Record bad beat hits at Isle Lake Charles

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Life-changing money from a bad-beat jackpot can be won at any time, on any hand, in any poker room in the state. For two Texas residents that moment came at 11 a.m. on July 1 in Lake Charles. When Terry Henslee and Danny Mitchell sat down to play at the Isle of Capri on the first day of a long July 4 weekend, they had no idea the real fireworks were just moments away. The two became winners of a record-setting $469,000 jackpot.

Henslee and Mitchell were involved in a hand at $4-$8 limit hold’em when Henslee picked up A-10. Mitchell looked down at wired sevens. The flop came 10-10-10, and running sevens completed the board to send the room into a frenzy.

“It got very loud,” poker room manager Dave Stewart said. “We were all on pins and needles once it got over $400,000.”

Henslee, a teacher from Pinehurst, Texas, collected $117,287 for her winning hand. She said she plans to use the money to remodel her house and go on vacation. Mitchell was paid $234,575 for his losing hand. The retiree from Trinity, Texas, told the Isle he has no immediate plans for his winnings. The remaining money was distributed to those playing at the table with Henslee and Mitchell.

The $469,000 bad-beat jackpot is the largest in Louisiana history. Many rooms have changed their jackpot rules, making them harder to hit. Quad fives or better is fast becoming the standard as rooms look to one-up each other in their quest for mammoth payouts. This had led many to conclude that a seven-figure jackpot is a realistic possibility. Just like a lottery, as the bad beat increases more players try to take it down, which can create huge leaps from one day to the next. Stewart, however, doesn’t see that million-dollar payday on the horizon.

“Anything is possible, but we were all surprised it got to almost half a million. We’re going to keep the requirements of quad fives or better so, as I said, anything is possible.”

At least one poker room is taking a different approach. Hollywood Casino in Baton Rouge has relaxed the qualifying hand to aces full of 10s in the hopes that it hits more frequently.

“We’re new so we’re hoping that giving the players something they can hit more often will be a draw,” Hollywood room manager David Veillon said.

NEW SHERIFF IN TOWN: El Dorado Shreveport has handed the reins of its poker room to 50-year-old Angel Heranney, known by players and staff alike as the “Sheriff” for her no-nonsense style. I had the opportunity to talk with her and ask about the origins of the nickname.

“It was given to me not long after I came to the room,” a laughing Heranney said. “I pretty much insist on respect for the rules and following them.”

“Sheriff” Heranney believes her 22 years of poker experience, which began as a brush in Tunica, gives her a knack for making the right call when a ruling is needed. She also said she thinks women make good room managers because they are better at diffusing heated situations when the need arises.

“A woman can do it more gently without offending the players. She approaches them in a different way. I think that this is why we’re seeing more women step into management roles, and I think it’s good for poker to see women not only ascending in competition but in leadership as well.”

When it comes to running the poker room, Heranney believes it’s a mistake to attempt to micromanage it from the pit. She contends this is impossible because “the poker room and table games are two completely different worlds.” Heranney said someone lacking poker experience is just not able to make the necessary decisions that keep the room operating in a smooth manner. She was also candid in her opinions about electronic tables.

“That won’t work because there is no human interaction. The players want human contact. We have a small room but maintain what I like to call a Cheers mentality. Ours is the room where everybody knows your name. Customer service is the most important key.”

The El Dorado has built a fairly strong base of local players by offering a variety of games not found in other local casinos, including a $2-$4 limit hold’em spread, which Heranney describes as a beginner’s game offered to entice those who want to try live poker for the first time.

— Scotty “The Spokesman” Rushing is a poker professional and sports journalist. Email him at scottyrushing@gmail.com.