Constructively Improving The Hollywood Columbus Poker Room

After witnessing the mishaps at this past weekend’s Ohio Poker Championship at Hollywood Casino Columbus, I feel there is an extreme level of discontent shared by many of the locals who regularly play poker there. The poker room has such great potential, but it is not even coming close to realizing that potential. I’d like to offer some thoughts in an effort to constructively improve the room.

Unlike nearly every other poker room in the country (and some other poker rooms under the control of Penn National), Hollywood Poker Columbus does not have a Shift Manager position. When the poker room manager is not in the room it feels like there is literally nobody in control. There are multiple floor supervisors but no one is in command which often leads to confusion and to contradictory rulings. There needs to be a clear hierarchy and someone in charge of every shift. In addition, there should be at least one trained Tournament Director, preferably someone who knows, loves and understands how to properly put on a large multi table tournament.

Beside the lack of leadership it also appears that there is a lack of initiative to promote the poker room. The promotions at Hollywood Poker Columbus lack in comparison to those offered by their competitors in Cincinnati & Cleveland, which combined with the extreme rake/BBJ drop in Columbus leads to many high stakes regulars from Columbus playing in one of those casinos as a result. This article from The Columbus Dispatch (Sun 12/8/13) proves as much when it states: “Of the four [Ohio] casinos, Columbus’ Hollywood Casino has been the biggest under-performer this year. The Horseshoe Casino in Cincinnati opened in March and is surpassing predictions for expected revenue, according to data provided by the Ohio Casino Control Commission.” 

The “100% rule” (allowing anyone to buy-in to a table for 100% of the largest stack) completely contradicts nearly every other poker room in the country. There is a reason most other rooms do not allow players to buy-in for up to 100% of the big stack. As a result, the casual player loses money much faster which hurts the poker economy as a whole, including Hollywood Columbus.

When the poker room was opened it contained 30 tables. Shortly after opening, six tables were added. Now, just over a year after opening, only a complete anomaly would lead to all 36 tables being filled. The recent firing of over 20 dealers evidences as much. There simply wasn’t enough action to keep them gainfully employed.

I believe that these and other problems can be fixed. I believe that a full, lively and fun poker room can be the norm. Columbus is the 15th largest city in America housing nearly 2 million people within a :60 minute drive to Hollywood Casino. There is no reason the poker room at Hollywood Columbus should not average 25+ active tables, including multiple $2/5 tables and above, every night. A full room should be the norm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

I believe that considering the following items (amongst many other player suggestions) can vastly improve the poker room and I hope to open a dialogue where we can work together to affect positive change.

1. Eliminate the 100% buy-in rule. Cap all no-limit & pot-limit games below $10/20. Examples:

$1/2         $60-$300

$2/5         $200-$1000

$5/10       $500-$2000

$10/20    $1000-No max 

2. Considering introducing a $100 cap no minimum $1/1 NL hold ’em game (or similar) to help bring in new recreational players and for those who don’t want to sit in a deeper $1/2 game.

3. Considering introducing a $9/18 white chip only limit hold ’em game. This game is spread in other casinos and both the players and dealers love it. It should also help players move to $1/2 NL, which will move more players to $2/5 NL and so on. If properly plugged on the room mic, there should always be a list when this game is running.

4. Consider a “Live at Hollywood Columbus Poker” type show (see: Live at the Bike). This wouldn’t be nearly as expensive as you think to put on, and it would really be something that would stand out vs other casinos. There would be a list for this game every time it ran, and the players on the list would likely sit in other games while they wait.

 5. Improve the promotions! Players like that Cincinnati uses more of its bad beat jackpot money for the promotional fund than the actual bad beat. New and fun promotions are what drives both current & new players to the room to play. It also hurts that casinos like the Horseshoe have a VIP system that gives away Diamond status. Without the ability to offer something comparable (gamblers love status!) Hollywood needs to step up and offer something equally as exciting. Perhaps lower the BBJ qualifications so that it hits more often? Or add a regular Splash The Pot. We now recently found out that the VIP program has been completely done away with and there are rumors that it was funded by player funds (BBJ) and not an actual expense to the casino. This looks very bad from a players perspective. Consider that Horseshoe Cincinnati literally gave away $1,650 seats to their WSOP Circuit event in every single nightly tournament they held leading up to it. Not from player funds, but a $1,650 expense to their bottom line. They clearly understand how to invest in their room.

