A different kind of squeeze play

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By Philip Chien

Ever run bad at the table? Did that last suckout by the guy in Seat 5 stress you out? Maybe you need to have someone loosen you up a little. That’s where a massage therapist can help.

Many poker rooms are making things more enjoyable with tableside massages these days. You can have a professional massage therapist give you a neck and back massage while you play. And it’s not that expensive. The typical rate is $1-$2 per minute, plus anything you want to tip the masseuse. Players typically pay for massages with poker chips, but some give cash. Most massage companies have a time minimum, such as five minutes, but others will let you try it out for a minute or two to decide whether you like it.

Most casinos use independent companies to provide massage therapists. Two of the leaders in Florida are Casino Massage Services and Amenity Pro, yet their founders are as different as night and day.

Two Florida players, who enjoyed getting massages at the table during trips to Las Vegas, launched Casino Massage Services. Amenity Pro began with two women who worked in the Las Vegas casino industry, yet they aren’t players … or even massage therapists.

Amenity Pro provides massages at seven poker locations in Florida.

“People are very startled when they find out two women run the business,” co-founder Lindsey Iwanoff said.

Amenity Pro started operations in Florida in September 2007. Iwanoff previously worked for Amenity Pro’s sister company, CASINO’SSAGE, which has been providing massages in Las Vegas casinos since 2003.

“(Poker room massages have) come a long way,” Iwanoff said. “I knew we could bring it to Florida, I’ve lived in Florida most of my life.”

Iwanoff notes an Amenity Pro exclusive that was designed by the sister company: Their massage therapists have a specially designed cushion the player can relax his/her head on while getting the massage.

Casino Massage Services operates in six Florida poker rooms and two locations in West Virginia.

“Everybody loves the massages,” co-founder Jason Levoy said. “It keeps the players happy. It’s just an extra service for the (casino) to add. The feedback has been nothing but great, we haven’t had any negative feedback from the customers or casinos.”

The companies have similar business models. They find licensed massage therapists (LMT) who work as independent contractors, then obtain the licenses for the masseuses to work in Florida casinos, insurance, uniforms and the other business functions. Finally, the company contacts casinos and works out a deal to “rent” for access rights.

The differences between Las Vegas and Florida are greater than the differences between the massage companies. Iwanoff said in Vegas most casinos are within a relatively short driving distance, but in Florida she has to travel as far north as Jacksonville and as far south as Naples. But it’s easier to deal with management in Florida. She said Vegas casinos are extremely large operations that take a lot of effort to talk to the right person while in Florida it’s much easier to make the appropriate contact.

Most poker players are men, so almost all poker massage therapists are women.
“We’ve tried (having male LMTs) a few times,” Levoy said. “It’s been a little bit unsuccessful. We would prefer if it was successful; if it was it would add another dimension to our company.”

Iwanoff agreed: “Unfortunately when male LMTs work in the poker room they get frustrated. It’s hard for them to make a living.”

Both companies have male LMTs on call for clients who would prefer a male masseuse, especially for “Ladies Nights” and ladies tournaments. Women aren’t as squeamish about getting massages from somebody of the same sex as guys are.

“One of our top customers is a female (poker player) and she always gets her massage from a female,” Levoy said. “I’ve been told more often than not from ladies that they’d rather get a massage from a lady than a man.”

The masseuse gets a percentage of the fee for each massage, plus tips. A good masseuse can make more money in tips than the base pay and develop a clientele of players who use them on a regular basis.

“It’s definitely a rapport-based environment,” Iwanoff said. “Because most poker players play on a regular basis the masseuses get to know their players quickly. You’ll get regular clients more rapidly than if you work in a spa.”

Nancy has been an LMT with Casino Massage Services since 2007. Before that she worked as a therapist in a doctor’s office for four years. She works five hours a day, four days a week and could work more if she wanted.

“I love my job,” she said. “I have so much fun in there. It’s like it’s not even work.”

Nancy said the LMT asks the player how many minutes of massage they want. “Sometimes somebody will be really enjoying the massage and ask for more minutes (during the massage).”

“(The LMTs) have never disrupted any of our games,” said Pat Garrity, manager at Ocala Poker and Jai-Alai, which has 28 poker tables. “Players seem to enjoy it. We want the players to have a relaxed enjoyable time while they’re here.”

Poker massages have avoided the bad reputations that massage parlors have had as fronts for prostitution. Poker massages are at the table and only above the waist.

“All of our massages are performed in an open area,” Iwanoff said. “There are no massages behind closed doors. The dealers watch the girls’ backs, even the players get protective over the girls. (If somebody sexually harasses a girl) there’s other people around them who will put them in their place whether it’s management, the dealer, or other players.”

“If (misconduct) did happen,” Garrity said, “I would be there to take care of it. We would handle the situation by telling whoever’s doing it to cease and desist all negative activities.”

The players, massage therapists and casinos all like poker-room massages, and it’s a growing activity.

“It’s just a fun social environment for everybody,” Levoy said.