Upon arriving at Foxwoods I wasn't sure what to expect. It had just turned cold and I had dreaded going further north than my New Jersey home when we set out to for the World Poker Finals.
When I arrived, I was ready to check out the action but had to wait about 20 minutes before I got a seat. One thing is for sure, there is no shortage of players waiting for a seat, but this will soon change. I got the chance to catch up with Kathy Raymond, Foxwoods' director of poker operations, and we spoke about Foxwoods' new poker room and the changes coming for this popular New England poker hotspot.
According to Raymond, Foxwoods plans to change its poker face by doubling the number of poker tables and moving to a new poker room in spring 2006. "We've been discussing room expansion for over a year. We had to find the ideal real estate to put such a big room. Ultimately, we decided to remove the slots on the floor currently underneath the existing poker room. This will allow us to expand our live action games by 50 percent, giving us 114 tables in total."
One thing I found out very quickly in my trips to Foxwoods was that the staff tried hard to move things as quickly as possible to get a player a seat, but there simply weren't enough seats available during peak hours. Raymond believes that the new room will solve this problem. "We're thrilled to be able to expand and service our customers in better ways, especially by eliminating long periods of time spent waiting to get on a table. We're also going to have some technological innovations that should maker things move even faster, not to mention a poker-themed restaurant on the same floor."
The evolution of Foxwoods' new poker room should surprise no one. Foxwoods has been heavily committed to poker since the debut of its original poker room. According to Raymond, "Foxwoods has supported poker before the explosion took place and will continue after it begins to slow. There has been a commitment from day one and it will continue as Foxwoods tries to provide visitors with a full-service casino."
Foxwoods, like many other gaming venues is seeing huge increases in numbers thanks to million-dollar prizes. With the new room, Foxwoods is responding to this growing interest. "I think Foxwoods has been very supportive of poker with regards to the immense explosion of popularity that has occurred with the sport. They've seen the growing numbers and have recognized that poker is an integral part of the casino, not just an amenity," she said.
The timing for the new room couldn't have been more perfect as Foxwoods continues to draw new blood from surrounding states and will increase as a younger group of players become old enough to legally play the game. "We feel the explosion of poker will not be short-lived. We firmly believe this will continue. With the demographics of our patron base, we realize that there are a lot of players waiting to get to play. They haven't reached 21 yet or they're playing on their kitchen tables or in their dorms and are waiting for their chance to come and play at Foxwoods," Raymond said.
When I tried to pry out how much the new poker venture was costing the casino, Raymond was tight-lipped. "Let's just say it was a substantial investment. We're using what we have but we're modifying to match our new and exciting ideas for the new room."
According to Raymond, the new room will give Foxwoods an edge over other casinos. "We've invested in technology that allows electronic communication between the dealer, clerks and the floor supervisors to get players seated faster. We are also using new technology to cut down on the transient noise in the room."
Foxwoods is also expanding its current player tracking system, QOS, in order to meet the growing player base. Unlike the new room, the current poker room could not support the power and data needed for the new program requirements.
In addition to the new room, Raymond believes that the staff is one of the casino's strongest qualities. "I believe Foxwoods is able to offer our players a degree of professionalism. My staff has been with me for a long time. When you can work as a team for a long period of time, you have a perfect mixture of experienced workers. We work well together so things go smoothly. We protect our players from abuse as well and this makes players feel at home. Our dealers are especially aware of novice players and try to help people who might have been intimidated seeing all the action on television."
I asked Raymond about her feelings on the game's dramatic growth and she responded as a true diplomat for the game. "I am just ecstatic at the way poker has finally been recognized as a sport. Players have been playing for hundreds of years. I spent many of the early years of the room trying to get players into the casino to play poker, but with the onset of televised poker and online poker things have changed. The explosion mixed the American pastime of poker and the new American dream of winning millions of dollars."
It is a sport, no matter which way you look at it. People have enjoyed it throughout their lives and now have a chance to win big money doing something they love. I think that the explosion will continue for a few years to come and when it levels off it will finally be at a controllable frenzy. It will never drop, just level off. An example of this is the number of women playing. There used to be maybe 12 women in the whole room. Now it's difficult to find a table without at least one woman."
Raymond also commented that poker is one of the few places where everyone is treated the same. "It's such a beautiful meld of all ages, gender, and ethnic differences. People are sitting down and having a heck of a time. That doesn't happen very often. Poker is something that brings people together."
I tried to sneak an answer out of Raymond about how Foxwoods was planning on debuting the new room, but she once again explained that everyone would have to wait and see. "It's a secret. We're planning some really nice events. We'll be putting out press releases as we get closer. It's just going to be one big party. It will be a great grand opening, I can assure you that."
Ed Note: WPT host Mike Sexton proudly endorses Party Poker ...Can the Ambassador of Poker be wrong?