Lyle Berman key in development of World Poker Tour
June 10, 2014 3:00 AM
by Robert Turner
It’s hard to write in a single article about all the contributions 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 and contributions to the game 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 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 such as 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. He 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 told me 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 they were using the wrong brand. He asked to speak to his food and beverage director.
Lyle proceeded to tell him this particular brand of cream cheese was unacceptable. I knew with this streak of perfectionism Lyle could handle the stress of the casino transition. I wish I could remember the brand of cream cheese he hated to see if they are still in business.
Another 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 was.
All of sudden it broke up, and every one 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 had become 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. Hardie lobbied hard in Mississippi 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 billiard marketing expert, best known for inventing the game of Omaha poker and introducing it to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. In the year 2000, he created World Team Poker, the first professional league for poker. He has over 30 years experience in the gaming industry and is co-founder of Crown Digital Games. Twitter @thechipburnerRobert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.