Altwies makes Aria’s poker room tick

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The Aria Poker Room is one of the most talked about and busiest rooms in Las Vegas. I recently had the pleasure of sitting with its director of poker operations, Adam Altwies, to talk about his room.

How did you come to running the Aria Poker Room? I’ve always had a passion for poker. I walked into a charity casino in Ohio when I was 18 and started playing. Fell in love with it. I didn’t have any money back then, starting to go to college, and I needed a job, so I started off dealing. Went to school, continued dealing, and then hold’em came in, and I started playing. I bought (David) Sklansky’s book and slaughtered everybody. Really put myself through college.
Then I got out of college and ended up taking a real job working in the banking industry. Hated every second of it.

Got married, had a child, and couldn’t play anymore because I had responsibilities. Then one day I got fed up said “I can’t do this, live a life and be terribly unhappy.” I went to my boss and said, “I’m done and I’m moving to Las Vegas.” He kind of laughed at me. I didn’t care. Sold everything, moved out here, and started working at Bellagio. Started out as a dealer, then floor supervisor, then I started working the tournaments, then training manager. I did pretty much everything. Then they were opening up this monster here, and I was lucky enough to get the job.

One thing that has really set Aria apart is that you have really embraced the social media aspects of building your player base. Why social media and what else sets Aria apart? It’s free advertising. We thought about what can set us apart from everybody and we said social media, because nobody was really doing it. What we found was that people don’t like just information. They want interaction, and that’s why we’re so good at it, because we interact with everybody. When people do say negative things, it’s never a negative. Because then I get on there and I say “Please come see me.” And 100 percent of the time that I’ve done that, we’ve talked it out. It’s all positive.

One of the most poignant things you see regarding Aria are the big-name pros wearing Aria merchandise and playing in your daily $300-$600 mixed game. How did you go about getting that player base to come to Aria? You have to know how to run it properly in order to get it. You can get them in the door, but if you don’t know how to run that niche in this market, they’re going to leave because they’re putting a lot at risk. And if you don’t have somebody that can service them in the proper way, and have the proper rules for those games, they’re just going to say, “I can’t play here.” We had that knocked. We knew how to do that. We just needed to get them in the door. Jean-Robert Belland was huge. He is our Poker Ambassador. We have deals with Phil Hellmuth, Josh Arieh, Ben Lamb, Erick Lindgren and Antonio Esfandiari.

It’s something to say that we’ve got the No. 1 and No. 2 in the (World Series) Player of the Year race, Phil and Ben. It’s pretty cool.

Please tell us about your tournaments and comps. Tournaments are twice a day at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. for $125. When we put the tournament together, I said I want something people can play and enjoy. So when they come in it’s not going to be a crapshoot, but it’s not going to take 12 hours, either. You’ll always know that you’re going to have a good time when you come to play a tournament at Aria. For comps, we give $2 an hour and $3 an hour from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Finally, what do think has changed since you’ve opened to bring Aria to where it is now as one of the most talked about poker rooms in Las Vegas? There was a lot of talk of “is the poker room really going to succeed?” What a lot of people didn’t understand was that my staff was going to be the best in the world, and I knew it. If you open a room in a good economy, key employees are already taken. You have to spend a lot of man hours in training in getting these people to where you want to be for your vision. I didn’t have to do that. I didn’t know how long it would take, but I knew at one point that the people that we had assembled would make this place great.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. You can look up everybody’s Facebook and Twitter page in Las Vegas. It’s exactly like ours. All they did was copy us. Now we have to be innovators again, and we have stuff that’s coming out that’s going to be new to the industry. We’ll always stay that one step ahead of everybody. Be innovative. Stay one step ahead. Get people in the room, and have them enjoy playing and be comfortable.

— Michael Hamai (a.k.a LasVegasMichael) resides in Las Vegas and is content manager and editor of AllVegasPoker.com. You can follow him on Twitter @LasVegasMichael or email him at Michael@AllVegasPoker.com.