Grand Casino Tunica Tournament Not So Grand

The recent $150,000 “Wild Bill Showdown” Blackjack Tournament held June 15th-16th, 2007 at Grand Casino Tunica left many participants shaking their heads in disgust at the way the event was handled by casino staff. The event truly displayed a level of ineptitude and arrogance that somehow managed to exceed this industry’s already normal “Screw the Customer” mentality. Just how did Grand Casino and its staff give themselves this black eye? Well, let us count the ways…

So, does it cost $400, or $500?

The problems with this latest event actually started well before the mid-June kick-off, when apparently the casino marketing department and the tournament director had a miscommunication about the entry fee for the event. Full-page ads went out to local gaming magazines like Jackpot Magazine, showing the $150,000 prize pool event with an entry fee of $400. Yet, when players called to register for the event, they found that the price had increased by $100 to $500.

On the very day of the tournament, you could walk in the front door of the Grand Casino and pick up a copy of Jackpot magazine showing a $400 entry fee, and proceed into the casino to see identical artwork displaying the revised $500 fee instead. Further confusing the matter was the fact that some preferred players were indeed charged the $400 fee, while others paid $500, or $250, or were comped into the event for free.

A Mess at Registration

All this confusion about entry fees led to a long line for registration, with payments handled at just one window of the cashier. The long slow-moving line crawled forward as each player had to work out how much their particular applicable entry fee was to be. And of course, players who were told $500 but overheard others getting lower entry fee amounts wanted to speak to a host about their situation. Couple that with the printed $400 ads, and it was another disaster.

Promo Chip Confusion

Players who arrived on Thursday for the registration process were to receive a $100 promo chip for showing up a day early. These were handed out as four $25 table play coupons which, according to the fine print on them could be used for any table games bet. If the bet won, it would be paid in full and the coupon would be collected. If the bet lost, the coupon would be collected with no payoff. Simple enough, although the “use it once and lose it” provision means that the coupon is worth slightly less than half face value on even money bets like blackjack. These coupons are potentially worth more if a player chooses to use them on a bet that pays more than even money, like betting a number straight up on roulette which pays 35 to 1. However, once players headed to the tables, they learned that the coupons weren’t being honored for anything other than even money bets, despite language printed on the coupon itself that said otherwise. In my own attempt to play them at roulette, I finally had the floorperson agree with me that I was right, but after two phone calls to management, he informed me that his bosses said I still couldn’t use the coupons that way.

Players Removed

During the course of the event, two players were 86’ed from the property. I know all about this, because I was one of them. When I sat down to play in the very first round, all was well as tournament director Rob Winkler came to my table to confirm the identity of each player, including me. My round began, and we actually lost one of our six players to over-aggressive betting on hand two. Things were shaping up just fine I thought, with two players advancing from the five remaining players at the table. As the table is betting for hand four, Winkler suddenly appears at the table again, and this time he pushes my bet out of the circle and says I need to come with him. When I push my bet back in the circle and tell him I’m obviously in the middle of round, he repeats his action. I leave the table with him, and he takes me over to a waiting shift manager who informs me that I’m no longer welcome on the property.

As you might expect, I’m blindsided by this turn of events. I repeatedly ask what this is all about, but the only thing they’ll say is “We don’t like your style of play, and you’ll have to leave the property right now.” By this time, a crowd of curious friends and bystanders has formed. I’m being removed from an event that I was invited to play for free. Yes, I was comped into the event, though I chose to also pay $500 to secure an additional seat in the event for my wife. And now I’m being told that I can’t finish the event I just began.

Now, this isn’t the first time a situation like this has arisen in the state of Mississippi, and I was familiar with a similar event that occurred in the late 90s in Biloxi. I knew that a player in a similar situation had contested the casino actions with the Mississippi Gaming Commission, and had a favorable outcome. (The Mississippi Gaming Commission actually has a pretty good track record when it comes to defending casino patrons against egregious actions by the casinos. In many states, the gaming authorities are pretty much just rubber-stamp operations controlled by the casino industry. Not so in Mississippi!) In the Biloxi case, the casino had 86’ed a player during the event, only to later be informed that he must be allowed to complete the event. In other words, if you start a tournament in Mississippi, you get to finish it.

I knew this ruling would apply in my case. After all, I was already on hand four of the tournament, and furthermore, I had already defeated one player! I pointed out this situation to the casino staff who were trying to get me to leave the property, and I advised them that they should contact the Gaming Commission and I would wait for their answer right here. No, no, I’m told, you’ll have to leave right now, and if you don’t leave right now, we’ll have to contact the Tunica County Sheriff’s Department to have you forcibly removed. At least, that was the story until one of the dimwits actually thought about it, and decided that maybe, just maybe, I knew what I was talking about.

