The always-popular Summer Super Stack tournament series at Deerfoot Inn & Casino in Calgary kicks off on Thursday, but there’s a new man at the helm this year. After poker room manager Robert Bowers left the casino to take on new opportunities, Ron Campbell was hired in his place.
Campbell is far from a new face around Deerfoot. He’s been around the poker community and involved in the casino for years, and he’s going to be taking Deerfoot forward as the new poker room manager.
"I’ve always been a player. I started playing in the early 90s playing limit hold’em. And I did that through college," he explained when we reached him to talk about his new role. "I grew up in Windsor, Ontario, and I’d drive to the States [to] the nearest Indian casino and play a lot of $4/$8, $6/$12 limit. When I moved to Calgary, I started playing $15/$30 and that’s where I met Remy. That was in 2003.
"In 2005, when the Deerfoot Inn & Casino opened, Remy recruited me to work with him at Deerfoot. So I kind of started as a dealer/cashier, then became houseman, then became tournament director, then assistant poker manager, and then the ownership took over the rights to the Stampede Casino before it became Cowboys. I became the poker manager there. So that would be I guess like 2007."
Campbell told us that his time there lasted for less than a year before he started consulting for Canadian Poker Tour (CPT), and then he branched off and started Players Poker Canada, an affiliate site.
"I tried to get it going and tried to get it going for a couple years and tried to gain traction and just never could — could never turn it into a viable business. And then at that time I probably had like one year of stagnation and I had been talking to the Deerfoot Inn & Casino and they said, ‘Well, can you help our business out?’ So they hired me as a consultant around the time that Robert Bowers was hired. I actually trained Robert to be poker manager at Deerfoot."
Deerfoot Inn & Casino already has a strong role in the Canadian poker community, partially established by Robert Bowers, so Campbell has big shoes to fill. We wanted to know what differences players can expect as management transitions to Campbell.
"I think the unique characteristic that I have is I understand three sides to the business. I understand trying to make a living playing poker. I understand just playing recreationally. And I understand the business side — what goes behind dollars and budgets and scheduling and all the obstacles that a poker manager faces.
"And then I also know what it’s like to be a third party trying to coordinate both players and casinos to kind of non-compete with tournaments, to share ideas, and build better poker. I want to act on behalf of players. I actually put a lot of information out there for them to react to. And then I have to protect the integrity of our business. So I’m kind of like an active middle man, even though I actually have to tow the company line and be a manager."
With just three months to settle into the new role so far, Campbell hasn’t wasted any time making some changes. He eliminated 10-handed poker, taking tables nine-handed. "I completely revamped the poker room that had been set up the same way for 10 years, trying to make it more player-friendly. We had a stagnant comp program. I initiated a $5 coupon voucher with more value going to the players on a regular basis. I analyzed our rules, how we display and use a betting line."
Players have a watchful eye on the upcoming Summer Super Stack, which has become a staple in Canadian poker as one of the best series in the country. Campbell has made some changes there too, and players will see them play out over the next couple of weeks as the series takes place.
"I always like to be innovative and come up with cool ideas. I introduced a couple ideas that have never been done before. Not in Alberta anyway. I created a 25 big blind event which is basically the whole event is going to play out at an average of 25 big blinds. From the beginning to the end. So when you’re heads up, the chip average will be 25 big blinds. It doesn’t mean that one person doesn’t have 40 and the other person has 10, but it’s going to play out on an average, and the blinds go up based on eliminations.
"I also reinstituted events that have been tried at various places. Ladies event, brought that back, as well as a seniors event, and then the rest of it is standard par for the course. You have a successful history with our Mega Stack and our Main Event so I didn’t change anything there. As well as PLO and other bounty events that have been quite popular here.
"The two things I’ve probably eliminated was the heads-up and the H.O.S.E. which people are a little upset, but to me it’s a niche market where only the top five percenters are even interested in playing, so to me I found it limited business-wise. I’d rather replace it with the seniors — there is a niche crowd bigger than the people who would be into a heads-up event. Ladies event, bigger than the people that would be interested in the H.O.S.E. event. So I’ve just exchanged ideas."
