In my last few articles I’ve been writing about the people who changed the face of poker before poker was cool.
After writing about the contributions Jack Binion, Steve Wynn and Lyle Berman made to modern poker, I now come to George Hardie, who elevated poker to an even higher level.
Not only was Hardie the founder of the Bicycle Casino, the world’s largest poker club at that time, but most importantly, he was a tireless advocate for the players.
I remember the first time I met George Hardie. I was a regular in the $20/$40 hold ‘em game at the Bicycle. I was running bad so I went to John Sutton, the vice president of poker operations. A lot of the players had credit lines at the time. He said, “Let’s go up and see George.”
He took me to meet George in his office. I said, “George I need a credit line to play poker.” He asked how much I wanted, I gave him a number, and then he told John to go to the cage and “give Robert whatever he wants.”
George understood the game and the business of poker. He knew what a player was worth to the card room each day, so advancing them a credit line was part of the normal business of operating a poker room. He knew the value of a player better than anyone, whether it was a high roller or someone playing a $1/$2 stud game.
George treated everyone with respect and wanted everyone to have the best experience playing poker.
George not only had a dream of the building the largest poker club in the world, but he faced the burden of cleaning up the poker industry in California. He did more than anyone and should be credited not only for making poker safe to play in California but making California the center of the poker world.
The next time I was in George’s office was around five years later in 1991 when I was hired as an executive poker host. My job was to make sure the players were taken care of. He said take the limousine and about six players every night to entertain them in Los Angeles and spend whatever you want on the players.
Could a poker player have a better job in the world? How did I get so lucky? George knew I was working up the street from the Bicycle Casino at a place called the Regency, and I was attracting some of his business. He came to the casino and sat down in the middle of a table to watch.
I walked across the casino floor, shook his hand, and said, “George, what brings you here?” I knew why he was there. He was looking for his players and wanted them back like a sheepherder looking for his strays. That was classic George; he attended to every detail himself – he was very hands-on as I would learn when I started working for him as his casino marketing director.
I have been in many event-planning meetings but none have ever been like the ones George ran. George created the Diamond Jim Brady tournament around 1985, and it became the second biggest in the world only behind the WSOP.
He would start the planning for the annual tournament with the notes from the previous year. He would talk about what was spent on the players in gifts last year, then say, “Let’s do more for the players this year.” He would then ask how can we make them more excited about playing at the Bicycle Casino?
He never once talked about raising fees. If anything, he thought the fees were too much. Everything he did was with the players’ best interest in mind. I think part of this was becasue he was a player himself; he truly loved the game.
George would dress up in costumes from the 1800’s with beautiful models and parade around the casino for a month asking the players if there was anything he could do for them. When players won a tournament, there was a trophy presentation with the models who would surround the winners for their moment of glory.
There was also an award given away for the best all-around player. He would give away between $50,000-$100,000 and luxury cars to the all-around players for over 10 years. You don’t see anyone doing that today.
Jack Binion and Lyle Berman are in the Poker Hall of Fame, and rightfully so, but how could George not be there also? It simply cannot be complete without George Hardie.
The contributions he made to poker and his innovations to protect its image have helped make the game what it is today. In my opinion, no one has contributed more to the overall growth and success of the game of poker than George.
He has advocated for poker at the highest levels of government from city councils to governors and senators. He was poker before poker was cool. To this day, you can still find him at the tables playing the game he loves.
I ran into him at the WSOP this year as he was preparing to play the Main Event. As a life-long player and advocate of the game, George has made the game better for the millions of poker players in California and around the world.
His legacy is evident every time you sit at the table.
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 [email protected].