by Stanley R. Sludikoff, Publisher
When Benny and Jack Binion created the Poker Hall of Fame in 1979, it was clearly oriented to rewarding famous players, and, unfortunately, it still is. There was also a matter of ignorance in naming at least one of the original members, Sir Edmund Hoyle.
Famous for his name being used to define the rules of games, Hoyle never knew or wrote about Poker, as it wasn’t invented until after his demise. Virtually all of the other 41 inductees are known for their high stakes poker play. But, poker is more than a game. It is now a full-fledged industry. Many people have contributed to the growth and development of the poker world, which are being slighted by the criteria and the selection methodology. Many have made major contributions to this field from Card room managers, to casino entrepreneurs, to journalists, to authors, to tournament directors, to people who work in card rooms. Perhaps Caesars Entertainment, which owns the rights to this Hall of Fame, should consider changing its name to the “Poker Players Hall of Fame.” Then we could get on with creating the proper recognition for all who have contributed so mightily to the growth of this industry by creating a “Poker Industry Hall of Fame,” instead of waiting for an unbiased assessment of who should next be inducted into Caesars honor society.
Today I’d like to tell you about one such person, who, more than anyone I can recall in this industry, deserves a measure of recognition far beyond the more recent crop of newer members. Now that is not to say these others do not deserve recognition, indeed they do. But, if you are a newcomer to poker, especially in the last five years, you might never have heard the name, George Hardie. For the last five years, Hardie has built and operated a casino in Belize, near its northern border with Mexico. He also maintains a residence in Las Vegas. George is best known for building and operating the Bicycle Casino in Bell Gardens, but he has done so much for this industry, sometimes without any support from others, that his legend should be legion. In my 40+ years of experience in this field, I can say that among the people in this industry, only the Binions stand in his class. George’s operation of the Bicycle Club set new standards for honesty and decorum in this field that lifted poker from its image of a backroom in a barber shop to a high class casino environment.
Several years ago, the Casino Journal magazine did a story on George, entitled, “California’s King of Poker.” In that piece, they presented over 25 items crediting Hardie’s astounding accomplishments. I am going to present you with an abbreviated version of that list, as it would otherwise take too much space:
1. FIRST major casino owner to put uniforms on all dealers.
2. FIRST to bar customers for unruly conduct or swearing or abusing dealers, including WSOP Champion Stu Ungar.
3. FIRST to run non-smoking tournaments –The Diamond Jim Brady in 1988.
4. FIRST to eliminate tokes for floor men.
5. FIRST to bar known cheaters, and installed extensive surveillance equipment.
6. FIRST to insist on personal grooming standards for employees.
7. FIRST to guarantee a first prize of $50,000 for a $100 buy-in event.
8. In the late 80s held the largest poker games with the best players competing. The games were honest and the house charged fair fees.
9. The Bicycle Club originated the idea of “shootouts.”
10. Hardie’s Bike was the first major club to put down Pai Gow Poker and Super Pan 9.
11. Established the second highest grossing poker tournament, after the WSOP, the Diamond Jim Brady Tournament in 1985.
12. Established the Chinese New Year celebration that became a three-day event.
13. Developed creative marketing ideas, like, dance contests, beauty contests, promotional shows w/entertainers, and giveaway drawings for a Cadillac and Chinese Panda gold coins.
14. Created the Beat the Boss promotion, where players who qualified played against him to win prizes.
15. Instrumental in removing the stigma on poker and gambling. It became fun entertainment.
16. FIRST to use Billboard advertising
17. FIRST to sponsor, w/Robert Turner, a California Pool Players World Championship.
18. Within 3 years of opening, the Bicycle Club was the largest card casino in the world.
19. Hardie started a tradition by “roasting” poker celebrities to a packed house.
20. George has won numerous awards for his personal charitable giving, as well as that of his company. Closed the Bike on Christmas day holding a party for 1200 children, while playing Santa Claus. Served as mayor of Cathedral City, California, donating his salary to the Girls and Boys Club. Received a “Man of the Year” award from the Variety Clubs in 1996 for “bettering the lives of children.”
21. Hardie challenged in the Courts and fought the LA County Sheriff Sherman Block and the Attorney General of California to be able to play many other poker games than the draw and pan games that were standard fare.
22. George was the leader and the only person that fought in the Courts for the banking games that now provide more than half of the revenues for California casinos. He created the rotating bank scenario, where all players can take the bank as the house cannot.
23. Obtained an injunction in 1985 to offer Pai Gow tiles. And was then able to introduce Pai Gow Poker and Super Pan 9 to the Bike. Concurrently with this effort, the expansion of legal poker games continued into Holdem, which led to later approval of virtually all poker games. His contribution to expanding the games of poker that could be played in California cannot be overstated.
24. In 1991, as the then President of the California Card Club Association, at a hearing in Sacramento by a California Assembly committee, attended by card club owners, the only person to speak up about a Draconian gaming bill from the Attorney General that would have eliminated most of the non-poker games was George Hardie. The bill passed out of committee with a 13-0 vote, but, Hardie’s ability to meet and discuss the unfairness in the bill with a number of important politicians got the bill killed, saving the industry. Although he earned the undying enmity of the Attorney General’s office, the bill was defeated again in 1992 and 1993.
25. Hardie was the only one to continue fighting and defeating the Attorney General’s attempt to limit the California Card Clubs as the other owners were afraid to speak out lest the AG might not renew their licenses.
26. The above bill was finally amended by Senator Bill Lockyear, but in a fair way to casinos so they could retain those games Hardie had fought so hard in the courts to legalize.
The Casino Journal ended its story with these words: “Mr. Hardie created a professional, legitimate, and honest image of poker that has brought hundreds of thousands of new players to the California poker rooms over the past 20 years. If any individual deserves recognition in the poker industry for their contribution, it is George G. Hardie.”
Now, who do you know that has done as much for poker as George Hardie?