Miami Jai-Alai has had a rollercoaster history with its Crystal Card Room over the years, going from a huge ornate room behind the jai-alai court to locations elsewhere in the building, including the CourtView Club restaurant on the fourth floor to the parimutuel betting area known as the North Lounge.
The revenues were consistent for many years under long-time poker directors Joe Rodriguez and Nelson Costa, but after Costa moved on to the new Hialeah Park, things went on a downward slide. Even with its nice location on the Casino Miami floor, revenues had dipped.
Now, Casino Miami has decided to go to the bullpen for a veteran executive from Atlantic City.
Enter Jim Tuthill, whose family history in the gaming industry stretches to the1930s and ’40s in Las Vegas. James Tuthill Sr. was a legendary executive in Las Vegas and Atlantic City for many years and his son has established his own legacy all over the world. He broke into the business in Las Vegas in the early 1970s and stayed there until 1979 when A.C. was opening and he had the chance to move east.
“I worked my way up and opened the first poker room in Atlantic City at the Sands,” he said with a chuckle. “I think we beat Bally’s by about five minutes.”
Of course, the gambling business has morphed into something different from the days when he graduated from UNLV and started in Sin City as just Lake Tahoe, Reno and Vegas were open for legalized gambling then.
“Now it’s more of a convenience type of situation, being able to jump in your car from almost anywhere in the country and having a short drive of an hour or so for a gaming experience,” he said.
Tuthill made his major mark at the Sands in Atlantic City for many years, and his latest efforts in New Jersey were as VP of Gaming at the Golden Nugget, until he departed the Northeast in June to bring his experience to South Florida.
“That proliferation of gaming and convenience in the region has presented some new challenges, but I think A.C. still has a place in the gaming landscape up there,” he said. “They’re going to have to retool and streamline their product.”
It was the new and exciting challenges in Miami that convinced him to relocate: “Every region is a challenge, but it’s incumbent on any property in area with competition to find their niche and come up with a formula that works for them.”
Construction is under way at Casino Miami that will cordon off the area differently and allow the Crystal Card Room to admit 18-year-olds, something that hasn’t been allowed by state regulations since it opened this room because of its location on the casino floor.
“In terms of competition, I think a lot of operators make the mistake of getting into a ‘gas war’ with other properties and we have some ideas that we think will be a lot of fun for our guests and we’re in the process of dialing those in.
“Of course, you have to be cognizant of what your competition is doing, but I don’t think you can base your plans simply on that.”
With Magic City slightly more than two miles away, and Hialeah Park, emerging as the highest revenue-producer among poker rooms in Dade County, also nearby, Tuthill is looking for new avenues to attract business, but also realizes some of the traditional ways of doing business are needed to set a foundation for growth.
“Our proximity to the growing Miami International Airport and what we can do with that is something that is being discussed. I would just invite South Florida players to check out our website and look on Bravo.
“We’ll be posting some items in the near future that will be of interest to real poker players as opposed to those folks that are just chasing promotions. We’d like to be a room that caters to players who want good poker action, but we’ll also offer promotions as well.”
In the short time he’s been there, Tuthill has learned plenty about his clientele, a unique melting pot of cultures and a far cry from what he saw in Atlantic City.
“Virtually everyone who plays here is an intriguing and unique individual, each with his or her own motivations. They can be an emotional group at times, but they believe firmly in their own style of play and how they are attacking the game.”
He also outlined the adjustments he has made.
“We had a ton of work to do and we still have a ton of work to do. We have worked on consistency with rulings and floor decisions from shift to shift, and help players understand them. We will change personnel when necessary, coach and counsel employees and customers alike so that we have a comfortable and professional room.”
But mostly he looks forward to some added youngsters and a new layout on the floor to help improve business.
“A fresh group of individuals introduced to the room can only help us in terms of action.”
— Email Dave at email@example.com.