From the Turf to the Felt: Jamie Dawick Blends Poker with Lacrosse
Prior to 1994, lacrosse was known as the national sport of Canada, but is now officially known as the national summer sport of Canada. The history of lacrosse is deep in the roots of Canadiana, dating back to ancient First Nations' culture. Recently, at the World Lacrosse Championships held in Colorado, Canada took back the title of World Champions from the Americans, defeating them 8-5 in the gold medal match.
A few years ago, Jamie Dawick began investigating a way to start his own National Lacrosse League (NLL) franchise as an expansion team. Being a fan of the league and the Toronto Rock, the thought of owning the Rock wasn't on his mind. But in 2009, he got a call from a friend who said that the Rock were up for sale. After doing some investigating, he made a bid to buy the Toronto Rock, and the rest is history. In two of the next three years with Dawick at the helm, the Rock would reach the NLL Championship game while capturing their sixth NLL Championship in 2011.
What people may not know about Dawick is that he also enjoys playing poker as a hobby. He has travelled across the border eight times to participate in the grand daddy of all poker tournaments — the World Series of Poker Main Event. With two Main Event cashes in 2007 and 2013, Dawick enjoys the competition that the felt offers.
Dawick got hooked on poker around the same time as many of today's players — the Chris Moneymaker boom. Moneymaker's win in the WSOP Main Event made Dawick think, “Why not me?”
He explained that, “Poker allows anyone to play with the best players in the world while allowing them the chance to win something big.” Poker gives Dawick the competitive spirit and feeling of playing professional sports. This is opposite his day job in the sports world where, owning the Toronto Rock, he has to watch the game unfold with little control over what happens on the field.
Dawick tries to play as much as he can, but with a family, running one of the most successful professional lacrosse franchises, and having a state-of-the-art year-round lacrosse training facility, he doesn't get as much time as he’d like to dedicate towards playing tournaments. “During the season, it’s hard to play tournaments, as I must commit to taking off the time that the entire tournament runs for. With juggling work and three growing kids, I don’t have as much time to dedicate to the game, but as they grow up I may find some more time to play,” Dawick said. “I still get to play a bit while travelling with the guys, and we will occasionally have team poker tournaments for fun.”
Some of the skills Dawick has learned in business have been brought to the felt, and he recognizes a lot of parallels between the two. “I feel the similarities between poker and running a business are the competitive edge necessary to be great at both. You have to have that need to win to be great and that's what attracts me to poker. I also have to be in control of my emotions. Like in the sports world, there are many ups and downs, and if I am unable to control my emotions at the poker table I can be eliminated from a tournament quickly while, in the sports world, I can make a bad trade or hurt my franchise for years to come.”
He also takes some of the lessons he has learned in poker to his day-to-day business as owner of a sports franchise. “One of the biggest things poker has taught me has been bluffing,” said Dawick. “You can’t always be truthful with people and other teams with what our team is up to; you have to pick your spots when it comes to dealing with other teams about trades or with trying to sign players. It’s all about getting the best deal for your team so you can remain competitive.”
One thing Dawick hasn't bluffed at is his dedication to growing the game of lacrosse in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). In December 2012, Dawick officially opened the Toronto Rock Athletic Centre (TRAC) in Oakville, Ontario. The TRAC offers two indoor lacrosse arenas for kids to practice Canada's national summer sport in a year-round environment. “The TRAC was created to help expand the game of lacrosse. We wanted a great location and give kids an opportunity to play lacrosse at all times of the year,” explained Dawick. “The TRAC offers a fall/winter league called the Rock Elite Leauge. This gives players who enjoy the game of lacrosse and want to participate in the sport instead of other traditionally-played winter sports.” As a result of the team's performance during the 2013 season by finishing first in their division and his growth of the game in the GTA with TRAC, Dawick received NLL Executive of the Year honours.
The TRAC also serves as the Toronto Rock’s training facility during the season. “Even though we have strict rules about the amount of times we are allowed to practice in a week, the TRAC was created to help with the lack of lacrosse facilities in the winter time,” explained Dawick. “When the season starts, all rinks in the area have ice in them and the team had to travel a great distance to practice. The TRAC gives our professional teams the ability to train locally, hopefully, giving our players a competitive edge come game time.”
When asked for any poker highlights he had while playing in some of the biggest tournaments, he replied “Cashing in the $25,000 buy-in Five Star World Poker Classic at Bellagio is one that would be at the top of the list. It was a really tough field that had no easy spots.” After thinking some more, Dawick chimed in, “During my first cash at the WSOP Main Event, I got lucky and sucked out against Antonio Esfandiari with pocket jacks against his pocket kings.”
“I've also got to play with some pretty big names during the WSOP Main Event,” said Dawick. “A couple years ago I was at the same table as Shannon Shorr, while this year I was seated at the same table as Mike ‘Timex’ McDonald. I’ve never gotten to play with a lot of the bigger names like Phil Ivey or Phil Hellmuth, but you never know.”
When asked what makes him keep coming back to the poker tables, Dawick responded, “The unpredictability of what is going to happen along with the competitiveness that the game brings. Poker people are great people and I enjoy the camaraderie that is developed at the table. I've never been able to hit that big score, but the opportunity to win something big, that's what keeps me coming back.”
* All photos courtesy of Toronto Rock.