Phyllis Caro: Poker trendsetter, Hall-of-Famer

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Phyllis Caro’s legacy is secure, being inducted into the Women in Poker Hall of Fame at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas on Sept. 2, joining the likes of Barbara Enright and Jennifer Harman.

Originally from New York, Caro ended up in Las Vegas after college because of “a guy.” She started playing seven-card stud to pass the time and found it was a profitable pastime. She doesn’t get to play much these days, though. She’s an accomplished player, making the final table of the World Series of Poker ladies event in 1978, but she knows her induction was for her contributions to poker and not what she has taken from it.

She eventually moved into dealing. From 1979-84 she dealt at the El Cortez, the Aladdin and eventually the Golden Nugget. She convinced the Stardust to spread Texas Hold’em after the Aladdin closed its room in 1981. In 1984, she dealt the final hand of the World Series of Poker Main Event for Jack Keller’s victory.

It was in 1983 while dealing at the Nugget that she heard about a high-roller who had the high-limit game raised from $10-$20 to $20-$40 and $30-$60. She also read an article written by the same guy that said dealers were obsolete and with the advancements in artificial intelligence, would eventually be replaced.

“Who is this (expletive) who is knocking my livelihood?” Phyllis said. “That’s how I met him. I hated him.” After a while they started flirting at the table. That guy was Mike Caro.

In 1984 he landed a position at the Bicycle Club in Los Angeles, which was due to open shortly. Phyllis accepted a job as dealer coordinator. As one of the original employees, she was in on the ground floor of the planning and opening.
“Mike was offered something at another casino,” she said. “They said, ‘You want to leave? Go ahead, but you can’t take Phyllis.’ That’s how it started. They appreciated my work ethic or whatever. I was there entrenched in the Bike for the 10 years that I was there. I moved up the ranks. I started off as dealer coordinator, which is the dealer supervisor. Then the tournament director left. Next thing I know I’m the first woman tournament director.”

One of her achievements in that role was instituting a non-smoking policy for tournaments, making it the first club to do so. In 1989 she ran a tournament series that had an event with 861 runners, a number unheard of at the time. She also started the Queen of Hearts, the first women’s tournament at the Bike, which still runs today. She eventually moved up to vice president of casino operations, becoming the first woman to hold a VP title at a major card club.

In 1995 she left the Bike to become director of poker at Hollywood Park, a position she still holds. During our interview she handled numerous issues from members of her team and made sure to mention Hollywood Park is in the first phase of a huge remodeling project.

The poker room should move to the newly finished section of the casino this month, and with this Hall-of-Famer at the helm you just know this new room will be worth checking out.

— Dave Palm is Ante Up’s Los Angeles Ambassador. You can email him at LA.AnteUp@gmail.com.