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Jarrod LeBlanc

Jarrod serves as Casino City's associate editor and helps produce and edit all of our weekly newsletters, as well as the GPWA Times Magazine.

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Pure passion drives Deaf Poker Tour success

10 Oct 2022

By Jarrod LeBlanc
“You play the hand that you’re dealt with.”

The above phrase can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people in a lot of different circumstances. It’s then up to the respective people to decide how they’re going to proceed. Do they fold or put all of their chips in the center of the table? Luckily for the sport of poker in 2006, six deaf individuals let it ride as they formed what is now known as the Deaf Poker Tour.

Founding members James Rydstrom, Nathan Montoya, Joey Seifner IV, Alok Doshi, Andy Foster and Jarrod Musano all attended Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. Following graduation in the mid-1990s, each set out on their own journey, but as most college friends do, they looked for ways to stay in touch. The answer was simple, poker, so in 2006 they formed what was then known as the National Deaf Poker Tour. According to the Deaf Poker Tour’s Facebook page, their goal was to bring the best deaf players from the east coast and west coast together as they all shared the same passion for the game of poker.

In 2006, the National Deaf Poker Tour’s first event took place at the Trump Taj Mahal Casino, which has since closed and was replaced by the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino - Atlantic City in New Jersey. The tour was a great success and it continued as such over the following 11 years with the only hiccup during that time being a name dispute. The Government of Alberta sent a cease-and-desist letter to the founding members stating that they must stop using National Deaf Poker Tour (NDPT) as it conflicted with its New Deal for Public Transit (NDPT).

In 2017, this coincided with the founding members’ next inevitable course of life for college roommates. Their life priorities changed and they decided to sell the tour rights.

Enter Matt Erickson, Jay Levine and Dan Stoddard, who purchased the rights and rebranded the organization to what is known today as the Deaf Poker Tour (DPT). The deal took place in Austin, Texas, as both Erickson and Stoddard live in the Longhorn State.

Like the original founding members, Erickson, Levine and Stoddard are all deaf. Also like the original founders, the three of them all share the same vision.

“It is our mission to provide professional poker for deaf and hard of hearing players in a casino environment,” Erickson told Casino City Press in an email. “It allows them to use ASL (American Sign Language) freely on the tables where it’s not allowed otherwise when playing in any other events. The Deaf Poker Tour also preserves historical data of all events and winners since the takeover where they get recognized and carry bragging rights among their peers.”

Players and a dealer enjoying their time at the Deaf Poker Tour.

Players and a dealer enjoying their time at the Deaf Poker Tour. (photo by Deaf Poker Tour)

If the Deaf Poker Tour member numbers are any indication, then Erickson, 50, Levine 55, and Stoddard, 45, have definitely lived up to its mission. The tour is currently comprised of over 500 peers, ranging from 25 to 60 years old, vying for bragging rights. Also true to the original founders’ hopes the tour members are spread out across the country with a large base on the east coast – New England states, New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia.

The last location is fitting as that was the spot for the Deaf Poker Tour’s most recent major tournament. From 8-10 September, the Deaf Poker Tour held a three-day, seven-event tournament at Live! Casino & Hotel Philadelphia in Pennsylvania.

Since the original inception of the tour, this is the ninth location for the Deaf Poker Tour as it previously held events at Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, New Jersey; Tropicana Atlantic City; Majestic Star Casino in Gary, Illinois; The Venetian Las Vegas, The Palazzo Resort Hotel Casino, Planet Hollywood Las Vegas and Resorts World Las Vegas; and Maryland Live! Casino & Hotel in Hanover, Maryland. Resorts World, Maryland Live! Casino and Philadelphia Live! Casino are currently the exclusive casinos working with the Deaf Poker Tour.

When asked how these locations were chosen, Erickson explained that “most casinos with sufficient tables were not open to host the Deaf Poker Tour for various reasons explained to us. The Deaf Poker Tour is lucky to be able to partner with the current three casinos.”

This sentiment is echoed by Philadelphia Live! Casino’s Anne Tran, who is the Director of Poker Operations at the casino.

“Deaf Poker Tour started in our sister property in Maryland and when we came over here it was one of my passions to bring the Deaf Poker Tour here,” said Tran. “They reached out to me and that’s how we continued the relationship with the Deaf Poker Tour. It’s something we’re very proud of and something that we want to continue.”

