Poker players flush with excitement over new poker roomWritten by Mark Tooman | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Legalized gambling has come to Toledo — sort of.
Players in the Toledo area seeking legal, potentially high-stakes poker games, previously had to travel to poker rooms in casinos in Detroit or Windsor, or find a charity game sponsored by a local non-profit organization. Now all they have to do is take a short drive over the Michigan state line to find live, legal poker action four days a week.
The CSI Poker Room opened in the former Dollar King store located in a retail strip center at 6644 Lewis Avenue, just north of Smith Road in Temperance. Featuring 10 poker tables, one blackjack table, ceiling-mounted televisions and the familiar sound of chips being riffled by nervous players, the poker room has attracted near capacity crowds since opening Feb. 4.
CSI Poker Room is the first such establishment to open in a permanent location in the greater Toledo area. There are more than 120 such establishments in Michigan.
Owned and operated by Grand Rapids, Michigan resident Russ Van Dam, 52, and his wife Christine, the business operates as a charitable gaming enterprise under the jurisdiction of the Michigan Lottery’s charitable gaming division. They also operate three other poker rooms in Michigan — two in Grand Rapids and one in Warren.
By Michigan state law, operators must share at least 50% of the operation’s gross revenues with approved Michigan charities. Charities must purchase a charitable gaming license from the state. The state will grant charities up to four licenses per year that are valid up to four consecutive days at one location.
Van Dam says that charity gaming businesses used to take their gaming tables, cards and chips to the charity’s location to run casino night fundraisers. The charity was responsible for promoting the event and attracting players, often to their VFW hall or school gymnasium. The trend in the last two years, however, has seen company’s such as Van Dam’s establish permanent poker room locations.
“Poker players now know where the permanent poker rooms are located,” Van Dam said.
Benefitting charities are required to have volunteers on site at all times to handle money and chips, and maintain records of all transactions. Van Dam provides and pays experienced dealers for all of the games and has on-site security at all times.
One recent Wednesday evening the CSI Poker Room was bustling with 75 to100 players at any given time. About half the poker players were participating in a Texas Hold’em tournament while the other half played in individual table cash games. The lone blackjack table was busy as well. Van Dam said about three-quarters of his patrons was crossing the state line from the greater Toledo area to play.
That evening’s charity was the Erie Mason High School hall of fame committee. The husband and wife team of Alison and Dan Meisner, hall of fame committee members, were volunteering their time to take cash and hand out chips to players eager for a chance to win a poker jackpot.
“This will be the hall of fame’s first year, so this is our first effort to raise money,” Alison Meisner explained. “We wanted to earn a lot of money without having to do a lot of different fund raisers.” She says about 20 volunteers will assist at the poker room over the four days that will benefit their organization.
According to Van Dam, the committee’s payoff could be handsome. “Charities can make a $1,000 or more a night,” he said. “In our smallest room in Warren the charities average around $700 a night. That’s the lowest we have.” Van Dam has charities lined up for the Temperance poker room for the next couple of months.
Fueled by multi-million dollar tournament jackpots, national television exposure, and online gambling opportunities, the game of poker has exploded onto the American landscape. Always one of the most popular card games, poker has re-emerged as the new game of choice among players of all ages, genders and backgrounds.
The CSI Poker Room was occupied by a colorful array of players not unlike the amateurs and pros featured prominently on ESPN and other networks, some of whom have become instant millionaires and famous personalities. Just like their TV brethren, some players were sporting sun glasses, ball caps, and hooded sweatshirts drawn over their heads. Others players dressed neatly in jeans and sweaters looked much like suburban men and women you’d likely find playing cards with friends around the kitchen table on a Saturday night.
There is no limit on the amount of money a player can win and the poker games are run exactly the same as they are run in a casino. Seventy-five percent of a player’s tournament buy-in is returned to players in prize money. In cash games the poker room keeps a maximum of $6 per hand from the pot to be split with the charity at the end of the night.
Players are drawn to the poker room with the hope of a good gamble. Van Dam says, “We pride ourselves on having the best dealers. Serious poker players don’t like inept dealers. We offer the same exact quality of play and level of service for poker as the casinos do.”
Many of the poker room patrons agreed with Van Dam.
“This is a good idea,” said Ron McDowell, 39, from Perrysburg, as he waited for the next tournament to begin on his first visit. “Now I don’t have to go all the way to Detroit. It’s good for charity. I’m sure I’ll be back many times.”
Seated with a table full of anxious-looking players, William Anderson, 78, of Blissfield, was back for the third time to try his luck in a tournament. “I won the first two times I was here,” he said. “I won $300 in a cash game and $390 in a tournament.” Anderson said he learned poker 60 years ago while in the merchant marines. “I go to Greektown Casino (in Detroit) all the time,” he said. “But this is just as good as far as poker goes, and you don’t have to drive 75 miles.”
Van Dam says he has developed a regular following of players already. He targeted the Temperance location because he felt there would be a great demand for poker in the Toledo area. “This is the best opening we’ve had at any of our locations,” he said. “I hope to expand to seven days a week in the next couple of months.”
Van Dam recognizes that the success of poker rooms such as his has captured the attention of the Michigan State Gaming Control Board, some state legislators, and casino operators. There has been discussion about more strictly regulating charitable gaming through legislation that would limit poker rooms such as Van Dam’s to only one, four-day charitable gaming event per month, for example.
Van Dam says that if Michigan legislators really care about their constituents and their local communities that they represent, they would not introduce legislation. “In fact they should be working with the state gaming commission to loosen up some of the laws to help benefit the charities,” he suggested. “Ask anyone involved, and they’d find out that their local communities are benefiting from this.”