WSOP Casino Employees Tournament


[RR] “Deb, can you deal for us tonight?” Roderick the Rock inquired as players continued to gather in his basement for the monthly Hold ‘Em tournament.

[DD] “Sure, anything to keep the game moving along”, Deb the Duchess responded.

[RR] “Thanks. Really appreciate you and Leroy helping out.”

[LL] “I like dealing”, Leroy the Lion added, “because nobody really wants to knock you out when you’re dealing for them.”

[DD] “It keeps me focused better. I have to know where the button is and who’s in the hand and everything that’s happening even after I’ve folded.”

[SS] “You guys could move to Vegas and become professional dealers if you want to leave your current jobs”, Stan the Stat chimed in.

[LL] “I had a friend who was going to do exactly that. But he did so well playing poker that he never got around to getting a day job.”

[SS] “Most of us here would love a chance to play in the World Series of Poker, and at least a few of us would quit our current jobs in a second if we thought we could make a better living playing poker professionally. Poker dealers are so close to living that dream that they can taste it… .”1

[LL] “Of course! They’re already at the table. They just need to take a seat!”

[SS] “The one time that a lot of them do take a seat is the WSOP Casino Employees Tournament, whose fields have topped 1,000 players. Only one employee has won the event and then earned another bracelet in an open event though. Eight years after topping his fellow employees, David Warga won the 2010 $1,500 Seven Card Stud Hi/Lo 8 tournament for $208,682.

WSOP Casino Employees Event

Year Winner Entrants Prize Notes
1983 Ted Binion 10 $10,000 Although his WSOP.com player page says he has two bracelets…
1984 Sandy Stupak 14 $14,000 Officially counted as a bracelet (her husband Bob joined her with his bracelet in 1989)
1985 Ted Binion 10 $10,000 … the Hendon Mob database doesn’t even list him.
2000 Dave Alizadeh 109 $21,800 7 small cashes, none at the WSOP
2001 Travis Jonas 224 $40,200 14 cashes, none at the WSOP
2002 David Warga 272 $47,300 Won the 2010 $1,500 Seven Card Stud Hi/Lo 8 for $208,682 and has 5 other cashes; last WSOP cash in 2011 (appears to have moved to Colorado)
2003 David Lukaszewski 208 $35,800 1 small cash but not at the WSOP
2004 Carl Nessel 279 $40,000 13 small cashes in Los Angeles before this win
2005 Andy Nguyen 662 $83,390 Biggest cash was 2nd in 2007 Seven Clans Kinder Cup, $3,000 + 100 No Limit Hold ‘Em for $137,643
2006 Chris Gros 1,232 $127,496 Also finished 31st in 2007 for $2,478; one tiny circuit cash in 2010
2007 Frederick Narciso 1,039 $104,701 Also finished 27th in 2006 for $3,604; one tiny circuit cash in 2013
2008 Jonathan Kotula 930 $87,929 Also finished 10th in 2010 for $4,273
2009 Andrew Cohen 866 $83,833 3 open cashes and 1 circuit cash, all from $12k to $17k
2010 Hoai Pham 721 $71,424 2 open cashes in 2011 for $15,950 and $47,107 (212nd in Main Event)
2011 Sean Drake 850 $82,292 3 open cashes, incl. $619,521 for 3rd in 2014 No-Limit Hold ‘Em Monster Stack
2012 Chiab Saechao 732 $70,859 3 open cashes, incl. $42,675 for 12th in 2013 Little One for One Drop
2013 Chad Holloway 898 $84,915 1 small open cash and 1 small circuit cash; Chad is a senior news editor for PokerNews.com (and poker historian and memorabilia collector)
2014 Roland Reparejo 876 $82,835 1 small cash in 2013 Seniors event
2015 Brandon Barnette 698 $75,704 No other cashes
2016 C.J. Sand 731 $75,157 43-year-old’s second cash after a 1,596th-place finish in the 2015 Colossus
20172 Bryan Hollis 651 $68,817 No other cashes

Notes:

  • The entry fee was $1,000 in the 1980s and $500 since 2000 until it went up to $565 in 2015.
  • From 1983 to 1985, the event followed the Main Event. Since 2000, it has been the kickoff event of the World Series of Poker, except for 2007, when it was the second event,3 and 2008, when it was also at the end.
  • Whether the 1983 to 1985 were officially bracelet events is unclear. In its tournament section, wsop.com lists only the 1984 event as a bracelet event. But in its player section, Ted Binion’s page credits him with two bracelets.
  • Although Sandy (1984) and Bob Stupak (1989) are widely considered to have been the first husband and wife to win bracelets, that ignores the 1983 Mixed Doubles event won by Donna and Jim Doman.
  • The event was Limit Hold ‘Em from 2000 to 2003 and No Limit Hold ‘Em every other year.
  • Hoai Pham, from Vietnam, is the only non-American to win the event (2010).”

[SS] “Surprisingly few dealers go on to success as poker pros, but you’ll recognize these dozen players:

Poker Pros Who Were Once Dealers

Player Casino Notes
Bobby Hoff4 casino in Victoria, Texas Played poker with his tip income and became good enough to move to Las Vegas as a player
Chip Jett4 casino in Arizona Worked as a dealer for a year then turned to playing poker for a living
Cyndy Violette Four Queens Casino (Las Vegas) Dealt poker and blackjack
David Chiu Gilpin Hotel (Black Hawk, Colorado) Also a restaurant owner at the time
Erick Lindgren Casino San Pablo (San Pablo, California) Dealt blackjack
Evelyn Ng poker clubs in Toronto Also dealt blackjack and played pool for money before she turned 17
Joe Awada4 Circus Circus (Las Vegas) Took up dealing after an injury ended his juggling career
Joe Cernuto4 Starudst (Las Vegas) Hated the job and moved back to Daytona Beach, Florida
Johnny Chan casino in Las Vegas Chan had his own dealer school as part of the Johnny Chan Academy from 2007 to 2008
Layne Flack casino in Montana Also dealt part-time in Deadwood, South Dakota when he was at college before he dropped out to play poker full-time
Michael Mizrachi Seminole Casino Hollywood (Hollywood, Florida) Didn’t last long before getting fired in 2002
Mike Matusow Sam’s Town (Las Vegas) Was a dealer at age 18 before he started playing seriously
Robert Mizrachi casino in South Miami (Florida) Started the Mizrachi Dealer Academy with brother Michael and fellow pro Stacy Matuson in 2012
Scott Fischman Mirage and Sahara (Las Vegas) Family moved from South Jersey to Las Vegas when he was 12
Scotty Nguyen Harrah’s Holiday Casino (Las Vegas) Also worked at the Golden Nugget in Vegas and another casino in Lake Tahoe
Ted Forrest Palace Station (Las Vegas) Also served as a prop player

And I should give a shout out to Perry Shiao, a Florida dealer who failed to cash in last year’s Millionaire Maker but then won the Monster Stack for $1,286,942. He hasn’t given up his dealer job at the Seminole Hard Rock yet, but he’s undoubtedly considering the career switch.”

Footnotes:

  1. A dealer named Zach commented that “95% of the dealers I’ve talked to in the break room, their main goal is to become a full time player.”
  2. June 2, 2017 update: Added 2017 winner.
  3. The 2007 World Series of Poker began with the $5,000 World Championship Mixed Hold ‘Em Limit/No Limit event.
  4. June 2, 2017 update: Added Bobby Hoff, Chip Jett, Joe Awada, and Joe Cernuto to the list of former dealers.

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