Casino’s new poker boss bringing fresh outlook to tableWritten by Dave Willinger | | firstname.lastname@example.org
It is said that if you stand in New York’s Times Square long enough you will meet everyone you have ever known. It could also be said that if you sit in a casino poker room long enough, you will see just about everything there is to see.
Had you been sitting in the poker room at Hollywood Casino Toledo a few weeks ago, you might have noticed a lanky, bespectacled stranger wearing a sky-blue suit strolling among the tables, chatting with the floor boss and dealers on break. That man was Ken Lambert Jr. — new to Toledo but hardly new to poker rooms.
Since mid-February, Lambert has served as the casino’s new poker room manager. It is the latest job title for a man whose poker pedigree reaches back three decades, all the way to Jack Binion’s storied Horseshoe casino in Las Vegas, where a teenage Lambert got bit by the casino bug in the late 1970s while working as a busboy.
It was his father, Ken Lambert Sr., who got him his start. When Ken Jr. was old enough, he taught himself to deal, passed an audition and was hired at Vegas World. Since then, Lambert has been involved in some aspect of running poker rooms from Las Vegas to Oklahoma to Mississippi and now Toledo.
Lambert was hired to turbocharge Hollywood Casino Toledo’s poker room. As Lambert rolls out plans to expand poker tournaments at the casino and initiate events designed to draw players from across the region, he expects his efforts will “kick it up a notch” in the 20-table poker room.
Penn National Gaming, which owns Hollywood Casino Toledo, had been searching for someone who was “the right fit for the property,” said Jeffrey Goodman, vice president of casino operations at Hollywood Casino Toledo. The poker room manager slot had been vacant since last year, Goodman said, and the casino was not only seeking a replacement with extensive poker knowledge but a person with “great poker business acumen.” Some company officials knew of Lambert, who had semi-retired from the gaming life a couple of years ago, and put forth his name as a candidate for the job.
Goodman said Lambert’s job “is to increase traffic and revenue in the [poker] room.” The company tracks poker revenue for management use but declined to release those numbers. However, Goodman said poker room business had been “a little stagnant over the past couple months,” with most business coming on weekends, Friday through Sunday during the day.
According to monthly figures released by the Ohio Casino Control Commission, gamblers at Hollywood Casino Toledo wagered $10.8 million on table games in January and $12.95 million in February. Gamblers wagered a total of $234.3 million on slot machines during the same period. In 2013, gamblers wagered $1.81 billion at Toledo’s casino, with about 10 percent, $159.4 million, coming from table games. Toledo has the fewest table games — 80 — of Ohio’s four casinos.
The casino reached out to Lambert, 51, who was living in his home state of Indiana, reconnecting with family after the nonstop duties of a Vegas casino official and the peripatetic lifestyle of a World Series of Poker tournament manager. The self-described workaholic — who opened the Mirage casino on the Vegas strip in 1989 and is known for being the first person to run a World Series of Poker event outside of Las Vegas — said when Hollywood Casino Toledo called, it made him realize he still had a passion for the game. That passion along with a desire to provide for his new wife, whom he married in December, made Lambert eager to end his hiatus and come to work in Toledo.
Hollywood Poker Open
One of Lambert’s first duties has been to help finalize the Toledo satellite events for this year’s second annual Hollywood Poker Open (HPO) tournament.
The $2,500-seat tourney will take place at Penn National Gaming’s M Resort Spa & Casino in Henderson, Nev., on June 27-29. Area poker players can vie for a $4,000 prize, including a seat at the tournament, hotel accommodations and spending cash, at each of three Hollywood Casino Toledo satellite events to be held the last three Saturdays in May (May 17, 24, 31).
The structure of the satellites will be a $125 buy-in with unlimited $50 rebuys during the first two hours of play. The maximum number of players for each event is 160, and Hollywood Casino Toledo is guaranteeing five seats to the HPO from each of those satellites.
“That’s a pretty strong guarantee,” Lambert said.
Lambert said there would also be a free roll tournament for regular players at the casino’s poker room. Players who log enough hours in cash games or play in enough tournaments this spring can sign up for a chance to play their way into the HPO. The free roll would be held in advance of the three satellites, he said, and likely be structured in two flights on the same day to avoid a repeat of last year’s inaugural event when a long line of applicants were turned away.
So why should Lambert — veteran of Vegas, former protégé of Jack Binion, friend of Doyle Brunson, whose Rolodex contains the phone numbers of countless famous professional poker players — be content to pace the poker room at Hollywood Casino Toledo? Lambert said he loves the property, citing its newness and state-of-the-art technology, including the mammoth rear-projection TV screens in and around Scene sports bar.
Lambert is already thinking outside the poker room box. He has ideas for large-scale tournaments that would require additional, temporary seating beyond the 200-player capacity of Hollywood’s poker room. He also said he would like to reach out to celebrity players like Todd Brunson, Vanessa Rousso and the flamboyant Robert Williamson III to participate in poker room events at Hollywood Casino Toledo.
Lambert conceded the lack of a hotel on the Hollywood Casino property is a drawback. While he called it “tough to overcome the room situation,” he predicted the big events he envisions for Toledo would “fill up every hotel in Rossford and down the road.”
Lambert is also interested in expanding the menu of poker room action to include higher limit Texas hold ’em games, ante-only hold ’em tournaments and a high-low split Omaha game. Those changes cannot happen overnight — new games require state gaming commission permits — but Lambert, who is licensed in eight states to run gambling operations, doesn’t foresee regulatory roadblocks and is confident the changes will take place during the year.
By the way, that first World Series of Poker offsite event was a charity tournament at the ESPN Zone in Times Square in 2005. So you could have met Lambert had you been standing in that maelstrom of the masses nine years ago. Either way, should you run into him on the poker floor at Hollywood Casino, feel free to introduce yourself. Just bear in mind your interlocutor has already heard, from amateurs and top pros alike, thousands of bad beat stories — so spare him yours.
Tags: Hollywood Casino, Hollywood Poker Open (HPO) tournament, Horseshoe Casino, Jack Binion, Ken Lambert Jr., Las Vegas, Nev, o, Penn National Gaming, Penn National Gaming’s M Resort Spa & Casino in Henderson, poker, Todd Brunson, Vanessa Rousso and the flamboyant Robert Williamson III