By Matt Clark
Set in a Northern California outpost, Lincoln, California, offers up the majestic Thunder Valley Casino Resort to all who drive by on Route 65. Inside the doors lie one of the best property experiences both in California and across the World Poker Tour.
The poker is great, but it’s the player treatment that leads many to come back, according to Director of Poker Ben Erwin.
“We definitely specialize in the social aspect of the game and getting everyone together,” Erwin told WPT.com.
Friendly Vibe Amid Competition
Erwin places a heavy emphasis on player activities and building a rapport among competitors. The WPT Rolling Thunder festivities opened on Friday night with a trip to the local Topgolf at the end of Day 1a. By visiting WPT-affiliated properties across the country from Los Angeles to Atlantic City, Erwin learned how to best incorporate the positive elements of other WPT stops.
“It gets to be the idea of the experience,” Erwin said. “We enjoy taking players out. We enjoy having that camaraderie. Simply having a night and having an opportunity to relax. It’s a trip, there should be some elements of a vacation. Poker is a great game and being able to do things outside of that to really enhance it. Give them something to remember and build relationships.”
Where Everyone Knows Your Name
The Thunder Valley property hosts a variety of tours year-round, including the WPTDeepStacks series. Erwin notices familiar faces returning for other events. The building of a base is a detail Erwin takes pride in and he strives to make sure every player who walks through the doors is recognized when they return.
“With the amount of players that we know, you’re not going up and introducing yourself, you’re walking up and saying. ‘Welcome back,'” Erwin said. “I think that’s very powerful. It’s nice when you walk in and you’ve been there before, and you’re remembered. It’s no different than a restaurant or anywhere else. It’s not a job, it’s part of our events and the people we have in place enjoy that part of it.”
Taking Advantage of the Amenities
The resort portion of Thunder Valley gives Erwin a chance to introduce players to what the property has to offer outside of the brand new poker room. On one night during this stop, WPT and Thunder Valley hosted the WPT Champions Club dinner at the High Steaks, a highly acclaimed steakhouse located at Thunder Valley Casino Resort. Following that, the WPT Players Party took place at Illusions on Sunday.
“We do our best to get players engaged,” Erwin said with emphasis. “When WPTDeepStacks returns in April, that’s when we’re having our poker room grand opening. We also have Mike Sexton’s book signing. There are the spa and the hotel. Everything is ideal. Now that we are this premier venue, those other elements now along with this, it should be a trip that a player will remember.”
Going to the Players
The social media output from the Thunder Valley Twitter account feeds right into what players want from the room, says Erwin. By working with the WPT Executive Tour Director Matt Savage and Dan Ross of Hold’em Radio, Erwin believes the Twitter engagement results in players having a voice before ever entering the property.
“Matt is the one who personally got me into Twitter,” Erwin noted. “Seeing how relevant the live updates are and incorporating that through Twitter is great for the events. It makes the event come to life. For the participants and their friends and family who are watching and also adds some prestige. Twitter is such an incredible platform for this game. You get that immediate response and get to the people.”
The People Have Spoken
The demand for poker in Northern California led to the new room at Thunder Valley. Erwin is happy to bring in new players and for WPT Rolling Thunder alone, most parts of the country are represented by entrants in the field who are here for the first time.
As always, the expectation Erwin has on himself and his staff is to deliver upon an experience that will make players return to Thunder Valley for the next one. It’s safe to say he’s on the right path.
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