Jim Pedulla put room on poker map
During last week’s WSOP Circuit event at Caesars Palace, I took a break from the action to speak with Jim Pedulla, the Director of Race & Sports/Poker.
Jim has done a phenomenal job with the poker room since taking the helm three years ago. His accomplishments are more impressive since he readily admits that, when he took the job, what he knew about poker was "just what I saw on TV.
"What they needed was someone with a business mind, not a poker expert," Jim said.
Jim’s business sense comes from years of experience as a top casino executive. He said he often applies a "restaurateur’s mentality" to making business decisions.
"The first thing I did as poker room manager was visit all of our competitors, and I asked a lot of questions," Jim said. "I then realized that we had to be better than anyone else in customer service, and that we had to be 150 percent cleaner than the other poker rooms in town."
Customer service included greeting players at the door, walking them to the table and wishing them good luck.
"Perception is important, and we needed to be perceived as the most professional poker room," he said. "It’s often the little things, such as making sure every one of our staff members has his coat buttoned when on duty."
Jim also added features that players want, such as a high-hand jackpot instead of the traditional bad beat jackpot offered in other poker rooms.
"We’ve been able to run five or six $100,000 free-roll events a year as a result," Jim said. "We’re basically giving players back their money with no cost to us except the advertising.
"We have to be different," he continued. "We actually started the deep stack concept in tournaments with a better payout structure."
A case in point is Caesars’ Mega Stack tournament. Last year, the event attracted about 22,000 players in June. This year, the event will award 36 WSOP main event seats. "We expect it will be bigger and better this year," Jim said.
His efforts have obviously paid off. After his first year, Caesars’ poker business increased 252 percent and the room averages 12 games daily. In addition to the cash games, there are about six daily tournaments with buy-ins starting at $65.
A few months ago, Jim was offered the position of Race and Sports Director when Chuck Esposito left the company.
"Chuck and I were very close – we had offices next to each other, and I learned a lot from him," Jim says. "There were other more experienced bookmakers in the Harrah’s corporation, but like everything else it’s a business, and I’m not afraid to take on a challenge."
That, in fact, can probably describe Jim’s gaming career: "If that’s where they need me, that’s where I’ll go," he said.
Jim got his start as a craps dealer on a riverboat in Illinois. He quickly moved into management positions, such as floor supervisor and shift manager.
But he wasn’t crazy about the "shady" people who bought out his casino – "one of the owners took four bullets to the chest" – and, for the sake of his career, he decided to move on.
He took the assistant general manager’s position with the Morongo tribal casino in Palm Springs, but found the operators somewhat close-minded about implementing revenue-driving devices such as penny slots, multi-denomination games and the like.
So he left Palm Springs and returned to Illinois, where he stayed with his brother for awhile.
"He finally said, are you just going to stay here and cook for me all the time?" Jim said. "I told him no, and that I was going to Las Vegas – the Mecca of the gaming industry."
Without a job lined up, Jim drove out here in January of 2005. A friend at the Palms got him a part-time floor job, but after 90 days he received a call from another friend at Harrah’s.
His friend hooked him up with Jimmy White, the vice president of table games at Caesars Palace.
"I was hungry and took a floor job from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.," Jim recalled. "Shortly after that I was promoted to pit manager."
After just a couple of months, Jimmy White called again and asked Jim if he knew anything about poker. Despite confessing that his knowledge didn’t extend beyond televised poker, Jim said he was all-in, and the rest, as they say, is history.
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