Dominick Muzio And the State of Poker Today

This is going to be a totally different kind of blog post.  

I recently had a long chat with Dominick Muzio.  Dominick is a dealer/floor/shift supervisor at the Treasure Island poker room.  He was a regular contributor to the AVP forums (Dmuz75)  which was where I first “met” him.  An assignment I had for Ante Up brought us together.  A very short profile of Dominick will appear in a future issue.  But he had a lot more to say than could fit into a short profile for Ante Up.  And he was eager to have his thoughts about the current state of poker shared publically.  He is not shy about voicing his opinion, as you know if you follow him on Twitter (here) or Facebook (here), which I recommend you do.

Dominick has been dealing in Vegas since 2009, first at Harrah’s then at TI.  Before that he used to visit Vegas frequently from Florida, first to play blackjack, then poker.  He’s been playing poker in brick and mortar venues since the late 1990’s.

We spoke while he was running the room at the TI on a late weekday afternoon.  The 2PM tournament was finishing up, and there was a cash game (1/2) going too, and Dominick was happy that all the players in that cash game were tourists, not a single local.

R: So, what’s wrong with the state of poker today?

D:  Why poker sucks right now?

R: Yeah, why poker sucks.

D:  OK, there’s three things that killed poker.  Number 1:  Math killed poker.  I have actually seen people make calls because it’s mathematically correct where everything in the world is telling them they’re beat.  There’s four hearts on the board, and a guy throws in $40 into a pot that has 350 bucks in it and the guy’s like, “Well, I’m getting 8 to 1 odds.”  It doesn’t matter. You lose.  That’s an extreme case but nobody plays with feel anymore.  Everything is math.  Look, I understand you need to know the math.  You’re talking to an old blackjack guy.  You need to know the math.  The problem is that when you throw feel out the window, you become a robot, and that’s what caused the steady decline.  All these math kids that figured out online, with their HUD trackers and all this and that,  now they had to play live once internet poker died, they don’t know how to react to people. They can’t talk to people.  They can’t pick up on tells.  Tells are still huge, nobody realizes that any more.  It’s not the typical, “oh I saw his neck pop….”

You know what I look for?  I look for the guy who fiddles with his thumbs when he’s playing with his chips.  I look for the guy that immediately grabs his cards when an Ace hits the board.  Those are still golden.  And you can still use those.  But nobody’s using that anymore.  It’s, “he has a timing tell.”  Really, why?  Because on PokerStars you only had 30 seconds to act?  There’s no such thing as timing tells live.  I’m sorry.  Maybe….the only timing tell I can tell you about live is that when you’re down to the final table and a guy looks at his cards and instantly shoves it all in, it’s usually Ace-King or Ace-Queen.  He has no idea how to get value.  If he looks and he hems and haws for an hour and a half and then goes all in, Aces every single time.  That’s really it for the timing tells. So the math killed it.

Number 2, the people killed it.  The local players killed it  What they complain about drives me absolutely batty.  Like rake.  You don’t realize what a good deal you’re getting when you get to play poker in a casino.   You have no idea what a good deal it is.  I’m gonna sit down at that table, I got a guy dealing my cards, I got a beautiful woman bringing me drinks for free. I don’t have to worry about, is this guy cheating. I don’t have to worry about, did this guy put enough money in the pot.  I don’t have to worry about any of that.  And for that privilege, you’re gonna take maybe $8 an hour from me. And, if I hit a certain hand, you’re gonna give me money back?  It’s the best deal in a casino.  Try that at a blackjack table.   They don’t realize it.  What they want to focus on is “Oh my god, the rake is so high, they’re taking $5 out of every pot.”  When was the last time you played at a poker table where, at the end of the day, all the money was gone because it went down the rake box?  Never happens.  And it never is going to happen.  Now, back in the  old limit days—when I started I started off playing 3/6, 4/6, 8/16, sometimes 10/20—yeah, the rake was high, cuz there was a static amount of bets you can get, you can’t get it all in, at least very rarely you can.  So, if I’m looking to make $22/hour, or three big bets, four big bets, and you’re taking one of those bets, yeah, it’s gonna eat into my bottom line.  But when I’m playing at a game where there’s, right now $1,400 on the table (as he looked over the game going at TI at the moment), I’m gonna complain you took $4 out of it?  No way, sir.  Because at least two of those guys when they go bust are going to reach back into their pocket.

