Nothing weaker about this gender regarding poker

Sep 15, 2009 5:00 PM
The Inside Straight by Joe Awada |

Lately, we’ve seen a new trend emerge in poker rooms – the advent of women successfully taking the reins as managers and directors.

Here in Las Vegas, I’ve mentioned many times about the great work being done by managers such as Kathy Raymond at The Venetian and Deborah Giardina at Wynn Las Vegas, just to name a couple.

This is not taking anything away from their male counterparts … my good friend, Doug Dalton at Bellagio, for instance, is one of the best in the business.

Yet it’s good to see women breaking through that "glass ceiling" while making an impact in the industry.

I recently caught up with Phyllis Caro (pictured), who runs the huge poker room at the Hollywood Park Casino in Southern California, and asked her why it seems at this time that women have become so influential and ultimately successful in poker operations.

Her responses were at once interesting and thought-provoking.

"I think women have more of a nurturing nature, allowing them to understand the wants and needs of poker players," Caro said. "Perhaps, we’re not as protective and competitive as some men might be.

"Of course, for myself, having a degree in psychology helps, especially when it comes to dealing with players," she continued.

Caro added that she stays in contact with other women in the poker world, exchanging ideas and sharing experiences.

"There’s a kind of camaraderie among us, which allows us to help each other," she said.

In addition to those gender-bending attributes, Caro has been around poker for most of her life. She grew up in New York City, but moved to Las Vegas in the late 1970s and took a job as a dealer at the El Cortez in downtown Las Vegas.

She later worked at card rooms at the Las Vegas Club, Aladdin and Golden Nugget, where she met Mike Caro – the "Mad Genius of Poker" – and they were married soon thereafter.

In 1984, Phyllis and Mike were hired by George Hardie, who owned the up-and-coming Bicycle Club in Southern California, serving as consultants and helping with the hiring and training of the poker staff. Phyllis went on to become vice president of casino operations, putting her in charge of the daily operations of the club.

After about 10 years at the Bicycle Club, Phyllis left to take the position of director of poker operations at the Hollywood Park Casino.

"I love the action and energy here," she said. "I have a great deal of freedom to make decisions that benefit the players and we’ve developed a nice, loyal following here in Los Angeles."

Phyllis said Hollywood Park has a "locals" clientele, meaning most of the players live within 10 miles of the casino, which is actually located in Inglewood, California, not far from the L.A. airport.

"We’ve been able to maintain a good, steady business, even though the economy has hurt a little," she said. "We always have something going on, but all the promotions and programs are geared to bringing in players and keeping them happy."

Phyllis said those players in recent years are slightly "more intellectual" than in the past, and they require more thoughtful inducements for their play.

"The players want something more challenging, so we’ve begun offering mixed games, such as H.O.R.S.E., as well as daily tournaments, bad beat jackpots, bonus hands and other promotions designed to spread the money around," she said. "Of course, no limit hold’em is still as popular as ever, and with 66 tables in our card room, we can accommodate everybody."

The bottom line at Hollywood Park Casino, she pointed out, is still giving players an experience they can enjoy.

"We want people to feel at home," she said. "This is their place to play, their ‘club house,’ if you will, and hopefully they like it enough to continue coming back."

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Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Joe Awada