After all, I do know a thing or two about tournaments. I’ve been playing in them and writing about them for more than a dozen years. If something happens in the tournament world, it’s a pretty good bet that I’ll know all about it. I also reminded Mr. Winkler several times that I’ve promoted their events on numerous occasions, and many of the people present at this event were likely here due to my efforts. What kind of treatment is this for someone who has obviously been a benefit to their events? Just what is it about my “style of play” that is such a threat to your casino? I got no answers of course. In case you’re wondering, I played no table blackjack while at the casino. In fact, it’s probably been more than two years since I sat down at a blackjack game at the Grand in Tunica. The only game I’ve played there lately is video poker. Some threat, eh?

OK, in the two minutes since the Sheriff’s Department threat, the casino staff has now reconsidered their position and I’m told that I will be allowed to finish the tournament. But they still say I must leave the property right now, and come back for a later round when they’ll find a seat for me to begin play all over again. I leave the casino along with my wife, so we can discuss whether she should compete in the event or go request a refund of her entry fee instead.

We finally decide that she will compete, but by the time all the details are resolved, her assigned round has already begun. So now she too is to be reassigned in a later round. When the tournament staff does eventually reassign our seats, we’re now to be seated at the same table competing directly against each other. No coincidence there I’m sure. When our round finally gets going, there’s quite a crowd of supporters around the table, and I’ve been told by friend after friend that winning this event would be the sweetest revenge. Of course it would have been, but I unfortunately didn’t get out of round one. My wife did advance, and she ended up making it to the semifinals before her luck ran out. At least she collected $500 for her effort, making the tournament a break-even affair for the two of us.

The Other Player’s Treatment was Worse Yet

I mentioned that two players were removed from this event. The other victim was approached before his round began, so he didn’t have the same opportunity as I did to contest the decision. Instead, he was indeed made to leave the property immediately, including a cadre of eight security guards who showed up at his hotel room door moments after he left the casino, to make sure he left the property. As the same non-explanation I received, he was told that the casino didn’t like his “style of play”.

Perhaps the presence of my wife and young son is the reason that no security personnel ever showed up at our hotel door. I guess someone realized that terrorizing a nine-year-old with no just cause sounds like a pretty expensive judgement in the making.

Rebuy Madness

Well, now that the undesirable element has been removed from the premises, surely things will go smoothly for Winkler and crew, right? Ummm, no. Next up is a disastrous rebuy policy. From the outset, it was announced that limited $250 rebuys would be available for players who failed to advance from round one. Only seventy spots would be made available, and those would need to be purchased at the registration window, between the hours of 10 PM and 11 PM only. As the appointed rebuy time approached, players began forming a line at the window. However, at twenty minutes to 10, tournament staff headed over and advised all the waiting players that they weren’t allowed to form a line. Great idea, huh? Of course, the crowd dispersed slightly, but players were still milling about in the area waiting for the starting gun to sound the mad dash to the rebuy window. That wouldn’t do either according to tournament staff, who came over and advised the players “No, no, you can’t just hang around here, you have to walk around.” So, no line, no hanging around, what a joke! Most of the self-respecting players who had endured this event to this point finally threw their hands up and said the Hell with it, we’re not hanging around for any more of these inane power trips of Winkler and company.

And the $100,000 Winner Is…

Finally on Saturday, a winner was crowned in this debacle, and what a fitting finish. It turns out that the first place winner, collecting $100,000, was actually a player who didn’t compete in the early rounds of this event. Instead, he went STRAIGHT to the final table, which he proceeded to win. What in the world could this be about?

Well, well, well. It seems that Winkler and his cohorts have had tournament issues before. A reading of the rules for this event revealed the following item:

One (1) additional participant will be added to the final table by order of the Mississippi Gaming Commission.

The additional participant was Stacy Gall, a player who had been involved in a dispute a year ago during a similar tournament. Gall took his complaint to the Gaming Commission, and after a lengthy process of appeals, the Commission finally ruled in his favor stating that he must be seated at the final table in the next comparable event. So, there he was, and he got some sweet revenge in the form of a $100K payoff. I understand that he’s also pursuing civil litigation in the matter. If you’re interested in the full details of his case and some of the tactics used by Winkler and the Grand during his hearings, I’ll be documenting that in my article in the upcoming Blackjack Insider newsletter, an email subscription newsletter published by Henry Tamburin.

As for the rest of the paying and comped entries that played this sorry excuse for a tournament, they had to split the remaining $50K of the prize pool. Small compensation for enduring this train-wreck of a tournament in my opinion.


