As we’ve been pointing out, the poker tournament season is in full bloom and I had a chance to test the waters last week with a few events in The Venetian’s Deep Stack Extravaganza I, which comes to a close this week.
Even though I didn’t win, I finished at the final table and cashed a few times, giving me "ammunition" to compete further as we proceed through the spring tournaments, with an eye toward the World Series beginning in May.
I must say The Venetian’s poker room has really blossomed since Kathy Raymond took the helm a couple of years ago. The tournament was run smoothly and effectively, and the poker staff was positive, courteous and very helpful to the players, who turned out in droves – the massive poker room (over 60 tables) was packed most days.
I’ve known Kathy for years, and had a chance to sit down with her to talk about how she’s gone about making The Venetian one of the premiere poker rooms in Las Vegas.
With the background that poker revenues was one of the areas of the casino that actually held its ground in 2008, I think Kathy is a good example of why poker continues to thrive in Las Vegas.
Kathy came to The Venetian from Foxwoods, which has the largest poker room in the East. She said she was "bored" as a CPA (certified public accounted) and started as a Foxwoods dealer in 1992 after completing six weeks in dealer school.
She became director of the room in 1998 and proceeded to put Foxwoods on the poker map, which included establishing Foxwoods as a World Poker Tour stop.
A couple of years ago she was invited to The Venetian.
"Las Vegas was my ultimate destination and The Venetian was off the charts," she said, adding that the competition factor in Las Vegas was at a new level. "It’s a different ball game, even though I knew virtually everyone in the poker world here."
Kathy said that making The Venetian’s poker room a success in such a competitive environment was a process that involved catering to players.
"We looked to the players for information," she said. "It’s not always about the money, but pleasing the players. Toward that end, we found our niche.
"We also wanted to move forward with a series of small steps, without taking any steps backward," she continued. "The players have responded so well that we’ll be adding 35 tables by June, putting our total near 90."
Kathy said offering games tailored toward players’ wants and skills has been key, while some poker rooms seek to attract the high-end or "celebrity" players.
"We have a high-limit room, and we often have celebrity players stop in," she said. "Antonio Esferiandi was in last week, and we host Jennifer Harmon’s annual charity tournament, but we’re not looking for glory – we want to be able to satisfy the majority of players."
The Deep Stack tournament is a good example of that. It is designed to match the wants and skills of the players with the larger chip stacks, but it also offers a variety of games, such as Omaha Hi-Lo and H.O.R.S.E. to go along with Texas Hold’em.
"Basically, the players have certain skills and we try to mix it up so they can use their skills," she said.
As the poker players have responded, so has the poker room.
"We’ve rewarded the tournament players with things like a $10 food comp, retail giveaways for items like T-shirts, caps and jackets, table side food service, a special hotel room rate and VIP valet parking," she said.
As the tournament has grown in popularity, so has the daily cash game business, which is so key to any poker room.
"The tournaments have contributed maybe 10 percent to our cash games," Kathy said. "It’s been a great marketing tool, but what’s most satisfying is seeing the player come back during the week to play in our cash games.
"Toward that end, we’re always trying new promotions and offering new games," she continued. "We frequently get a poker player who never set foot in The Venetian before. That’s very gratifying."
Indeed, Kathy and her staff should be proud of what they’ve produced here in Las Vegas. In such a competitive market, they’ve been able to fill a huge poker room and carve out a viable niche. It’s a great place to play poker.