ACME — Richard Birndorf of Interlochen plays Texas Hold ‘em at Turtle Creek at least four days a week, saying the 200 or so people who play there on a regular basis have become like family.
But the family is soon to fold.
“This is really an emotional time,” Birndorf said. “We’re beside ourselves not knowing what we’re going to do.”
Turtle Creek will no longer offer live poker play as of March 31 because of overhead and spacing issues, according to a casino statement. Tracy Kurtz of Swope-Kurtz Marketing, which does marketing and public relations for the casino, said future use of the room is still being determined but will still have table games such as blackjack, craps, roulette and three- and four-card poker.
The Bad Beat jackpot — a massive $295,000 grown from the $1 taken by the casino from every hand played in a cash game — will be awarded to players in games held in March, according to the statement.
Birndorf and several other players have written letters to the casino to express their concerns. None have gotten a response.
Hold ‘em tournaments are held at Turtle Creek four days a week, with buy-in ranging from $45 to $110. Another is held on the first Saturday of the month, with a buy-in of $185.
There are six tables per tournament with 10 players at each table. Play lasts about three to four hours and every game is regularly sold out, Birndorf said.
He has been a regular player since the casino opened in 2008.
“We feel that it’s wrong for them to close this room because we’ve been very loyal,” Birndorf said. “There seems to be no recognition of that.”
He’s not the only one upset.
Lonnie Sparks — a 10-year player from Kalamazoo — and other regular players voiced confusion over the move.
“I think it’s foolish,” Sparks said, adding that the casino floor where the slots are is barren most nights. “I just love playing cards and my money lasts longer in the poker room than it does on the casino floor.”
Once the poker room closes, the nearest place to play will be at the Soaring Eagle Casino in Mt. Pleasant, which is more than 100 miles away. Hold ‘em tournaments are also held at the Odawa Casino in Petoskey, but days and tables are limited.
Ken Warner said he has made friends at the Hold ‘em tables from all walks of life that he would never have known otherwise.
“There’s really something very special about these tournaments themselves,” said the Traverse City resident and retired University of Michigan professor. “This is absolutely one of our most enjoyable forms of recreation and it has created a community. There’s no viable alternative once Turtle Creek closes its poker tables.”
Hold ‘em brings out a great crowd, echoed Karen Warren, of Johannesburg.
“The poker game brings out a lot of tough women and a lot of strong and smart women who are not intimidated by male players,” Warren said. “And you just love taking their money away from them and making them cry.”
Joel Fredette of Elk Rapids said that for many older people who don’t get out much, the game is an integral part of their socialization.
“This is their one time to get around human beings and play the game they love,” Fredette said. “It’s really sad that they’ll be closing that down.”
The idea of family was mentioned by Johnny Barrientoz, the casino’s general manager, in a statement about hosting daily poker games and weekly tournaments for a decade.
“While we are going in a new direction, we appreciate all the players who participated in our daily games and tournaments, many of whom have become like family with our staff and the other players,” Barrientoz said.
Many players have said that if the room closes they’ll have no reason to go to the casino.
“We just want to play,”Birndorf said.