Free wi-fi would be a nice touch (I hear this brought up often) but more importantly you need to figure out a way to allow the waitresses to deliver a full menu of food. Not only is there often a problem with under staffing of waitresses, but when waitresses are available they aren’t allowed to bring real food to the players (one can only have so many hot dogs and wraps.) Your casino has numerous great places to eat. Figure out a way to sell the extremely high margin food & candy that these restaurants offer to poker players without forcing the player to leave his seat. Once he leaves his seat he is no longer paying rake, but if he keeps his chips on the table he’s also denying a seat to a would-be rake paying player. It makes no sense and seemingly costs you a lot of money.

6. Listen to your customers! Many regular players do not like the traveling button, no option to buy the button and no button straddle. These are just a few examples of changes that could improve the full-ring cash games.

Your social media presence isn’t great. You sometimes do a great job on Twitter and Facebook, however there are also poker forums where the locals and regulars who frequent the room gather to discuss the room. Hollywood Poker Columbus should be actively interacting and listening to what these players have to say. Here is a link to one of the largest threads, found on the forums at 2+2. Just like you’ll find on Twitter and Facebook, some customers are rude and don’t know how to voice constructive criticism. Those customers do not speak for me. I would prefer an open, honest, friendly and constructive dialogue.

7. TRAIN YOUR STAFF! Very few of the dealers and floor staff seem to understand that they are in a hospitality environment (not to mention the fact that casinos are the ultimate hospitality environment.) Some employees do not aim to accommodate and in many cases are confrontational with the players. The staff is largely not made up of “poker people.” That is, men and women who know and love the game of poker. Everyone working in the room should strive to see the room do as well as possible, from the top-down, but that is clearly not the case. The staff should be actively encouraging players to join new games, working the room microphone like a strip club announcer. “Open seats at 2/5” or “sign up for a sit-n-go, only 5 seats left!”, should be the norm. Get new games started short-handed and then work the mic until the table is full. One trip to Borgata is all you’ll need to understand what I mean about working the poker room mic.

8. Fix the multi table tournament problems. Obviously there were issues at the Ohio Poker Championship. First there were apparently only 9 million total chips, and no chip denominations > 10k, leading to day 1b not being able to accommodate more than 200 entries and denying many the ability to re-enter. Clearly this is a big mistake for a tournament that was advertised as unlimited re-entry for six levels on both day 1a and 1b but then capped entries on day 1b. To make things worse, the format was mistakenly cemented as paying only 14 places, despite receiving 445 entries. A standard MTT payout format of 10-15% would have paid 45-67 entries.  Hopefully the plethora of complaints that poured in on Facebook and Twitter have opened up the eyes of the people who can make positive changes happen.

Some suggestions for MTTs:

-Order more chips. A lot more. And order different sets of chips so you have the ability to offer single table sit-n-gos, satellites, etc while running a larger event.

Offer a monthly $100k guarantee (or even a $50k guarantee!). Ensure it doesn’t conflict with Horseshoe Cleveland’s $500 (last Sunday, $7,500 added!) & Horseshoe Cincinnati’s $400 (First Saturday, $50k guarantee). A simple format would be $450+$50 (re-entry), needing only 223 players to reach the guarantee. If you run satellites and offer up seats as prizes (random seat drawings, etc) it should be quite easy to average putting in 25 players per week, meaning you’d only need ~123 entries the day of the tournament to achieve the guarantee (fairly simple in a re-entry format). The casino would make $11,150 in rake at 223 players. 