Local players need to realize that the casino is your partner.  You have your own business?  They always say that.  “I’m a businessman, I have to control my costs.”  You’re absolutely right. Why don’t you go run the game at your house, see how much it costs you, when you have to buy beer for your friends, pizzas when they get hungry, and the one guy shorts the pot $10 when he palms two chips or whatever it is.  You don’t realize what a value you’re getting.  They want to make money off the casino, not the other players.  Your goal when you walk in here to play poker is not to make money from Treasure Island, it’s to make money off the other 8 guys.   

R: Yeah, because there’s no game in here where you make money off the casino.

D: Exactly. Why does the poker room have to give you stuff?  You’re gonna get $2/hour in comps, we’re only taking $4 & $1, which is pretty standard, and on top of that, we don’t have any real problem with giving you top shelf liquor.  Every now and then we’ll go, “Hey guys, let’s cool it with the Jaegerbombs cuz it cost us a fortune.”  But if you come in here and say, “Hey, I want an Absolut Vodka,” you’re gonna get it.  You know, you’ll pay $12 at the bar for that.   We don’t give you any problems for that and it’s like nothing…they see us as the enemy and we’re not.  We’re their partner.  And we’re actually a silent partner.  If you sit down at this table and make $1,800 in two hands, great.  We want five bucks. That’s basically what it is.  We’ll give you all the tools except the buy-in.

Number 3, was ESPN.  The only game that exists right now is No Limit Hold’em.  Nobody knows any other game.  Anyone who says they know another game, they’re full of shit.  I’ve played HORSE games in this town and I’ve watched how people play and I go, “You have no idea what you’re doing. You cannot possibly be three-betting with a 9 in the door in Stud 8/b and think you’re good,” but I see it all the time. ESPN, up until around 2006 was great.   They showed HORSE, they showed Stud.  What do they show now?  Hold’em, hold’em, hold’em.  Oh, there’s a HORSE tournament? Right, we’re only showing the final table, and it switches to hold’em at that point.  So now you’ve gotta stream Stud online or Razz online and it’s like sticking a fork in your eye because there’s no commentary.   No Limit hold’em is made to make people go broke.  It never should have been a cash game.  It should have always been a tournament game. What happened is that all the tourists came to town 5-6 years ago with $5,000 in their pocket thinking they were gonna be the next Daniel Negreanu and they all went broke.  And they went, “Oh shit, I can’t get this money back.”  

And what’s hurting it even worse is—you’ve played online—if I went broke out here, which happened a couple of times—don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’m a great poker player, there were times when I came out with a bankroll and it was gone by the time I left—I knew I could go back home, log on for five bucks and play until I ran that thing up to $10,000 again, which I did a number of times.  And just come right out to Vegas.  Can’t do that anymore.  You don’t have 8-table capability. You gotta play at one table.  So the money’s not coming back in to the game anymore. I love what the WSOP is doing this year, where they’re paying the top 15%.  Best move they could ever make. I’ve been screaming about that for five years out here.    

Look at this, we had 22 players today, we paid three spots. Why? That doesn’t make any sense to me.  We should be paying at least four, maybe five. You know why?  The people, all they want to do is cash.  They want to go home and say, “I cashed in a tournament,” they don’t care how much it is.  They chop every time anyway. It used to be the tournaments were just there to start the games, we’d run a tournament at 9AM then everyone plays cash games.  Not anymore.  The tournament’s over, they’re all out the door.  Only two of those guys in the cash game were in my tournament today.  And the only reason they played the tournament was they were looking for a cash game and I didn’t have one. So everything’s changed as far as why you do what you do in a poker room.  And the poker rooms haven’t caught up to it. Which is amazing to me.

R: It’s interesting what you said about not paying enough players, obviously you can’t control that yet here.

D: Well I can scream about it.  Nobody listens to me.

R: I actually did a blog post about that, well not quite that.  Cuz I played at the Aria for like 7 hours and I cashed, but I didn’t even get double my buy-in. I got like $50.  I paid $125 and walked out with $175 after 7-1/2 hours (that blog post is here). I said, “that’s wrong.”   Ok, pay more players, I agree. But you don’t have to make it so top-heavy.  To me, if you’re gonna pay at least $100 to play in a tournament, and you cash, you should get at least double your buy-in back.

D: I don’t disagree with you.  It also think it depends on the size of the tournament. 

R: I said at least $100.  The Aria’s $125 it should be $250.

D: You’re right, they should give you $250.  But if you remember back in the early days of the Deepstacks at the Venetian, you could cash and lose money.  The first Deepstacks they ran was like a $350 buy-in and the min-cash was like $270.  Between the tournament prize pools and the tournament drops, these poker room managers believe it’s coming out of their pockets.  They freak out.  “We can’t pay 7 people in a tournament.”  Why not?  Because you know what?  Those seven people who cashed at the 7 O’clock, they’re coming back for the 10 O’clock, cuz they had a friggin’ ball. They sat here for 3-1/2 hours, they drank, and they walked out with money.  They’ll be back.

