Times change, poker doesn’t

Dec 12, 2005 2:48 AM

Carol, I first came to Las Vegas in 1938.

I came with the Hale family on our way to the land of milk and honey (California) but we came by way of Las Vegas.

I remember coming across the new, then Boulder Dam — now it has been renamed Herbert Hoover Dam — but to me it will always be Boulder Dam.

Then we came down the dusty gravel road, Fremont Street, and turned left at the train depot — now the Union Plaza Hotel and Casino — and we headed out south along what is now the fabulous Las Vegas Strip.

I have seen Las Vegas grow from a dusty gravel road with wooden sidewalks and false fronts to the very modern city that you see today.

I remember when there was no air conditioning in the taxi cabs and at the airport there were no jet ways.

Yes, times have changed and I am a little bit older. But I loved the old times in Vegas, when I loved all the games and played them all, bet all the sports, played craps, blackjack and, yes, a little bit of poker.

Las Vegas is my kind of town; it’s my beat.

We have the Thousand Pines Ranch in the high county of Northern Arizona and a place in Tulsa, Oklahoma. But when I can I spend a lot of my time right here in beautiful Las Vegas.

I remember having many conversations with Benny Binion relating to poker and the Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas before the beginning of the World Series of Poker.

Benny was many things, in Texas and Louisiana, and he had a ranch in Montana.

One of the things that Benny told me was that he had to win the money twice because it was stolen from him the first time.

Most of all Benny was a promoter and a showman.

The reason the Horseshoe was such a success with the players was because Benny was such a showman. He understood that sometimes people need a little extra, so he use to carry a bucket of coins around with him in the casino and throw them into the slot drop for his players.

He would go to his blackjack and crap tables and tell the dealers to pay everybody double.

He said, "I’m going to get the money anyway, so I just gave them a little play." Benny was a showman, that’s how it was.

The times have changed, and the old showman is gone.

Now we have the bean counters who wouldn’t dream of giving anything away.

I can remember the times at the old Stardust when Billy Smith was the card room manager. This was about the time that the movie Casino was made, and there was a lot of cheating going on. I had to dance between the raindrops, but I did and won all the time in a crooked game, no problem.

You see, if a cheater has to use a crutch, he’s not much of a player and rather easy to beat, as long as you know what he’s doing and can stay out of the way.

In those days everything was comped. When I went to dinner, there was no limit on the comp amount, and I could take 15 or 20 people to the show with me. The show tickets were only $4.

Those were the good old days.

Now they have the bean counters, and every square foot of the casino has to show a profit. There are no loss leaders like in a grocery store, where the merchant might lose money on coffee if he can get you to buy from his drug counter.

Now it’s all different.

I was playing poker in a local casino the other night and I saw something that I didn’t think I’d live long enough to see. In a high-low split poker game of Omaha, one player won half the pot and two other players were to split the other half, but the dealer made a mistake and mucked one of the players’ hand after the player had turned it up. After a 10 minute delay, the house refused to correct its mistake and made the player mad enough to kill. It was a matter of about $12, but the house lost more than that on the drop during the delay.

In the old days, Benny would have said, "Pay them both double and get on with the game." But it’s not so now, with the efficiency experts and the bean counters.

It’s the New West.

Oklahoma Johnny poker tip of the week

A lot of the time it is cheaper and more profitable to raise than to call.

If the hand is not good enough to raise, it probably is not good enough to call.

The raise is the most powerful tool in your poker playing tool box.

Use it; you will like it and you can take the money home and count it there.

Until next time, stay lucky.