Another thing that has changed for this series is the notable absence of any prize pool guarantees, which have been a part of Super Stack events at Deerfoot for years.
"The last couple years we’ve almost doubled the guarantees," Campbell explained. "So the guarantees to me are irrelevant. A lot of casinos out there, our competitors, put a guarantee so low that it’s so irrelevant that I don’t understand why people buy into the guarantee factor. To me it’s an irrelevant part of business and what I’ve done is produce factual advertising, meaning: the last two years our prize pools have been $350,000 for the Main and $370,000 for the Main instead of the $200,000 guarantee. So I can say we have, based on the history you’re talking about, some substance to go on.
"Three years ago, Robert had called me and said, ‘We are kind of in a tough situation trying to hit our $200K guarantee.’ And what had happened was he called me with six players registered an hour and a half into the tournament. And I said ‘OK, let’s think of the scenarios: A, B, C.’ And we worked through them and he saw through the day and he had 14 players, and the next day he had 30 players, and, well, now we have to hit like 103 players to make the guarantee after having 14 and 30 — risk the casino doesn’t need to take. Because if there was 30 players the next day, the casino could lose $100 grand. What do you think happens to the tournament? It gets cancelled and another one is dead. That’s not good for the poker community, so the risk/reward is actually a negative to the overall business plan.
"Grey Eagle had one of the most successful events in the history of poker in Canada. And they had a $200,000 guarantee for a $2,500 event. Well they got like a $680,000 prize pool. So what did the guarantee do? You can say that it contributed to the $680,000, which it factually did, but it’s so irrelevant."
Another big change is with the Player of the Series prizing which has historically offered some huge value to players who do well in the series. We asked Campbell to explain the reasoning behind his alterations there.
“This is where Robert and I have a difference in philosophies. He really did like having heads-up events and H.O.S.E. events and he was really in tune with our top pros — the top people that really take it seriously because they have a well-respected point of view on poker and what’s involved. So Robert always did a great job catering to that crowd.
"My thinking is different. I share with the masses. If the average person has a shot at winning something, it’s good for poker. [If] they get lucky and they win $50K, that’s good for poker, as opposed to the top players always doing extremely well at Deerfoot. That has been the history. So I might have taken away a little play to add a little more luck factor so we can maybe spread the wealth as opposed to the Smith brothers and everybody from Saskatoon coming in and raping and pillaging our events. They’re all awesome people. I know them and they’re great. But it’s not good for business.
"So in the Player of the Series aspect, the best player of that series who might have won $50K or more during that series is going to get rewarded with a $10,000 package or benefits. No, we’ve dropped it down to $1,000, but what we’re doing is we’re taking the remaining budget and we’re allowing every person who enters tournaments and [plays in the] cash room to get draw ballots to enter daily draws where we’re giving away a seat into every single event every day, except satellites. So if we have a Main Event with three starting days, we’re giving away $4,500 worth of entries into that event. The Mega Stack, we’re giving away another $1,500, and then every other event. It’s like $8,600 in [entries that] any random person can win, not the person who has already dominated our series. So that was the thinking there."
Deerfoot Inn & Casino has been long-established as a great place for poker, and today it maintains its place as one of the top tournament organizers in the country. It’s a legacy Campbell is aware of and hopes to extend.
"The Deerfoot brand has been built. We have been on the international stage and that has to do with past affiliations with the CPT. The Summer Super Stack’s popularity came from the Canadian Open Poker Championship, which was a summer event that had a $5K heads-up event and really started the whole trend. So internationally we had some top names travelling to our events and the structures have always been top-notch. And then we have stood the test of time. Sustaining is very difficult. You need good leadership and we’ve been fortunate enough to have really good poker room managers here — Remy and Robert and then hopefully myself — to carry on that legacy."
The 2017 Summer Super Stack begins Thursday and will see 13 events play out over 12 days including the $1,500 Main Event. Total prize pools are estimated to be over $800,000.