Craig Lumpp, the new director of poker at Bellagio Hotel & Casino, sat with me to discuss his vision for one of the world’s busiest and most famous poker rooms.
How did you get started in poker? I had an early interest in poker back in Ohio. In 2005, the poker boom was going gangbusters. Adam Altweis, who now runs the Aria poker room, was at the Bellagio and invited me to Vegas and offered me a job. He was a long-time friend of my father’s. I walked in and started dealing the graveyard shift.
Did you go to a dealers’ school? No. I was a little bit green, but I had the right attitude and a love for the game. I had a lot of experience putting together games in my fraternity house in college. One time, I was called down from my room to make a decision in a game, because I was the guy who knew the rules. That was the actual start to my poker career. I dealt full time for about a year, and then worked as a floor supervisor, a shift supervisor and later joined the tournament staff. I worked on the administrative side of things, too, and, in the spring of 2011, I became operations manager of the poker room. I did that for about a year and left poker for a stint in marketing, before being named to my current position.
Did being away from poker for a year change your perspective? Yes, it did on a couple of levels. One, it reminded me of how much I enjoyed the community of poker. I missed it. The casino’s a great business. I love working for the Bellagio; that’s all amazing. The one thing poker has that other parts of the casino don’t have is a big community, a big following. It has its own stories that come out of it. That’s something I really enjoy. It has this niche market. I really love that aspect of it. The other thing is that working with the high-end gamblers and players here at the Bellagio really gave me a perspective on how we are treating our players. We had ways we would market to them, treat them, build our relationships with them so when they would come to Vegas to play their game, whatever it was, they would come here. That’s a perspective I brought back to the poker room I may have missed originally.
Bellagio is known for catering to the high-end poker player. Its reputation among the low-end players is not the best. Are you going to change that? Yes, that’s something we are working on, that we’re really dedicated to. If I sat down and listed, “What are we doing right, what are we doing wrong,” the gold star goes to really catering to the high-end player. We’re dedicated to the high-end player, we always have been and always will be. I think the one thing that’s gotten missed is that all players need to experience that same level of service. That’s the one thing we’re looking at to make that available, because players have an opportunity in our room that they have nowhere else, other than here and Aria, that you have a high-limit game with the biggest stakes in the world, right next to a small-limit game. That’s a great experience for the weekend player, the aspiring player, who wants to climb up the limits. There’s an opportunity for that player to experience the same level of service from us that the high-limit player gets, and that’s our goal.
How do you look at social media? That’s one of our top initiatives right now. We need to get more involved in social media. That’s on the two-month plan. We’ve started developing it.
How do you view your competition? Obviously there are some big poker names out there now and they’ve done well in different arenas. The World Series is a monster brand. It’s a major sporting event and it’s a great complement to our business. We’ve seen different rooms do well at different tiers, different players, they’ve gone after different markets. There’s enough poker in town for everybody. As the industry grows, so will our business, and so will their business. The biggest challenge in my job is knowing everything that’s going on in the industry. It’s something that I have to have my pulse on at all times.
HPO: The first Hollywood Poker Open Championship took place at M Resort the last weekend in June. Spain’s Ana Marquez took home the $320K first-place prize over a field of 631, who had paid the $2,500 entry fee or had won a smaller events at Penn National properties in the year. On the last hand, her pocket jacks held against Ryan Tepen’s ace-king. Tepen, from Ohio, settled for $198K.
ARIA/AVP: Aria will host the next All Vegas Poker tourney Sept. 15 at 1 p.m. ($125, 20K chips, 30-minute levels). Players will be given a $10 food comp and be eligible for cash bounties, high-hand bonuses, trophies and AVP swag. Everyone is welcome but the event is expected to sell out.
RIVIERA: After trying to rejuvenate its poker clientele for the past few years, the Riviera closed its poker room in June.
— Email Rob Solomon at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Robvegaspoker and read his blog at robvegaspoker.blogspot.com.