Now Corporations Have Caught Poker Fever

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The New York Sun

On Wall Street, poker has long been a favorite hobby of overworked, highly compensated investment bankers looking to test their wits and luck and to compete for huge sums of money. While the game has been infamous for attracting deceitful characters and inviting huge risk, these days many New York corporations are using poker as part of a safe night out.

In the past, bankers courted their predominantly male clientele over lavish dinners followed by jaunts to local cabarets, but new employee regulations have led them to seek out alternative and legal means of entertainment that still spark interest. Banks, brokerages, and hedge funds are using poker tournaments as a platform to woo clients and to facilitate “meet and greets.”

A typical scene is straight out of a James Bond film: A ballroom is lined with emerald-green felt poker tables manned by professional dealers. Between six and 12 well-dressed players sit at each table. Serious players don sunglasses and the amateurs attempt to harness their best poker faces.

Such parties have existed at private clubs in New York for years, but lately there is one major difference: There is no money on the table, making the games completely legal.

Investment banking is a business that is inherently risky and requires a certain amount of calculated gambling, making poker a natural fit. “Poker is very competitive and almost an extension of what we do,”a buy-side trader at a hedge fund, who asked not to be identified, said.

Throughout the city, corporations are adapting the poker strategy. Instinet, a global execution company in electronic trading, throws “poker parties” as a forum for their salespeople.‘It’s a great opportunity for us to get quality time with our clients,” the director of p.r. and events at Instinet, Mark Dowd, said. “Clients get more excited for a poker game than a traditional cocktail party.”

Instinet has put together several small tournaments, and in April threw its first poker bash at the W Hotel on Lexington Avenue. “The ballroom was totally packed with about 110 buy-side clients and 20 of our salespeople,” Mr. Dowd said. It was so successful that Instinet is planning another tournament, in November at the W Hotel on Union Square.

Because of regulations, prizes at corporate tournaments can’t exceed $100, but winning isn’t about a tangible prize. “It’s bragging rights, to say you’re the best poker player on Wall Street,’ Mr. Dowd said.

That isn’t to say winners go home empty-handed. At Instinet’s April party, the top 10 winners split $10,000 that went to the charity of their choice.

Restaurants and event companies have caught on to the poker buzz and are creating services to facilitate the parties. The sales department at the ESPN Zone, the network’s 40,000-square-foot flagship restaurant in Times Square, arranges poker events in any of its sports-themed rooms. Eat Drink & Be Merry, a private party planner in Manhattan, markets a “Wicked Poker Night” for corporate parties. Clients can choose from a variety of venues, such as the Colonial style Havana Room and the Prohibition era-inspired Speakeasy.

Although legal tournaments are becoming popular in the corporate world, cash games run rampant in Manhattan. Illegal poker clubs are very popular and the city is trying to crack down on them. Texas hold ’em, the most popular tournament format, exploded onto the American scene out of relative obscurity in 2003 when an amateur poker player, Chris Moneymaker, an accountant from Tennessee, won the $2.5 million purse at the World Series of Poker tournament in Las Vegas. ESPN, which televises the World Series event, has been a major catalyst for the sport’s unprecedented success.

The New York Sun

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