low-limit games; and as a consequence, moved to home games and the new Pub League games.

Robert suggests the B&M casino management look back in history when the gaming industry was taking off in Las Vegas. The casinos were operated by people who were gamblers in their own right – Kirk Kerkorian, Benny Binion, Terry Lanni, Bob Moon, Bill Boyd, Billy Baldwin, Steve Wynn, and others. They knew how to attract gamblers and keep them involved.

They could easily empathize with them. Most important, they knew “the customer is key to the casino’s success.” Learn how to treat them well so they will come back. “Look beyond the numbers.”

I recently encountered that mind set when I suggested one of the local casinos host our Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Group – as it had done in the recent past. Response: Not anymore; it’s not sufficiently profitable for the casino.

Robert encourages the casinos to develop “loyal customers.” If anything, the local casinos often do just the opposite: Long waits for food service – just to get a menu! Then force the player to gobble up his food so he’s not away from the game more than about 15 minutes. That makes the experience much less pleasant for the player. When the player has a complaint involving a dealer, they defend the dealer and disregard the customer.

Bottom line: Turner sums it all up very nicely: “The computer has been a boon to the casino industry. Casinos now have a wealth of information at their fingertips. But what is being lost is the human touch and passion that built them; and they are being replaced by a relentless drive for profits and efficiency.”

Yes, profits are important to any business including the casinos, but an eye to the future is essential for the long-term health of B&M casinos.

Innovation: In 2005, Claude Pepper Senior Center initiated a series of poker classes. At the start, there were just six members in the group. As the classes and other special events grew, so has the membership. Today, there are well over 250 members in the group! Members meet every Friday afternoon to play hold’em.

In past years, local casinos were happy to host the seniors group for special poker events, consisting of a poker seminar (often presented by leading poker experts), an elegant buffet luncheon, and then a low buy-in limit hold’em poker tournament with cash prizes plus door prizes. For those who wanted to remain at the casino after the tournament, special tables were set up for low-limit games with reduced rake and no-flop-no-rake.

Times have changed. With the economy in sad shape today, local casinos are reluctant to host such events.

So the Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Group decided to deal with the problem. On March 1, it ran its own Charity Poker Tournament to raise funds for the senior center, while providing its members and guests with an enjoyable afternoon of poker and more.

With about 50 attendees, the event was kicked off with an award for Best Player in the Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Group for 2013. It went to Ron Ross of Studio City, and was presented by Robert Turner. Afterward, Robert conducted a lively Q&A on playing – and winning – in tournaments.

In all, nine top prizes were awarded, with first prize going to long-time Group member, David Leifer of West Los Angeles. Second prize was won by Mary Mueller of Santa Monica, who had just previously completed her first series of poker classes.

During the tournament, special bonus awards were made for the first Royal Straight Flush, first Four-of-a-Kind (Quads) and Aces Cracked.

With buy-ins of only $25 and one re-buy allowed during the first hour only, it was an affordable as well as exciting afternoon for all involved.

I wonder if other senior centers around the country might follow suit. The Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Group would be glad to share its experience and offer suggestions. After all, poker is wonderful recreation for seniors. It keeps our minds healthy; and a healthy mind leads to a healthier body! (Note: I speak from experience. I turned 86 last November.)

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Contact George at [email protected].

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