17 comments on “Grand Casino Tunica Tournament Not So Grand

  • Similar situation in the United Kingdom, had a grosvenor weekend booked with ten friends, the tourney included a room and en suite facilities including a breakfast and bar area all laid on.

    Knocked out of a tournament and went on to find serious problems as our package was reduced, saying that we needed to reach the latter stages of the pay offs to qualify.

    Found this out just after we were elimated, bags in hand and 300 miles from home.

    I feel for anyone who may feel the pinch from the big guys at some point in the casino industry.

  • This is what Harrah’s New Orleans did to me and they will do the same to you as well…
    My name is Louis Smith and I live about 100 mile north of New Orleans, in a city called Hattiesburg, MS. I’m a PLATINUM Card Holder and my brother is a GOLD card Holder. We both booked a room on Harrash’s New Orleans for a Sat night stary in July 2008 using both of you players cards. If I were to use just my Platinum card I would have paid $129 for the room and by using a guest players card the room would be comp at no cost. My brother and I book a room using both of you players cards two week before arriveing into New Orleans. Harrah’s even emailed me comfermations the the room reservation would be comp at no cost.

    Well, when my brother and I arrived by train Sat morning we check into the room at the front desk and later got a phone call from VIP services. A Harrah’s Guest Service Agent told me that all of my Room Reservation that were book using my brothers players card would be cancel. I told the Agent to the reservation was booked online and there was a place to add another guest and their players card and the room rate charnged. She tried to make like my brother did even come with me. What a bunch of crack heads. My broher is in the same room with me and sign into the room with me. They went as far as getting the front desk to check our bags in our room. Which is really against the law. Okay, they cancel all my reservation that I make though Dec and plus charged my visa $115 deposit on some of the room reservations.

    When I got back to Hattiesburg I call Jim the GM of Harrahs Casino in New Orleans and told him to check into it. He is rude to me on the phone and said that I should go back to Mississippi and play at the Grand Casino. He also told me that I’ve already used up all my comp for New Orleans. So why did the online Reservations let me book with using my brother as a guest. If they dont want people to add another guest then they should take that feature off their website.

    The GM at the Harrahs Casino in New Orleans was a Jerk and would do nothing to help me. He even told me that the Slot Tournment that was book months ago would even be taken away from me. Now, that takes the cake. These people DO NOT give a cracks ass about their guest. I’ve alway gave high raves on this casino but not anymore after being treated like I’m a dirt under their feet. I’ve spent lot of money at this casino and have never win one red cent!!! I will never spend another dime at this casino and will find another casino that will treat me better.

    Beware of Harrah’s Entertainment they are not all they are cracked up to be!!!!

  • don loehr said:

    …to make a long story short are the Mississippi Gaming Commission hearing decisions published anywhere publicly or is this Stacy Gall decision just word of mouth?

  • don loehr said:

    I am scheduled for a hearing with Mississippi Gaming where because Island View in a 3 card poker tournament wild card for the finals did not check the ID for the one who claimed to be the person called. A participant even noticed the person looked suspicious and told the tournament director to check the ID but was ignored. After the wild card person wins 2nd place he admits he is not the person called and the real wild card person was standing behind the player during the finals and admits he is the person. Obviously the person was disqualified but the tournament manager has no clue on what to do and asks the other 6 players. I told him we should replay the finals with the correct players. His response was “I am not going to let adamantlyperson does not

  • Lonnie Newsome Jr. said:

    Glad I didn’t get involved in that tournment I had to work that weekend.

  • Tim Rogge said:

    Actually rob, ALL the entry fee money is paid out in prize money and the casinos sometimes add their own money into the pot. I think this is probably how the Grand tourneys are as they based them on our old tourney from Ballys.

    The host these tourneys with the thought that their gaming revenue on the slots and tables will increase with the influx of tournament players that come to their properties. Some of the tournament players do not make a single bet during their stay. So, when you add in gift, meals, rooms, food for tournament players there is potential that the host casino could take a big bath on the whole deal.

    You and WRX above need to get some of the paranoia out of your heads that the casinos are crooks and cheats and are out to “get you”. They have a built in edge (outside of tournaments) and just want the games to be run within guidelines. When mistakes are made they try to rectify them as best they can without “hurting” either the house or the players. Obviuosly some situations are handled better than others. It is not always easy to make the very best decision when it has to be made very quickly and of coarse some of the employees are more experienced and/or sharper than others.

    Of coarse the players ALWAYS subscribe to “you should pay the table” every time a mistake is made. That is just not going to happen. They try to come up with equitable decisions as best they can.

