On the River: Meet Shaun Williams

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When Dennis Jones vacated his position as poker room manager of the Horseshoe Casino in Bossier City he left behind a pair of proverbial big shoes to fill. Jones, who has served as an assistant tournament director for the WSOP, is widely respected in the poker industry. The unenviable job of filling those shoes falls on Shaun Williams, a Shreveport/Bossier City native and long-time employee of the Horseshoe. Williams is a42-year-old self-described Air Force brat with strong ties to the community. His wife is a local school teacher, and they have two children.

“I’ve been here since the Horseshoe opened in 1994,”Williams said from inside the poker room. “I started as a dealer and worked my way up from there into a managerial position supervising table games.”

While his experience with the Horseshoe’s Casino operations is vast, the Louisiana Tech grad readily admits he has little experience with poker.

“I don’t have a poker background, but I think having had Dennis here will make the transition easier. We’re not going to change anything. Dennis ran a very successful poker room and I intend to follow his example.”

Williams said he’s aware of the Horseshoe’s legacy when it comes to poker and of the significance of the WSOP brand.

“It’s a lot of history, and you have to be respectful of that,” he said. “I’m very conscious of what the Horseshoe means to poker and vice versa.”

As manager, Williams will be responsible for overseeing the twice-monthly WSOP main event satellites, which attract local players as well as shippers from Texas and Oklahoma.
“Those will definitely continue throughout the rest of the year and again in the spring.”
Assisting Williams in his duties will be a group of three young guns. Joe Hays, Danny Tafoya and Jason Williams will serve as his eyes and ears on the floor. Naming them as supervisors is yet another tip of the hat to Jones, who mentored them during his tenure. These young men form the core of an experienced poker staff, including many dealers who were there when the first card fell.

“At this moment,” dealer Howard Levine said, “every dealer on the floor except one has been here since Day 1. It’s like a family. There are bound to be disagreements from time to time, but working together for this long helps things to run smoothly.”

While Williams is confident in the way the Horseshoe runs its Bossier City room, he’s quick to point out there’s always room for improvement.

“I would love to see us host a WSOP circuit event here in the near future,” he said. “The problem in the past has been a lack of space, but I am suggesting we could host the event in the Riverdome (the Horseshoe’s on-site entertainment venue). I would like to have more space and more amenities, but the priority will always be to appreciate our poker players and treat them with respect. Dennis Jones knew what players wanted and he gave it to them. We’re going to do the same.”

The economic downturn did not leave the local poker scene untouched (neighboring Boomtown recently abandoned its poker room in favor of electronic house games such as blackjack) but Hays said Williams’ team has found ways to maintain a healthy level of interest to keep drawing players to the room.

“We spread a good variety of games,” Hays said. “On the weekend we spread a $20-$40 limit hold’em game that draws players from out of town. We also offer pot-limit Omaha if the players are here and want to play. No one else is doing that locally. Our regular promotions, like Splash the Cash and Aces Cracked, are also very popular.”

Hays longs to see the economy improve and 24-hour action return to the poker room.
“I would like to see us be able to run multiple games 24 hours each day, but there isn’t much we can do about the economy. I think we will get there when things turn around. And things will turn around. They always do.”

When asked about what the possible legalization of online poker would mean to brick-and-mortar poker rooms, Williams and Hays were quick to offer an opinion.
“Certain players will always prefer live poker as opposed to online,” Williams said. “There are just certain nuances that can’t be replicated online, like the ability to observe and read a player. I think online poker is good, and I certainly think that the Horseshoe and the WSOP will be involved in some way if it is legalized, but I just don’t see much of an impact where live poker is concerned.”

“There are certain advantages to playing in a live room,” Hays said. “The biggest one is that a player can come in here, win a sizable amount of money and receive an instant cashout. The player doesn’t have to wait for their money and there is no limit on how much they can cash. We have one player here who plays online and the most he can withdraw at one time is $5,000. That’s not the case in a live room. If you win $20,000 you can go straight to the cage and leave with your money.”

As our visit came to an end I couldn’t help but notice Jones had stopped by to say hello. The respected mentor still keeps in touch with Williams and crew. The smile on Jones’ face says it all: Shaun Williams has the Horseshoe Poker Room in Bossier City on the right track.

— Scotty “The Spokesman” Rushing is a poker professional and sports journalist. When he isn’t playing or writing about poker he’s usually reading about it. Email him at scottyrushing@gmail.com.