R: Yeah, and they’ve got the money they can buy into the next tournament.

D: Sure.  Three guys I just paid—well, we ended up paying four, cuz they agree to pay the bubble—all three of those guys said to me, “When’s the next tournament, 7PM?  I’ll be back.” They’re thrilled, because they actually played poker and won money.  Not only that, when they go home, they’ll tell their friends, “Hey, you going to Vegas? You gotta play the Treasure Island poker room, they have a $1,000 guarantee, 65 bucks I walked out with $450,” or whatever it was. That’s a big deal to them.

R:  Right and then, of course, they know, if they played in a cash game, they could lose that in a couple of hours—

D: In the first hand.  I freaking did it.

R: And then you buy in again and you lose two buy-ins. That’s the plus side of tournaments.

D: Right, I always tell people I once had a $3,500 cheeseburger at the MGM.  When they still had a 5/10 game, I had bought in for $1,500, I ran it up to almost $5,000, I ordered a cheeseburger, and within 10 minutes of it getting there, I was broke.  I ran into bad hand after bad hand. Nobody wants that.  I didn’t want it, either.  You know, $3,500 was a lot of money to me back then but I had it, I had a bankroll.  A guy comes in from Kenosha with $500 that’s all he’s got for the weekend, he doesn’t want to lose $200 in here.  But he can play five tournaments, he’s getting his moneys worth. And I get it, we don’t make money on tournaments. It’s a losing proposition, always has been. But it gets your name around, and maybe you’ll have people come back. 

R: Yeah, and then maybe some of them will play cash.

D: Yeah, some of them will.  Look, the guy that wins $500 and bought in for $65, he might say, “I’ll give it a shot for $120, I’m playing with house money. I bought in for $65, I walked out with $350, do I want to go out there and lose it in 15 minutes in a dollar slot machine?  Maybe I’ll try this.  But when you don’t give them their money back or when you make it harder for them to get their money back, you lose them, cuz they get frustrated.  How many times have you played 7, 8 tournaments in a row and said screw this, I’m never playing again.  And we live where there’s poker.  Imagine the guy coming from Texas where they don’t have poker, comes out here plays 4,5,6 tournaments in a row and doesn’t get anything back for it?  He ain’t coming back.

R: I know a room like this loses money on the tournaments, or doesn’t make money, but Venetian, Aria, they must make money?

D: They do it right. They found the formula. First of all you gotta remember this, Venetian and Aria both have sponsorship deals.  There’s underwriting going on.  That was Kathy Raymond’s idea and it was brilliant (note: Kathy Raymond is the manager of the Venetian poker room).  I don’t know why nobody ever thought of that. Their Deepstacks are underwritten by other companies.  When you go the Venetian to play the Deepstacks, there’s always logos on the felt, they paid money for that.  That was genius. The casinos themselves realized that the guys going to play poker, their wives gotta do something and they’re probably playing the slot machines. I’ve brought that up to casino marketers at Harrah’s and they look at me like I just farted in their grandmother’s face.  “It’s not true.” What do you mean it’s not true? A guy comes in plays for three hours, his wife’s gotta do something. So we didn’t make any money on this guy but his wife just lost $300.  “Well, we’d rather have both of them lose $300.”  Alright then, I guess it’s a perfect world.  

Let’s take TI for example, we charge $15 per person for the tournament, I think the house gets $12, the dealers get $3. So you bought into my tournament.  You’re a good player and you actually made it to the final table. You played for three hours.  You had three drinks.  Those drinks cost me $2 to $5 depending on what you order.  Let’s say you’re just having beer.  That’s $2.50. So half of what you just paid went to my alcohol cost. I have three dealers, one floorman, a waitress who’s charged against the room….where did I make any money? We just lost money. That’s what locals don’t understand. They say, “I’ve been here for six hours and all you’re gonna give me is a $12 comp?”   Yeah, you also had 19 Budweisers. And you stiffed the waitress every time too.

R: What could be done to improve things?

D: They need to find a way to get into bed with another way of promoting a different style of game. It can’t be No Limit anymore. It can’t be Pot Limit Omaha, cuz that’s just as stupid as NLH.  PLO is not even a game anymore.  I used to play it years ago and I loved it.  Now I can’t stand it.  PLO is now, how much money can we get in the middle of the table before any other cards come out.  Limit hold’em, Stud, 8 or better, anything, we need to find a way to promote those and make people want to play them, make them fun.  They’re not fun right now.  People say, “there’s no community cards.” Yeah, people don’t understand why that’s not a good thing.

