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Walkers, be gone!

Jul 6, 2004 6:05 AM

As the popularity of poker skyrockets, poker rooms have become beehives of activity. Many old-time players aren’t happy with the elbow-to-elbow atmosphere, lack of parking, long wait times, tougher games, higher rakes and so on.

If a casino could solve the riddle of efficiently handling the larger number of players while meeting their expectations, players would beat a path to their tables. But, only a few casinos or card rooms resolve enough of the conflicts to generate an efficient business.

Even with the electronic age, industry statistical sampling is still in the infancy stages. Few poker operations have a grasp of the average sit time of their typical player, the actual dollar value per hour, and how to improve either figure. Tracking players is going to be the cornerstone of the card rooms of the future and one of the recurring problems that needs addressing is the walker.

What is a walker? That is a player who, for reasons not yet clear, has his chips on a table but is not participating in the action. This type of player is probably detrimental to the room, but definitely a negative for the game.

If the game has no list, the table is in greater danger of breaking with the loss of one or two players. If there is a list for the game, someone who wants to play and contribute to the action is watching while someone who does not is taking up space.

Some of these walkers are genuine assets to the casino, participating in other games while holding a seat in the poker room. Would they continue to play these other games if they were not allowed to hold a poker seat? That’s not known, but there is concrete evidence that without the poker room, these players would be at another casino.

Some of the walkers are eaters. Nourishment is essential, but there are other methods of feeding these players. California players eat at the table and room buffets might work as well. Why don’t the Nevada rooms adopt either of these procedures? Also unknown.

Another category of walkers is the daily professional. This is probably the most correctable group and, with proper house controls, most of these players would be forced to play or vacate. These players typically take the maximum time to eat while tying up table space that could be filled by live players and then return to pick up their chips. Are these players just inconsiderate? Probably, but the real culprit is management that lets them continue the practice.

Some of the difficulties of trying to control walkers are that solutions might be worse than the problem. Punishing walkers may hurt the sports and race book money, cut into the slot or table game income, lower the restaurant returns or chase away the regular player.

Professionals are not necessarily a blight on a poker room. Many are quite congenial and form a nucleus that attracts regular visitors. Many professionals are former dealers or are just alert enough to help correct dealer errors before they get out of hand. So before instituting strident regulations, management must think through the consequences of attacking this group.

A good walker rule should reduce the number and duration of absences without damaging the player base or any gains in other areas of gaming. Many places allow too much time for absences. If the total absence is no longer than an hour in a large casino and 45 minutes in a small casino, fewer games would break.

I think just about everybody can get a bet down in that time, cards will cycle differently, and anyone interested in grabbing a meal can find something satisfying within those time parameters. Would table-side eating work in Nevada? Side-cars take up tremendous space, both in the storage, movement, and placement.

Given that accountants are noticeably upset at the huge differential between poker and machines in drop per square foot, this idea would not be positively received. However, food in the room has been effective in reducing both comp costs and absenteeism.