Note: Mo Fathipour is Tournament Director for the Bicycle Casino in Bell Gardens, CA. At present, “The Bike” is hosting a World Series of Poker Circuit event, which runs through January 12th. Fathipour was interviewed a few days into the tournament. He agreed to share a few thoughts with WSOP.com and its followers.
QUESTION: Mo, please tell us about your background before you started working in the poker industry.
MO FATHIPOUR: I was born in Iran. I first came to the United States back in 1985. I began working here as an electrical engineer. In fact, I worked for the same company for 19 consecutive years. I came here to the U.S. and had only one job. That was it. It was a company that did MRI technology. But while I was working, I was also playing poker during my free time. I started playing poker when I first arrived in the United States and I have loved the game ever since.
QUESTION: So, how did you become the Tournament Director at The Bicycle Casino?
MO: I was mostly a cash game player. They called me “Action Mo,” because when I sat in the game I created action. I’m not sure why it happened, but people like to play when I’m sitting in the game. I like to have fun. Maybe that’s why. But even though they called me “Action Mo,” I really did not consider what I did to be gambling. It was more like investing. That’s the way I viewed poker, even though it was also a form of entertainment. Seven years ago, The Bicycle Casino asked me to become a host for the $500 buy-in (minimum) No-Limit Hold’em game. They wanted that game to run as much as possible in order to create other games and action. I was very successful and getting that game going and other tables, too. Next, they asked me to be the host of the top (high-limit) section. So, I eventually left my job and decided to take a full-time position at The Bicycle Casino. I have been working as the Tournament Director for the past three years.
QUESTION: Few establishments can match the history and aura of The Bicycle Casino. After all, it was the world’s very first mega-poker room. How have you seen “The Bike” change over the years?
MO: You have to understand that The Bike is located in a very unenviable place and we are at a disadvantage being that it’s a challenge to bring in new players here. The Los Angeles poker market is fiercely competitive and there are a number of big casinos now that all have many poker tables. We are surrounded by other poker rooms, as we have competition to the north, south, and west of us. Since most of our competitors are located in better areas – and by that I mean places that are closer to larger numbers of people who play poker – we have to make an extra special effort to attract them. The Bike has to go the extra distance. Some of the other places can just open the doors and succeed because of where they are located. So, we have decided to be more creative and come up with new ways to bring in fresh business. One of the most exciting things we have done recently, of course, is to add the World Series of Poker Circuit to our yearly schedule.
QUESTION: You talk about being creative and doing creative things. What are some of the other ways you have kept your poker business and have created a lot of new players?
MO: There are so many things. I have been around as a player for like 25 years. So, one of the things that I have always been very focused on is tournament structures and getting the best possible conditions for the players. I do not just want players to come within the 20 mile radius. I want them to come from 50 miles or even 100 miles away. And they will come if you offer better conditions for them. For instance, we started to give players more starting chips because many of them were asking for that. I know it is going to cost us more because the tournaments run longer, but if more people come and they play more, then it creates new business. Another new thing that we started last year was to have The Mega Millions series. It’s a multi-entry tournament with ten possible starting days and a guarantee of $1 million in the prize pool, with $300,000 for first place. We did that three times and surpassed what was expected each time. It was only a $125 buy-in. Everyone said I was crazy. Now, other casinos are copying the idea.
QUESTION: What else?
MO: I invented a new game which has been patented. It’s called “Quantum Reload.” Other casinos have already signed on to try it. Quantum Reload is a new and novel tournament idea where players can buy-in for different amounts at different stages of the tournament. A player can buy-in for less and receive fewer chips. Or, the player can buy-in later in the tournament and pay more to get a bigger stack. It is essentially two tournaments in one. The first part is the regular buy-in with less chips and the second part is the higher buy-in with more chips. Then, the two tournaments eventually combine into one field. This creates much bigger prize pools. It also allows players more flexibility to play at different times as well as pay the buy-in amount suited to their bankrolls.
QUESTION: What other things does The Bicycle Casino do that you do not find at other LA-area casinos?