We have to find away to make people realize it has to be a social game. You have to allow certain things.  In other words, if I ran this room, which I don’t, it’d be, “phones off the table.” And I do it to when I’m playing.  This is ridiculous. Because nobody talks anymore.  And that’s why they don’t have fun.  Or, you can have your phone on the table, but you can’t be watching a movie. Sunglasses, get rid of those, they’re stupid.  You look like an idiot. I tried it once, first of all, I’m color blind, I couldn’t see the damn cards. And I looked in the mirror and I’m like, “I’m not Ray Charles, why am I wearing sunglasses inside and it’s four in the afternoon?”  Promote the social aspect of it. 

We need online poker back. It exposed people to the game. That is completely out of our control and I don’t know if it’s ever coming back.  If it does, it’s not gonna be the same, because now you have casinos involved and once they get involved, that’s the end.  Whenever a corporation takes something over, just watch out.

I’d like to see more press given to the circuit events. It doesn’t always have to be the World Series of Poker. I get it, it’s the biggest one out there. I would love to see every circuit event act as feeder into the WSOP, almost like the playoffs in basketball. There’s 20 stops on the WSOP circuit this year, and the top 5 players are going to go to the WSOP and play in this event.  Why Harrah’s never did this when they have seven casinos on the strip….why isn’t every Harrah’s casino running satellites for the Rio?  Why does everything have to be at the Rio? I know why, because I worked there, the World Series of Poker is a separate entity, they make their own money. But if they had any common sense, it’d be like, they have three flights to the main event, day 1 is at Planet Hollywood, day 2 is at Caesars, day 3 is at Harrah’s, and then day 4 we go to the Rio.  The excitement that that would build would be ridiculous. Logistically it would be a nightmare, I get it, but there’s definitely ways you could do it.

I remember working at Harrah’s and we would have our meetings and it would be, “Well, we have $100K in our reserve what should we do?”  And I’d say, “Give away seats to the main event.”  “Well, we can’t do that.” “Why not, we’re Harrah’s, we own the damn thing.”  And they’d have a thousand reasons. “Well, it interferes with their marketing,” and so on.  Dumbest thing I ever heard in my life. Club Fortune gave away a seat to the World Series.  They didn’t call it that, they called it a $10K tournament seat, but do the math.  And they’re on Boulder Highway. If they could do it, we could do it. 

I’ve been in business, I’ve been in sales.  When you have tools, use them.  The biggest fight I had in this room was when Chris left, everyone was like, whatever we have in our jackpot reserve, let’s make sure we don’t give it away. I said why not?  What are we holding on to it for? We have two choices.  We can give it away now, and hope it draws people in, or we can give it away in a few months when they close us. If all your promotions equal $10K a month, you should have $20K in your reserve, no more.  It’s stupid to have $50-$60 thousand, you’re not giving enough away.  

People will tell you what they want, you just have to listen. You have to listen to the right ones.  We had local guys come in here after Chris left and offer their services as a prop. “You pay me $10 an hour, I’ll play here every day.”  Really?  So you can fold for 8 hours a day and make more money than I do? Nah, that’s not gonna happen.  It’s like, any excuse to be in the game without actually having to put their money at risk. I hope people listen.  It’s not dying, it’s just really spread out right now.  The WSOP is doing gangbusters every year. It’s bigger every year, it’s not dying. The problem is there’s a lot more competition, there’s poker all over the country now. We can turn it around, everyone just needs to think like me.  We’d all be better off if everyone just thought like me.

R: I feel the same way, if only everyone thought like me.

D: I get upset and I rant online because I really love the game, I really love what it used to be and I watched it be destroyed, and the people destroying don’t realize they’re doing it.  They blame everyone else.

Dominick had more to say (he’s not a shy person)—I could have continued and made this a two or three parter—but I hope I have given you the key things he wanted to get across. Also note, it was easiest for me to just quote him back to you, and this way, I think it comes out in his own voice.  Of course it doesn't come out polished like a written speech would, but this way, it's Dominick, as he speaks.  Maybe I should have just uploaded the audio recording?  I want to thank him so much for giving me his time and sharing his insights, and for helping me out on my Ante Up assignment.  Thank you, sir.


Note: I have a pic of Dominick that will appear in the Ante Up piece.  So, since he works at TI, where they have the famous Gilley’s Saloon, I thought I’d run a pic of some of the Gilley’s girls.  Just because they work in the same place as Dominick.  No other reason.

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Dominick Muzio And the State of Poker Today
Dominick Muzio And the State of Poker Today
Reviewed by just4u
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