At Mirage, Coffin corners market on rec poker players

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When one thinks of the Mirage poker room, they often recall a time when it was the “be all end all” of Las Vegas poker. A time when it was home to the Big Game, and every poker pro in the city called it home. This is forever immortalized in the dialogue of Mike McDermott in Rounders. Now, in 2011, the Mirage has adapted to the changes in the poker landscape of Las Vegas, and changed directions to remain competitive and appeal to more recreational players and tourists.

As the second part of an interview series, I had the pleasure of sitting with Chris Coffin, the Mirage poker room manager. I’ve known Chris a long time, and it was a real pleasure to get the chance to speak with him in person about the Mirage and the new direction he has decided to take the room.

Tell us about your history and how you came to be running the historical Mirage poker room. Poker for me started as a child, playing with my dad in the military. He taught all of us to play poker. I helped my family move to Las Vegas when he retired, and I stayed. Got into the poker business at 27. I played poker (professionally) from 21 to 27. I started dealing downtown and then after five years I moved up to the Mirage to start dealing. Five years later, Bellagio was opening and they needed help in training dealers, and I volunteered to help, which then led to me being promoted to training manager for the Mirage.

After that, I helped run the first two WPT events. … I discovered through a customer-service class being held at Treasure Island one day that they were going to open up a poker room, and I pursued getting that room.

Before that, during the course of years from Bellagio opening to when I got the TI job in 2006, I worked as the office clerk, office coordinator, training coordinator, cashiering, chip runner, special-events manager for poker, shift manager, assistant shift manager, floor person. … Did and learn everything there is about the poker room from behind the scenes to the front of the scenes. That led to me getting the TI poker room in 2006, which three years later when an opening came up at the Mirage I was able to get that position also, and moved over from there, just after Phil Ruffin had purchased the TI.

You decided to change the direction of the Mirage poker room when you took over. What has changed? The big difference is understanding there’s only so much high-end market out there. The mass of the market is low-end, capped no-limit players and limit players. Recreational players. Even within the realm of recreational, I consider many people who play on an everyday basis still to be recreational. They’re actually enjoying their time. They’re not just here to make money. They’re here enjoying the game of poker. They’re not just here grinding away a living. Understanding that is the bulk of the market, instead of just trying to focus on just high limit when we have multiple big rooms in town that have captured that market pretty well, I started changing the room to focus on the more recreational, everyday player, and offering them what they want.

It was nonstop, people asked, “I don’t get anything for my quads? I don’t get anything for my royal flush?” So we started jackpots. And with the jackpot money, we have done many different promotions for holidays, for football, for any special event. We just had our first-ever freeroll, and casino marketing allowed us to put five poker players into their high-roller casino event, which was a first. Using those five seats, we built a freeroll around that, which was very successful.

During the freeroll, I handed out a survey to all the players that were in the tournament, which they absolutely loved the fact that we were asking for their input, which is one of the big things I always do. I listen to the players.

We’re looking at starting a freeroll series. It will be a $250,000 year-long series of freerolls finishing in December 2012 with a $50,000 championship event.

The $2-$5 NLHE game is not common in Las Vegas. Last I checked, there were only eight rooms spreading $2-$5 with daily regularity. Why do you think the Mirage has been able to start getting $2-$5 NLHE again? The freeroll is what really spurned it off and our decision that we do not rake the game until it is seven-handed, and we also have the slowest rake on the game. We take a $3 max (plus jackpot), and we do not take that third dollar until $100, and we’re doing $1.50-an-hour comps on that game. (There’s a) $200 minimum, $750 maximum buy-in on our $2-$5 game, with most people buying in for no more than $500.

What is the No. 1 reason someone should choose to play poker at the Mirage? We are the most comfortable, friendliest, fun room in town. Comfortable, fun and friendly.

— 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.