Once again guest writer Ben Saxton...

Planning for the Future at Harrah’s New Orleans Poker Room

For almost twenty years, Harrah’s New Orleans has offered one of the biggest and most entertaining poker rooms on the Gulf Coast. I recently chatted with manager Chase Haydel about an addition to the weekly tournament schedule, the return of popular promotions, and his plans for the future.

Before he joined the room in July 2017, Chase didn’t have much experience with poker. The New Orleans native comes from a long line of restaurateurs—including Chase’s grandma, Leah, who runs the famous Dooky Chase’s Restaurant. Chase was a dealer at Boomtown Casino in 1994 before moving with his wife to Atlanta. When he returned in 2013, he joined Harrah’s New Orleans as a table games supervisor. Now, as poker room manager, he’s focused on outpacing the competition.

“The poker world is becoming saturated,” Chase told me. “There’s a lot more rooms than there used to be, a lot more tours. And Texas, man.” He shook his head. “The clubs are huge.”

Gambling has long been illegal in Texas. Recently, though, poker clubs have been sprouting up across the state. Many of them operate similarly to a country club, charging a monthly or daily fee as well as an hourly “seat fee,” and they’ve gained momentum. As a result, Texas poker is challenging an already-crowded market in Louisiana and Mississippi. 

“For years, we were coasting on the idea, ‘Hey, we’re the biggest room,’” Chase said. “But I have to be aggressive now, because the competition is growing.”

In the spring, Chase gave away $75,000 in WSOP Circuit Event seats through daily drawings, social media promotions, and a popular “bubble tournament”—a kind of consolation prize for players eliminated on the bubble of one of Harrah’s weekly tournaments. He installed USB chargers in most of the tables. He also collaborates with supervisor Robby Gerstner to come up with inventive tournaments and promotions. “Robby has a plethora of knowledge,” Chase said. “He had a passion for the poker world when I didn’t. I got that passion from him.”

Like Chase, Robby is a New Orleans native who started his career at Boomtown (in security). He graduated from the Crescent City School of Gaming in March 2007 and joined Harrah’s poker room two months later. For the next ten years, he worked in Caesar’s properties across the country—in Shreveport, Atlantic City, and Las Vegas—before rejoining Harrah’s New Orleans about a year ago.

“I can tell you that a bounty tournament is definitely coming, because I’m the one creating it,” Robby said. While details are still being sorted out, it’s likely that the tournament will run on Thursday or Sunday evenings, with a $100 buy-in and $20 bounties. Like the bubble tournament—which will return every four or five months—a bounty tournament offers a new spin on a familiar format. 

What are the best promotions? The answer depends, of course. If you’re a limit hold ‘em player, then you probably like Aces Cracked, which offers the chance to receive a $100 reward for a tiny risk. No-limit hold ‘em players, on the other hand, tend to like action-inducing promos like splash pots or the popular “Power Hand,” which has returned to Harrah’s on Wednesdays from noon to midnight.

Another returning promotion stems from Chase’s and Robby’s goal of enticing tournament players into the cash game area, and vice versa. Starting in July, Harrah’s will be drawing seats for its daily $130 tournaments that run on Mondays (at 6 p.m.) and Wednesdays and Saturdays (at 11 a.m.). These drawings will take place in the cash game area and over social media. 

When I spoke with a few dozen Harrah’s regulars—on both the tournament and the cash game side of the room—I received a wide range of feedback. Most of all, players want a once-a-month tournament with a higher buy-in and deeper stacks. Unlike the $130 weeklies, which tends to attract a local crowd, a larger tourney might draw players from across the Gulf Coast.

Other requests included:

       More high hand promotions
       Comps for tournament players (“We pay rake too”)
       A satellite to the WSOP Main Event
       A second tournament series in addition to May’s WSOP Circuit Event
       Omaha tournaments
       A poker room rate for hotel stays
       A puppy petting zoo

Players were also quick to express their appreciation for Chase, Robby, and the well-liked Harrah’s dealers and staff. For anyone with ideas or feedback, the best thing to do is to speak with Chase, who remains committed to improving the room. “He’s very receptive,” Robby said. “If he likes an idea, he’ll do it.”


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