Offer sit-n-gos. Put them on the board and run them 10 handed. Once > 5 people sign up, they will snap fill up. Once one fills up and starts, put another one on the board. Ex: a $100+15 sit-n-go with a decent structure can award $500 to first, $300 to second and $200 to third, while making $150 for the casino.

Offer satellites to the monthly $100k guarantee. The $100 satellite to the Ohio Poker Championship got 241 entries, giving away 48 seats! If you add one of these per week you should easily put ~20 people per week into the $100k guarantee just from a $100 satellite.

Regularly give away seats to the monthly $100k guarantee (via nightly / weekly tournaments, promotions, drawings, etc.) Be sure these are NOT transferable!

There are rampant rumors that many of the floor personnel are unhappy in the room and looking to make a switch. In addition, there are rumors that other higher-ups at Hollywood Casino despise the poker room and wish to eliminate it entirely. I hope that these people do not ruin what can be a great poker room. Please remove the people who do not work toward the poker room’s best interests

Finally, never say gaming commission. Ever. The gaming commission seems to be the preferred scapegoat when many of these issues are brought up. Instead of defaulting to blaming the gaming commission, the poker room personnel needs to default to doing whatever they can to try to accommodate their customers, the players. It’s a mind-set thing, and while a few of them are exemplary, many are not.

I look forward to working with you to improve our poker room and I appreciate your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Nicholas Nicastro

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About donniccolo

Logic. Common Sense. Open Minds. www.nicknicastro.com
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7 Responses to Constructively Improving The Hollywood Columbus Poker Room

  1. Andy Smith says:

    Great article Nick, I think someone may have actually read it as well since we know the 9/18 game is coming, and i’ve heard rumors of the 1/1 capped game. These are great ideas. Now they just need to have more dealers ready Sunday’s at around 8 pm as people are coming back for the 10 pm drawing. I waited 30 minutes for a seat Sunday night and it cost me getting another entry into the drawing. I know one of the floor guys and I know he knows this shit, but like u said without a shift supervisor stuff doesn’t always go as planned. Some of the floor people are pathetic, Rocco, the players shouldn’t have to tell you about the active promotions. How about actually drawing at 10am, instead of waiting til 10:15 when there were twice as many players playing, why do I come early for the advantage if they simply delay the drawing and let more people have a chance?

    Please let the waitress bring food, i never thought about casino losing rake $ because people are up going to get food, so they must not have thought about it either.

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    • donniccolo says:

      Thanks, Andy. As you’ve seen, some of the changes have been implemented, and the room seems to be responding. $1/1 has been running, leading to more $2/5 games including $2/5 PLO. One night there were four $2/5 NL games, $1/2 PLO, $5/5 PLO and $5/10 NL. That was great!

      Unfortunately, there are still problems re: not enough dealers (or dealers not properly scheduled), alternates in early MTT levels (there should never be alternates!), etc. We are making progress but we still have things to improve!

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  2. Pingback: Hollywood Columbus Can Host Profitable Poker Tournaments | logical thinking in an illogical world

  3. Geoff Hatcher says:

    Great article Nick, found it when I was trying to find more information on the upcoming Ohio Poker Championship in December 2014. Oddly enough, but typical of Columbus, no information is to be found on the structure, payouts, etc. plus it is not listed in any of the poker tournament schedules (ie Bluff, CardPlayer,pokeratlas, etc. websites). Now they do have information on the promotional seat give away through December 11, 2014, but no other information including the buy-in on their web-site other than the date. I would expect a very low turn-out to this one given the “No exposure” as many players are already making plans for their December tournaments coupled with the fiasco from last year.

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    • Geoff Hatcher says:

      Wow, even no mention on their facebook page, they are promoting Mike Sexton’s Charity Tourney on November 28th. Didn’t know there was an upcoming charity tournament until now, lol.

      Like

    • donniccolo says:

      Thanks, Geoff! I was just told by room mgmt that they are awaiting approval for their marketing materials to start advertising the Dec tourneys. It’s so ass backwards here in Ohio. The red tape is suffocating the life out of poker.

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