MO: One of our most successful attractions has been our regular $40 buy-in tournaments, which run Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. They have a $10,000 guarantee. The Bike has already run more than a hundred of those. You know how many of them did not make the guarantee? None. They all had big prize pools, from $12,000 all the way up to $27,000. We had some tournament winners turn a $40 buy-in into $9,000 for first place.
QUESTION: Give me a story or two from the floor as The Bike’s Tournament Director.
MO: I’ll give you an example of how I knew we were doing things right or at least headed in the right direction. Last year during one of our other events, (poker player) Allen Kessler came up to me. As you know, Kessler can be very critical of the way things are done. He is always willing to speak his mind. Kessler came up to me and he told me that our tournament structures were the best he had ever seen. When I heard that, I knew we had reached the summit. If Kessler was happy about it, we had to be doing something right (laughing).
QUESTION: Mo, I cannot help but notice something hanging up prominently on your office wall. It’s the official results from a tournament that was played in 1998. Tell us about that and why it’s hanging up in your office.
MO: Well, if you notice the winner of the tournament – that’s me (laughing). And now if you look down and see who finished in ninth place, you might recognize that name. It’s Phil Hellmuth. Then, scroll on down and see who finished 18th. That was Daniel Negreanu. When people ask me if I know anything about poker tournaments from the player’s perspective, I like to show that to them (smile).
QUESTION: Touche, Mo! I also notice you have a number of photos and mementos from many of the exciting events you’ve held at The Bike over the years.
MO: Yes, you are right. This has been and still is a very magical place. We have held many of the biggest tournaments in poker here and many of the most legendary names in the game have won our events – from Stu Ungar back in his day to Doyle Brunson just a few years ago. In the past, we have partnered with the World Poker Tour and the North American Poker Tour. I am always looking for ways to bring in more poker players and give the players a chance to shine.
QUESTION: Do you expect the WSOP Circuit will be taking place at The Bike in future years?
MO: We have signed a three-year contract with the WSOP and this is the first year. But not only do I want to be with the WSOP for three years, I want it to be five or even ten years. That’s the way I am looking at this business. I think you have to plan for the future. It’s not so much about what you do today or resting on your success. I think to be the leader, especially in poker, you have to be looking way ahead. And here at The Bike, we are looking ahead. We hope and expect to maintain a great relationship with the WSOP for many more years to come.
QUESTION: What else do you see for the future of The Bike?
MO: We are going to do a few things in the next two years. We are going to get bigger. And, we are going to get better. We are about to start construction on a new hotel, which will sit right above the poker room. I think it will be four or five stories tall. This way, players can come here and stay right at the casino. I think that will be a tremendous help, especially for our big tournaments. Once players stay here and also play here more regularly, then I believe that translates into having more games and more players. It gets back to the point about generating action. If you give action, you will get action back, in return. That’s what we are planning to do at The Bike.
QUESTION: Is there anyone you would like to thank for your success and for the great things that are now happening at The Bike?
MO: Absolutely! It all starts at the top. Without the strong support of the partners who won The Bicycle Casino, we would be nowhere. I am very fortunate to have a great person that I can go to that has given me all the support anyone could ask him for. He name is Hashem Miniay, General Manager and CEO of The Bicycle Casino. We have known each other for 26 years, ever since I first came here. Whenever I have a new idea or want to try something different, I discuss it with Hashem and he always listens and is always supportive. That is essential. I must also thank our wonderful staff here. I really believe we have many of the best people in the poker industry working here, and that goes for every department of operations. But perhaps most of all, it is the players that I must thank. They pay my salary. I never forget that. To me, they are like my babies. I must take care of them and they will take care of me. I am here usually 11 in the morning and stay sometimes until midnight. But I am really available to my players 24-hours-a-day. If they have something to say or have an idea on how to do things better, I always listen. When you have the loyalty of your players, nothing can match that in terms of succeeding in what you do. And, The Bicycle Casino is lucky to have some of the most loyal poker players in the world who play here all the time.
To follow Mo and his activities at The Bike on Twitter, contact @MOTHEBIKETD
To see the WSOP Circuit schedule for The Bicycle Casino, please click HERE.
WSOP Circuit gold ring event final table broadcasts will begin Wednesday, January 4th starting at 2 pm PST. Viewers may log on to WWW.THEBIKE.COM and follow the action.