Mardi Gras hires Litvin to run poker room

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David Litvin, the new director of poker at Mardi Gras Casino’s Big Easy Poker Room in Hallandale, has been a casual friend of mine for more than 20 years. But it was only recently I realized when this man gets involved in a business, he throws himself into it with incredible passion, learning all aspects of the industry and becoming a master of most. We got our starts in the jai-alai industry, sharing many similar titles and duties, though at different facilities and times. Litvin was a public-address announcer, worked in the publicity and mutuels departments, and even became one of jai-alai’s top amateur players, earning a spot at the 1990 Pan-American Games in Cuba, representing the United States.

In 1994, with jai-alai in serious decline, Litvin looked to the future and transitioned into the poker world. While the poker boom was still nearly a decade away, the move was not exactly visionary, as the parimutuels were working hard at that time to persuade the state legislature to allow them to open cardrooms.

Still, it got him in on the ground floor. He started as a dealer on a cruise ship that departed daily out of Martha’s in Ft. Lauderdale, and through a series of fortunate events, quickly got an opportunity to run the room just six months later. He spent another decade working on the cruise ships in various positions with numerous duties, following his usual pattern of becoming familiar with every aspect of the business. He would later open a poker dealer school in South Florida, but left that behind in 2009 when he took a dealing position at Mardi Gras. Talk about life coming full circle.

And to many people it would seem like a step backward. But Litvin knew what he was doing; it’s no secret most dealers do well financially because of the gratuities from thankful players. It gave him the chance to relearn the experiences of employees he would later manage.

“I’m glad I (returned to dealing) … I’ve always felt it is best to hit all the steps along the way,” he said. “Dealing day-in and day-out to essentially the same players let me see and feel what our dealers consistently experience, and that has made me a better manager.”

During this “relearning” period, Litvin made several trips around the country to deal at major events, including the WSOP Circuit and the WPT, picking up more knowledge and expertise. Litvin became shift manger at the Big Easy in 2010, and then was promoted to director this past August.

With these promotions in his past, he has turned his immediate attention to some unique poker promotions, always asking himself the simple question: “How do I get people in here to play?”

The successful Thursday night freeroll was a start, and a freeroll strictly for college students was next, with the first of a series of three events played in early October attracting about 30 players.

“It’s an experiment, and we’re promoting it using mainly social media,” he said. “If it continues to grow, we’ll extend it beyond that.”

The Big Easy room, on the north end of the building, also has numerous high-hand giveaways, including the latest incarnation: the Win, Place and Show High Hand Derby.

“Since we are a dog track, instead of just one high hand for a certain period of time like most places award, we have three each hour; a first, second and third place awarding $300, $200 and $100. The guests love it because it adds drama to each hour. For example if someone hits a straight flush to the queen in the first five minutes, you can feel the air come out of the room. But with this setup, a marginal hand can take the top spot early, and if it’s beaten, the first player can still hope to hold on to second or third.”

He’s a playwright, too?

All of this would be a great story by itself, but while getting to know an old friend a little better, I discovered Litvin has written a play about life on the poker tour. Titled All In – A Poker Musical, Litvin spent nearly a year writing the funny and satirical love story for the stage, enlisting the help of Big Easy regular and music composer Vini Poncia to pen the tunes. Poncia’s claim to fame was co-writing Leo Sayer’s 1976 hit single You Make Me Feel Like Dancing, and after reading Litvin’s scribbled notes and first draft, he realized it was a developing project with amazing potential. He feels if this project never gets past its current status he has accomplished something special.

Of course, the quality of the songs will be the ultimate key to becoming an actual production, and having heard none of the music, I cannot offer a complete evaluation. However, with plenty of inside jokes for poker enthusiasts, I’m hoping the poker world eventually gets to enjoy the Litvin-Poncia project.

Meanwhile, Litvin will continue to concentrate on what he does best of all: run a fair and entertaining poker room for the players of South Florida. Stop in and say hello at the Big Easy, try to win a high hand (or place, or show), and maybe Litvin will sing one of his show tunes for you.

— Big Dave Lemmon is Ante Up’s South Florida Ambassador. Email him at bigdave@pokeractionline.com.