2011 was a pivotal year for Cajun poker

November 22, 2011, Chris  

The ebb and flow of the poker scene in Louisiana rolls along year after year just like the mighty Mississippi and the meandering Red, the two rivers that more or less mark the boundaries of north and south in our state. It’s pretty easy to just kick back like Huck Finn and go with the flow. But 2011 will be remembered as a year in which the current was particularly strong.

Two rooms opened in the state, which testifies to the growing popularity of poker here. Louisiana is a big gaming state; it always has been.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that its residents would take to the felt the way they have; Cajuns will gamble on just about anything. Even so, the poker boom that began several years ago shows no signs of waning. It is getting stronger.

This can be attributed to a number of factors. The most prominent seems to be the rooms here have embraced a business model that is putting an emphasis on tournament poker. This year saw the return of the Seven Clans at Coushatta Casino Resort, the State Championship at Isle Lake Charles and the greatest achievement yet: the World Series of Poker Circuit kicking off a new season in Bossier City. Each of these events drew well, and all of them look to be returning in 2012.

Tournament poker seems to be the line that separates the good from the great when it comes to poker rooms. That certainly has been the case here. The most successful rooms we have are those with a strong tournament schedule.

Poker is a game that doesn’t do much (directly) for the casino’s coffers when compared to slots or table games. A few of the rooms here offer it merely as a convenience, and one has to wonder how long that will last, but gaming companies have realized tournaments also boost other casino revenues. Case in point: The cash-game action during WSOPC at Bossier was so strong it often spilled over from the poker room downstairs to the tent on the roof. For those two weeks in September the Bossier room ran 24/7 with a waiting list.
Another factor that seems to be in play is a willingness by some casinos, such as Boomtown New Orleans, to allocate more money toward promotions. There were several car giveaways this year and Horseshoe Bossier once again sent several players to the WSOP main event via its weekly satellites. Those tournaments drew so well that multiple seats were awarded in each event.

This will surely continue in 2012 as the competition for market share increases.

Black Friday also can be credited for the success of 2011. The State Championship at the Isle Casino in Lake Charles drew an enormous amount of online players as some of them were trying brick-and-mortar tournaments for the first time. This is something that will probably change as advances toward the legalization of online poker continue to be made, but for the time being Louisiana can expect these players to keep coming out for live play.

All of these factors contributed to a fantastic year, but the greatest factor is probably one that has nothing to do with promotions or tournaments or constitutional legalities. It is sheer, geographical luck.

Texas continues to remain a holdout where the legalization of poker is concerned, and not much is being done to change that. It should come as no surprise our most successful poker rooms are those situated closest to the Texas state line. In 2011, players from Texas dominated the tournament schedule in South Louisiana. At WSOPC Bossier, their presence was less felt, but that was expected as the circuit event drew from multiple areas of the Deep South.

This is the one factor that may not have as strong an effect in 2012. Oklahoma has joined the market and is beginning to emerge as a powerful alternative for Texas players. Once again, the rooms in Oklahoma have embraced a strong tournament scheme and host a WSOPC event at Choctaw.

When we look back some years from now, it stands to reason 2011 will be remembered as a pivotal year for the Louisiana poker market in many ways. It was a time of growth and expansion as well as a learning experience for some. The lessons learned will only make our rooms better, and that’s something to look forward to with great anticipation.

— Scotty “The Spokesman” Rushing is a poker professional and sports journalist. Email him at scottyrushing@gmail.com or on Twitter: @scottyrush.