Like many of you, I’ve been playing cards since I could hold them and count. Let’s just say “I was better at counting than at holding them”. I initially learned to play 5 Card Draw from my mom. I learned to love gambling from her as well. There was nothing more important and fun for my mother than going to Las Vegas! She loved the “One arm bandits” the most. This was before all the computerized random number generated machines we see today. Playing for hours on nickel slots wishing for three 7’s was like crack to an addict. My Mother loved casinos!
I started young. My first win was at 14 years old. I looked older and was certainly mature for my age. Some of you may remember the Lady Luck in Downtown Las Vegas. The casino girls would walk around taking player’s pictures. The casino would have drawings for prize money every hour or so. I won my first $25 for my picture. I was so excited and felt rich! Scared the bejesus outta me when the manager said, “you are 21, right?” “Oh, yes sir”, I quickly replied. To this day I don’t know why he did not card me? Funnier still, I wore a Donny and Marie T-shirt that day!
I was hooked! I started playing slots when I became of legal age. My very first real jackpot was my 21st birthday weekend. I won $1000 on a nickel progressive machine at the Fremont Casino. But, I became bored very quickly with slots, so I started looking at the table games and found cards to my liking.
In the early days all that was available was 7 Card Stud, or, maybe that’s just what I remember. My first experience was a small casino on the strip called Silver City. I thought I could handle a small casino. The bigger casinos scared the heck out of me. Not only was I typically the youngest at the table, but, more often than not I was the only woman. I was treated like an unwanted step-child by half the ole guys, as if I stepped un-welcomingly into a gentlemen only club. The other half of the old farts thought they hooked a fish when I sat down. Much of the time they reeled me in, hook line and sinker. And, so began the home poker games, cocktails and cigars, the whole cliche’. The only thing missing from our home games was the cute hostess yelling “cigars, cigarettes”.
Then came Texas Hold’em. I was in seventh heaven! My better half showed me how to play on a handheld video game. I loved it so much I decided to take my new found knowledge on the road. I played my first tournament at the Riverside Casino in Laughlin, Nevada. Not quite the “Poker Mecca” of the world, but I was addicted. I semi-bluffed with pocket 10’s to knock out two people. An older woman, who I knocked out couldn’t believe I would risk it all with middle pair. I took 4th place and I was hooked! Being a little naive and not knowing better does have its advantages.
I have organized and hosted several successful home and bowling alley poker leagues since. The last several years we focused on promoting women in poker by sending at least one or two women to Las Vegas to play in a big tournament. Then, we found Ladies International Poker Series (LIPS). Finally, an organization that promotes women in poker. A safe tournament where you could find good and friendly competition and free from snide comments about “only being a woman”, or “come on in, Honey, the water is warm!”
I’ve played competitive sports most of my life, at least until injuries made it less fun. Enter poker…to get my competitive fix! But, even with LIPS, there are still difficulties for women to play. I don’t get intimidated easily or often, but it can be daunting to enter an unfamiliar poker room and find mostly men in the entire place. Hardly a friendly face to be found, including the dealers and other poker room staff. Fast forward to 2018. Some of the same issues I faced over 30 years ago still happen today. Some of it is not as direct as it once was, but it is still there. “What does she think she’s doing check raising me”, and other such comments. The list goes on.
Enter WPA; Women’s Poker Association. A global community of like minded women who enjoy the sport of poker. A safe place to learn about poker, a place to work on your skills, a place where you can find brick and mortar poker rooms and casinos that are women friendly. A place where you will get honest feedback and information about what is going on in the poker community. The good, the bad, and yes, sometimes the ugly!
Now we have come full circle. Mom, thank you for introducing me to the love of gaming. The nostalgic glitter of Las Vegas. The often romantic side of gambling. Without you, I might not have found the love of poker. I know you would be proud! We are going to make sure that women are at the final table is not an anomaly, but the usual and normal state of poker!
In honor and loving memory of Diane Constantino (5/10/1941 to 06/17/1994).
Author, Terry Constantino, Board Member