  • I don’t really know why the casino’s would care about “the way you play”. They make money from entry fee regardless. Sounds very dodgy.

    odd

  • surender yepuri said:

    Hi Ken: Sorry to hear about your Tunica episode. Commend you for calling the Gaming Board. Would like to share my experience at LV Hilton. As you know the Chips I won at the Hilton BJ tournament were originally given with the understanding ( got a letter in Supoport of it) that they could be played until lost. However, they changed the rules — that after march 2007, they be good only for one time usage– i.e. they would take the chip after payment even if you win. I was never notified of this, so I appealed to the Nevada Gaming Board and rule in my favour. I have been give until September 15 to use up my chips.
    Another New development today– I have been stopped from entering the 100K pai Gow, even sfter I won the entry by palying the tables. I have am seeking the help of the Gaming Board again. More later

    with best wishes, surender

  • Bill Shanahan said:

    Amazing story. But what do they say in Arkansas,”Thank God for Mississippi”(Or they would be ranked #50)

  • Ted Salveson said:

    As Tim Rogge noted above, things used to be different in this market. He mentions the old crew, including “Mav”, actually two of them. Nick Mavromatis is now the Regional Director of Player Development foe Resorts and Ballys, and based at Resorts Tunica. Mike is at Fitzgeralds. And while these are some of the smaller properties in the market, the respect and courtesy you get from the staffs make them far more pleasurable than at any of the Harrah’s casinos. And, thankfully, Resorts has eliminated ALL 6-5 of the BJ games in their casino. Try a side trip there and tell Nick I sent you over.

  • George Garich said:

    your treatment only goes to show how stuipd some bean counters are. years ago friends and us went to the grand in Tunica ,”comped” weekend. i was playing black ,and after about 2 hours our first session the house told me they wanted him and me out. this was in 1998 and have NO DESIRE to EVER set foot in tunica again.

  • Thunder said:

    Ken,
    I really feel for you. You’re a good guy and deserve to be treated better. I think it’s about time that the pros should get together and create a casino designed by players. Granted it would be expensive, but we’d wipe out the competition before long.

  • WRX said:

    News flash about casinos–they’re all a bunch of crooks. Things never change. Or not much, at least they probably won’t kill or maim you, like the wiseguys running the old joints sometimes did.

    Unfortunately, I think you take your chances any time you make a high profile play like entering a blackjack or poker tournament.

    We can only hope that Mississippi and the other states in which casino gambling is spreading won’t end up having utter whores for politicians and judges, like in Nevada. (Gambling has a poisoning effect on government, wherever it becomes prominent.) Maybe people mistreated like you were will have a ghost of a chance of getting relief. And Harrah’s did defraud you, in more ways than one. First there was the bush league reneging on the $100 promo chip promise. More importantly, you invested a lot of time and travel expense relying on Harrah’s promise that you could enter the tournament. For some reason, casinos don’t think that the common law of contract and deceit apply to them. They also don’t think that they’re subject to the ancient principle putting a heightened duty on innkeepers, once they have accepted guests, to protect them from the hazards of the night.

    But unfortunately, I wouldn’t put much faith in the government or the courts being effective in protecting your rights, even under the best of circumstances. Much better to learn from the experience of others, to consider the casino’s reputation, and in turn to let others know of how you were treated.

    I do think that on one point, you and the other players could have better protected yourselves by reading the fine print. That business about “adding one additional player to the final table” should have been reason to run, not walk away from this tournament. That was just paying what they owed another player out of your entry fees. What if Harrah’s put on a tournament, and nobody came?

    Good story, thanks.

  • Hey Tim,
    You’re right. The old days in Tunica featured some really excellent tournament action. Some of the names you mentioned are still around running tournaments in the area, but as you note, much of the crew has been split up and moved around with all the mergers.

  • Tim Rogge said:

    Hi Ken,

    How have you been. I used to run the Bally’s-Tunica tournaments. First with Dan O’Conner and then on my own if you remember. I have since moved back to MN and gotten in the mortgage business.

    I actually know Rob Winkler personally. Wow, this sounds like quite the debacle! I can’t beleive how badly things went and that they threw you off the property. That is crazy!

    It is too bad our “crew” of solid casino guys got all broken up by mergers and acqusitions as we used to have one of the best groups ever with Mav, Adolph, Mike Smith, Barbara Williams, Kevin Munn, Skip Perry and on and on. Those were the good old days.

    I have seen you on the Game Show Network. It looks like this Blackjack Tournament stuff is running strong.

    I will say I don’t miss running the tournaments as it was a ton of work and quite a bit of stress. Rob had to be feeling a ton of heat on this one. Ouch!

    Take care and put me on your email list for your stories and updates as I find them interesting.

    Tim Rogge
    former Tournament Director @ Bally’s Tunica

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