Our continuing series of interviews with the heads of poker rooms in Las Vegas continues this month with a conversation with the director of poker operations at the largest poker room in the city. The Venetian poker room opened its doors on April 2, 2006, and continues to draw players through its multitude of cash games and huge tournament fields. At the helm is Kathy Raymond, a long-time poker veteran, and we are thankful she had the opportunity to sit with us and talk about her room.
Please tell us how you came to be running the largest poker room in Las Vegas. My poker background in playing goes back to the age of 8. My professional background started in 1992. I was a CPA at the time and had been doing that for 20 years. I was bored and looking for something crazy to do. Heard about this place they were going to open up called Foxwoods, and it intrigued me.
I started off as a dealer. I went from that position to supervisor and then proceeded to hold just about every position there was. I wouldn’t have had it any other way, as that gave me the tremendous opportunity to experience those things I would be overseeing, and to understand how they worked. I became director at Foxwoods in 1998. I had been working on an expansion at Foxwoods for about a year and a half when I got a call from a gentleman at the Venetian who said they were looking for a poker room director, and would I be interested. I delayed my entrance (at Venetian), because after a year and a half of preparation at Foxwoods I wanted to see that room open. That was my baby.
I love Las Vegas now. It was where I always wanted to be. I was just really waiting for the right company, and I believe Las Vegas Sands is that company.
What makes the Venetian poker room different from the other big rooms? I would say there are various rooms in the city that are known for different things. Bellagio is known for its high-limit games. Aria is known for mixed games, etc. I think that what Venetian has going for it is that we have combined a lot of elements. When we first opened this room, we wanted to make sure that we had all the right elements.
The elements that have made us successful are the luxury of the room, comforts, spaciousness, amenities, but I think more important is the staff. Customer service is one thing, and we do that very well, but I think to be friendly to players is very important. Players come in and they are looking to escape, especially in this economy. Come in, relax, feel comfortable, and we provide that.
The other thing we’re really working hard on now is the diversified offerings of games. We’re trying to get it so that when someone comes into the room, there is no reason for them to walk out and look for something else. When I look at our board and see a variety of games running, I know we are doing what we set out to do: diversify.
The Venetian Deep Stack Extravaganza has become the largest tournament series in Las Vegas, outside of the World Series. Please talk about how you have been able to retain such high numbers in this economy. The DSE actually started out with very big numbers because the players responded to that ability to use their skills. They were educated enough to see a good structure, good starting chips, and they knew enough about the Venetian to know that we had always been consistent in our cash rulings and everything else and that we did have a good tournament staff. It started out on a terrific foot. Business begets business.
With the following that we have with the Deep Stack, the other thing that comes into play is the overlay. In this economic environment, players want a good return on their money. If players know we already have an average of 350-400 players per event, it’s enough for them to say “I will be there.” With that in mind I think that the high numbers feed off of themselves, and if you continue to provide all the elements … it will continue to climb.
The Venetian will be expanding its poker room soon. Tell us about that. When we talk about an “expansion” you’re usually talking about a 10-table room going up to 30. We’re talking about a rather minor expansion. Right now we are at 52 tables, and we will be going to 59. In the scheme of things, it’s not a huge expansion, but what is exciting is that there will be a complete remodel of the poker room in 2012. That’s what we’re excited about more than just adding a few additional tables. It will be like April 2 in 2006. It will be a grand opening.
It’s not only going to be aesthetic improvements, but logistically from a management standpoint, we’re going to be putting in eight additional supervisor podiums throughout the room with computers, microphones and comp printers. We’re not just going to make the room look pretty; we’re going to be able to enhance the service offered to our guests.
— 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.