Hollywood Casino launches 12-day ‘Poker Challenge’Written by Dave Willinger | | firstname.lastname@example.org
In a windowless office below the gaming floor of Hollywood Casino
Toledo, poker room manager Ken Lambert Jr. was keen to talk up his latest and most ambitious project: The Hollywood Poker Challenge.
Lambert, the veteran Las Vegas poker tourney organizer, was brought to the Glass City’s gambling emporium by Penn National Gaming about five months ago. Now he’s ready to “bring something to the Toledo area that’s never been here before.”
The Hollywood Poker Challenge includes 12 days of poker tournaments beginning Aug. 21 and will feature twin marquee No Limit Hold ’em events with respective guaranteed payouts of $50,000 and $100,000.
Lambert has structured the Poker Challenge “to drive the numbers” of players, in his words. Poker aficionados can win seats at either main event through multiple feeder tourneys with buy-ins as low as $15 and $35 running from Aug. 21 to Aug. 31. For example, Super Satellite events, which cost $20 to enter, guarantee 10 seats for the $125 buy-in Mega Satellite tournaments, which in turn feed into the main event, a $1,070 per seat tournament.
In order to have success, “a guy doesn’t have to win [the Super Satellite],” Lambert said. “Just make the final table.”
“We’ve been very generous with our guarantees,” Lambert said, conceding recent poker room losses due to poorer than expected participation this summer. For example, a $15,000 guaranteed payout for the recent Fourth of July weekend tournament fell short, he said, costing the casino about $4,500.
“I haven’t figured out this market yet,” admitted Lambert, who is licensed to run gambling operations in eight states and has worked in poker rooms from Las Vegas to Mississippi. Still, Lambert, who has a reputation for putting players first, ultimately believes in the “goodwill” those guarantees create.
Lambert, a stylish yet low-key presence at the casino, makes a sincere impression. As a teenager, he earned extra cash after getting off work as a bus boy at Binion’s Horseshoe casino in Las Vegas by crossing Fremont Street with ice cream for the high limit players at the poker tables in the Golden Nugget. In the years since, he has built lasting friendships throughout the professional poker world.
While detailing the Poker Challenge, Lambert was repeatedly interrupted by texts coming into his phone, including a message from Todd Brunson, son of legendary Poker Hall of Famer Doyle Brunson and an accomplished pro in his own right. Todd Brunson was replying to an invitation by Lambert to come to the Hollywood Poker Challenge. “That’s right before my tournament but let me see if I can swing it,” Brunson texted, according to Lambert.
One poker notable who has already committed is Chris Moneymaker, the 2003 World Series of Poker winner. Moneymaker will host a pre-event meet and greet on Friday evening, Aug. 29, before joining area players at the tables that weekend for the main event.
Also scheduled as part of the Poker Challenge are Ladies Only and Seniors Only No Limit tournaments, a Seniors Only Pot-Limit tournament and an Omaha 8 or Better tourney.
The Aug. 30 Ladies Only tournament is co-sponsored by Ladies International Poker Series (LIPS), a Las Vegas-based organization whose founder and CEO Lupe Soto will be on hand. According to its website, LIPS seeks “to promote and provide poker tournament venues for women poker players seeking opportunities to challenge other women in comfortable, friendly and yet competitive environments.” Lambert called it a “strategic move” to involve LIPS, a 10-year-old organization with promotional resources and an established reputation.
Seniors-only tournaments “are a big deal out there” in the national poker world, Lambert said. The idea is to gear an event toward those who enjoy playing poker “with guys who grew up playing old-school,” in contrast to the overwhelmingly online experience of many of today’s younger players. Hollywood Casino’s seniors-only events are open to those 50 and older.
To accommodate the event, for about two weeks Hollywood’s 20-table poker room will be expanded into pit six, where roulette and craps tables will be replaced by 10 poker tournament tables trucked in from Hollywood’s sister property in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Additional poker dealers will come up from Hollywood Casino Columbus to help staff the tournaments. Players at the two final tables of the championship will be seated on the H Club stage and their play will be live streamed online, pending approval of the Ohio Casino Control Commission.
“Nobody has done a tournament like this in this market,” said Lambert, who is already working on a follow-up event to be held the first half of December.
Lambert expects the Poker Challenge’s economic impact on the area to include “a couple hundred” hotel bookings for each of the two weekends involved. He said Hollywood Casino is working with the Grand Plaza Hotel Downtown, as well as several Perrysburg properties, including Candlewood Suites, Comfort Suites and Hampton Inn & Suites, to provide special rates for tournament players.
One local man who plans to play in the $100,000 main event is Miles Reinhard of Wood County. Reinhard was one of 20 area players who traveled to the M Resort Spa Casino in Henderson, Nevada, in June to play in the Hollywood Poker Open (HPO). He is the only area player who finished in the money.
It was his first time in a major live poker tournament, Reinhard told Toledo Free Press, although he said he had success online before the U.S. government banned its residents from gambling on the Internet about four years ago.
At the HPO, Reinhard lasted two 12-hour days at the poker tables, even surviving a day-one table with four pros, including Dennis Phillips, the third place finisher in the 2008 World Series of Poker. Close to midnight on the second day, Reinhard’s pocket kings got cracked when an opponent with pocket 10s made a set on the flop. Reinhard exited 45th out of a field of 682 and cashed for $7,188.
“I was totally spent mentally after each day,” said Reinhard, 43, noting he tried to pay attention at all times, even when not in a hand, in order to better figure out his opponents.
That success at the M “gave me a little confidence,” said Reinhard, who noted he “did real well last year” at dice.
“Now I got the taste [for poker].”
Tags: Candlewood Suites, Comfort Suites, H Club, Hampton Inn Suites, Hollywood Casino, Indiana, Ken Lambert Jr., Ladies Only, Las Vegas, Lawrenceburg, M Resort, Mega Satellite, Miles Reinhard, Ohio Casino Control Commission, Penn National Gaming, poker, Poker Challenge, Seniors Only Pot, Super Satellite, Todd Brunson, World Series of Poker