Dale Romans playing poker with other horsemen in Florida (Photo courtesy Gulfstream Park).
Last week the 44th annual World Series of Poker got underway in Las Vegas, Nevada with more than 3,000 entrants in the first event. People who pay attention to poker expect that numbers should be up at this year’s WSOP, despite recent declines, because of an uptick in the economy, the return of some funds to players who had money seized during 2011’s “Black Friday,” and the recent return of some forms of legal online poker in the United States. Gambling revenue at Las Vegas casinos was up in 2012 over 2011. Horse racing, too, saw an increase in betting handle in 2012 over 2011, a trend the sport hopes will continue in 2013.
Poker has long been a favorite game among horsemen and horseplayers alike. It is no coincidence that in most casinos the poker room is adjacent to the racebook. Poker games are common among jockeys and trainers, too. From the jockey’s lounge to private games at Hall of Famer Gary Stevens’ house, horsemen are known to play poker when away from the game of racing.
There are similarities between the two games. You play the other bettors more than you play the house (but you still have to beat the rake or the takeout, sometimes the hardest opponent to overcome!). You look for information that other bettors hopefully missed, whether it’s a pattern in how someone bets or a pattern in how a trainer runs his horses. You look for positive expected value, whether in pot odds or in pari-mutuel overlays.
Eclipse Award-winning trainer Dale Romans is well known for his love of the game. He is a regular fixture in the poker room at the Hard Rock Casino in Florida. He told Southern Gaming magazine in 2009 “Everybody in the racing business likes action and likes competition. It is fun and it is a thinking-man’s game. … Playing poker is a good way to escape all the stress we have with the horses.”
Dale’s young son Jacob is also a poker player, immortalized in the documentary The First Saturday in May showing off his huge wad of cash, all won playing poker and betting ponies, at the tender age of 12.
Romans told Southern Gaming magazine he hoped to one day play in the main event at the World Series of Poker. Perhaps this year he will get his chance. Last year’s main event had more than 6,500 entries, and first place collected over $8 million, a massive number but still down relative to previous years.
If Romans wants to be the most successful trainer at the World Series of Poker, he has his work cut out for him. Noel Furlong, winner of the 1999 WSOP main event, has over a million dollars in lifetime winnings. When the Irishman won the event in 1999 he was an avid horseplayer. He has since “retired” from poker for the most part and has started training his own stable of racehorses.
Photo courtesy WSOP.com
More formidable, however, is Konstantin Puchkov, a Moscow-based trainer and breeder. He had played in 21 straight World Series of Poker events in a row without cashing for a single dime before he finally cashed in 2010. Moreover, he won that event for $250,000 and a WSOP bracelet! He has gone on to earn almost $2 million at the poker tables in the last two years. Perhaps his experience as a horse trainer showed him how important breaking your maiden is to building confidence and allowed him to stick with it. He’s already in Las Vegas playing tournaments this year, and perhaps he will compete in the main event. He’d be wise to contest the event he won his bracelet in back in 2010. It was an event filled with good mojo for the trainer. A combination of Hold’em, Omaha, Razz, Stud, and Eight-or-Better, the game is known commonly as simply “H.O.R.S.E.”