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How To Not Run A Cardroom

by Bob Ciaffone |  Published: Oct 01, 2014


Bob CiaffoneWe have some cardrooms in my state that are run so poorly that one sometimes wonders how they even stay in business. I think their number one problem is there is a lack of communication between management and workers such as dealers and floorpeople. There is also a lack of communication between upper management and customers.

One of my favorite observations is, “The people most in need of good advice are those least likely to seek it.” As a result, there is a culture of treating someone who complains about policies or offers suggestions on how to improve as a trouble-maker rather than a helpful person. When management says no enough times without changing anything, the flow of helpful ideas will eventually dry up. This is hardly limited to poker. It is common in many governmental agencies and large corporations. We need a culture of communication right at the top in order to have a smooth-running outfit. Here are some of the wacky ideas that exist in certain of the cardrooms I play in.

Some of the games I play in have blinds of $1 and $2, but have hundreds of dollars in chips in front of most of the players. My favorite poker form is pot-limit Omaha (PLO), which can slow down the action if the rules for what chips are in play are not so good. Inducing the players to bet in rounded off money amounts is helpful in keeping track of the pot size. What needs to be done is to use rounded off amounts in the betting to keep the $1 chips out of the pot size calculation. You can round off to the nearest $5, or have all the odd chips rounded upward to count as a $5 unit (most common), or have them not count at all. Any of these methods would be better than counting every single dollar that is put into the pot, because all of the methods I mentioned let you bet only in $5 units.

The cardroom management is well aware of this need for rounding off the pot size — but there is no cardroom manager. The person in charge of the cardroom is the table games manager, who is someone who does not know a lot about poker, yet turns a deaf ear to those who do. It seems to me that the cardroom staff are afraid to talk to this person because the result will be to change nothing and may put one’s job in jeopardy.

To show you just how oblivious the table games manager is to pot-limit play, he scheduled a PLO tournament using a structure with an ante to supplement the blinds. It was obvious to all the pot-limit players that the person in charge of the event was clueless about pot-limit play. Only one person showed up for the tournament. However, the next week, the guy tried to hold the same event again, with no changes! No one came.

Another cause of player anger at management is for poorly trained dealers being used in higher-limit games. One of the cardrooms I play at decided that all their pit people should be trained so they could also deal poker. Also, they should know how to deal every form of poker and every limit of game. Accordingly, these rookies were put to work dealing PLO before they had any experience in small-stakes limit poker games.

This was in the same cardroom that failed to round off the pot size. You can imagine the struggle these new dealers had trying to learn how to deal PLO. On top of being slow and clumsy, these new dealers had a lot of trouble awarding the proper amount of money to the players who held winning hands. They simply did not know how to figure main pots and side pots. I have seen a dealer trainee take chips from in front of the two players who split a pot (piles of chips were left there after the betting was over because one player pushed all-in and the other said “call”) and splash all the chips into the center pot, despite the fact that the piles were unequal. The dealer did not understand at first that the chips for the last wager should simply be retrieved by the players. We had to spend several minutes backtracking all the betting, and I am still not sure that the pot was figured correctly.

One of the most frustrating things that can occur in a cardroom is to have a group of players that are ready and eager to start playing a poker form that they like, yet have management not start the game for one reason or another. Often, the reason the game is not going is because there is no dealer available for another table. The management does not seem to understand that a dealer who is not put to work right away costs the house far less than a game where the rake is upwards of $100 per hour costs the house when the players are idle. It could be that a number of those players are already in a game. However, players who are killing time in a $1-$2 blind no-limit hold’em game waiting for their PLO game to start are not happy customers when they are all ready to play PLO but a dealer is unavailable.

Another possible reason a poker game is not started when it should be is that there is management concern about another game breaking because some of the prospective players are tied up in a game that management wants to protect. Sometimes the cardroom can stall for a short time until the a couple of players show up to keep a game in progress going, an action that is understood by players and tolerated by them for a short while, but needs to be addressed quickly.

Whatever the reason for management’s stall in starting a game when there are enough players available, it will be an unpopular action. I have seen whole groups of players move certain poker games to another casino because they were so angry at a cardroom’s constant failure to start games promptly. That is precisely the main reason the Motor City Casino in Detroit was able to attract most of the poker business in their area.

Poker mimics life. I notice that there are many businesses that spend huge amounts of money to get new customers, but expend much less effort to retain them. That is an unhealthy business practice. ♠

Bob Ciaffone’s new poker book, No-limit Holdem Poker, is now available. This is Bob’s fifth book on poker strategy. It can be ordered from Bob for $25 by emailing him at Free shipping in the lower 48 states to Card Player readers. All books autographed. Bob Ciaffone is available for poker lessons.