Based on the numbers at the tournament, the deaf and non-deaf communities agree. Over the course of the events Thursday night, Friday night and all-day Saturday, there were 75, 133 and 115 players respectively. Some of the events that the players took part in were:

- $120 No Limit Hold’em Deaf Poker Tour Open Event (Open to all players)
- $120 No Limit Hold’em – Deaf Poker Tour Early Bird (Open to Deaf/Hard of Hearing/American Sign Language players only)
- $120 No Limit Hold’em – Deaf Poker Tour Ladies Only (Open to Deaf/Hard of Hearing/American Sign Language ladies only)
- $120 No Limit Hold’em – Deep Stack Madness (Open to all players)
- $200 No Limit Hold’em – Deaf Poker Tour Main Event (Open to Deaf/Hard of Hearing players only)

Michael Procopio, Larry McNulty, Andrea Willbur, Alicia Pursel, Kathy Lawrence and Michael Bunjer all won events over the three days, according to Erickson and the Deaf Poker Tour’s Facebook page.

First double winner of Deaf Poker Tour - Irvin Buckingham.

First double winner of Deaf Poker Tour - Irvin Buckingham. (photo by Deaf Poker Tour)

The last event of the tournament – $120 No Limit Hold’em – Fat Stacks - $25 Bounty (Open to all players) – yielded the first-ever deaf winner with double trophies. Irvin Buckingham from Philadelphia took home trophies for being the last deaf person standing as well as the first-place finisher.

Not only is it significant that three of the events were open to the public, but it’s also important to note that none of the Philadelphia Live! Casino card dealers who participated over the course of the tournament are deaf.

“One of the things, I love about the Deaf Poker Tour is that we’re able to bridge the non-hearing world and hearing world together, and to kind of learn about each other’s cultures and how poker is played in their world versus our world,” said Tran. “So, I wanted to open it to the public as it brings value to the communities.”

When asked what preparations were taken at the casino prior to Deaf Poker Tour, Tran’s passion again showed through in her answers.

“Want the honest truth? Being a female director in a very dominant male industry, I think it’s important to bring not only females, but also the deaf community into poker,” said Tran. “I learned sign language. I took it upon myself to learn it just as an interest. It’s evolved from there. You have a little more empathy and understanding of the deaf world. It makes it wonderful that you can connect.”

Connect is exactly what Tran did prior to the tournament as she prepared 70 of her dealers for the Deaf Poker Tour.

“We taught some of our dealers, we took videos and taught them certain vocabulary, certain words that are poker related,” said Tran. “And we videotaped them, and then we put a video collage and that’s what we used as training to train the other dealers so they could communicate some basic sign language for the Deaf Poker Tour and future deaf and hard of hearing poker players.”

The mixing of the deaf, hard of hearing and public, including the dealers, during the events worked well and went off without a hitch.

With the event in Philadelphia in the rear-view mirror, the Deaf Poker Tour members are back to their local poker leagues, online games and daily occupations. Erickson is a Web Administrator for the Texas Water Development Board; Levine is an ASL Teacher at Medina High School in Medina, Texas; and Stoddard is in Student Development at the Texas School for the Deaf.

Don’t worry though, the members are excited about the future of the Deaf Poker Tour.

When asked if they’re looking for new tour members, Erickson responded via email, “Always!” “For more information about the tour, check us out on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/deafpokertour and our website www.deafpokertour.com.”

Erickson and the fellow Deaf Poker Tour members are not alone in their excitement of the future of the tournament.

“Actually, we (Matt and Jay) were just talking about when is the next event,” said Tran. “And we’re planning for the next one in May of next year. That’s in the works right now. We’re just planning on what events we’ll have. It’ll be a little bit larger the next time around. We’re excited. This past tournament was fun. It was exciting. We saw a lot of new faces and familiar faces.”

As luck would have it, Deaf Poker Tour members and fans won’t have to wait until 2023 for the next event. From 10-12 November, the Deaf Poker Tour will hold its next tournament at Maryland Live! Casino in Baltimore.

Based on the success of the Philadelphia tournament and the upcoming event in Baltimore, it’s clear that the Deaf Poker Tour is on “a good run.” And as anyone who’s played or been around poker knows, this euphoric feeling brings people together.

“The Deaf Poker Tour acts as bridge between the deaf, hard of hearing and hearing communities,” Tran said. “And the more people who get involved, the more we expose guests to poker then it’s a win-win for everybody.”
 
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