A chat with Planet Hollywood’s Chris Gawlik

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The Planet Hollywood poker room is taking on a much larger presence in Las Vegas and within the Caesars Entertainment Corp. I recently chatted with manager Chris Gawlik to discuss the success of the room and its future.
How did you get started in poker in Vegas? I came out here from the Chicago area in 2008 and auditioned to deal the World Series of Poker.

How much experience had you had by that time? I started with kitchen table games with family and friends. Then the TV boom happened. I actually remember the first poker show I watched; it was Celebrity Poker Showdown. That was the show that sparked my interest. I got involved with a local bar company there that hosted tournaments in bars. I was a salesperson and host. I enjoyed that aspect of it. I learned about dealing and hosting and here we are.

You stayed in Vegas after that first WSOP? Yes, I was hired by Bally’s and worked as a dual-rate supervisor at Bally’s and Paris when they had a poker room. Then I moved over to Planet Hollywood and started running it in February 2012.

Why should people play poker at Planet Hollywood? It’s the action and the location of the room. Obviously we’re off the main drag of the casino. In the evenings, as the concerts are going on, it’s just a great place to be seen and you get some nice scenery while you’re sitting here doing some gambling.

You used to be known mostly as a cash room. But now you’re starting to run some big tournaments. We’re simply expanding on the PHamous Poker Series. Our first one was in April 2013. Now we have PHamous VI right around the corner (Oct. 9-12), PHamous VII will in December and PHamous VIII tentatively scheduled for April. Then, of course, PHamous IX will coincide with the WSOP next year. Bigger and bigger and bigger.

Plus you’re the new Vegas home of the WSOP Circuit: Yes, the next one is Nov. 13-24 with a $1,675 main event that has a $1 million guarantee. The event that I’m most excited about is the dealer’s choice event. We’re going to have the first dealer’s choice event outside the WSOP.

That event seemed to get rave reviews from the players. The vibe of that room was much different than any tournament I’ve seen. The players were more talkative, more laid-back. That may have been one of the highlights of the summer. We’re going to scale it down a little bit to some of the more traditional games, but still give the players control to make it different and to cater to what their strongest games are.

Do you think you might want add that to your other series, depending on how it goes? Absolutely. Obviously poker is in a spot now where people are looking for something different, something more fun, and at PH we definitely love branching out and taking chances on these tournaments. They work or they don’t work. If they work, we’ll find out how we can make it better, and if they don’t work, we’ll see how we can make it work. That’s the beauty of having the large room upstairs on the Mezz; all of our tournaments don’t have to be catered to one specialty group. We can go after the PLO traffic, the mixed-game traffic. Next year, we would definitely love to incorporate some type of stud events into our series during the WSOP.

You use the Mezzanine for your tournament series? Yes, the mezzanine is where we hold all of them. We put roughly 75 tables up there, as well as a few cash tables. So we basically become a 90-table poker room when you include the downstairs room. To the best of my knowledge, outside of the WSOP, that makes us the largest room in Vegas when we have our big events.

For the series you just completed, how was attendance? The series was spectacular on every level. We had $2 million in guaranteed prize pools; we exceeded $3 million in actual money paid out. We generated 20,000 entries across all our events for the summer. That number was beyond our wildest expectations. It wound up being a great event. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Allen Kessler for working with us and helping us get our structures put together. That increased our attendance dramatically. We also want to give him some love for his recent main-event win at Foxwoods. I want to stress that Allen reached out to us, we didn’t go to him. He came to us just like any other player and said, “Here’s how you can make this great.” After many calls and emails back and forth, we put our trust in him. He’s a great ambassador for the game. He never asked for a thing in the process.

Do you think non-hold’em games are going to increase or decrease in popularity? It’s hard to answer because it varies in different regions. Obviously Vegas is a no-limit town. You’ll see some limit action, some Omaha/8 and PLO action, but it’s mostly no-limit hold’em. You look at Los Angeles and even the East Coast, there are more offerings. But in Vegas, it seems like everyone wants to play NLHE. I believe Planet Hollywood is the only Vegas venue that runs a weekly PLO tournament with a guarantee. Monday nights, $65, $1K guarantee.

And when you play, what’s your game of choice? Pot-limit Omaha/8. Not Big O. PLO/8. That’s where I have the most fun.

— Email Rob Solomon at rob@allvegaspoker.com. Follow him on Twitter @Robvegaspoker and read his blog at robvegaspoker.blogspot.com.