Arizona's Back Door Poker League is a small business that provides a chance for East Valley residents to play poker for free, and for the league owners to make some cash playing the game they love.
Back Door Poker has been hosting games at bars throughout the East Valley for the past six years. Current owners Will Schroeder and Jason Wallace took over the company about two years ago, and they currently host games seven nights a week in seven different bars. The two were players in the league when the former owner put it up for sale. They saw that the league had a good foundation, so they decided to become partners and take it over. Now, they are focused on growing the business by expanding to more bars.
"Well honestly, I play poker for a living," Schroeder said. "Although I enjoy more serious games, I have a way of making money playing poker without the downfall of playing high stakes."
Back Door Poker brings in revenue by charging the host venues $5 per person or $25-$30 per table of players.
Players come into the bar anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour before the game starts, they then sign up on the game list and are assigned a table. The director for the night announces the start of the game, and continues to inform players of when bets increase and helps keep the tables at an even amount of people. The league uses the sign up list to determine how many players attended.
"It helps expose the bar," Schroeder said. "Most bars won't make tons on a normal night for us, but it's exposure for them. There will be cars in the parking lot, which makes it more likely people driving by will stop."
Native New Yorker on the corner of Mesa Drive and Brown Road hosts Back Door Poker on Thursday and Friday nights. General Manager Steve Synder said the restaurant has seen the participants grow.
"We've had them for a few years," Synder said. "They have grown the past two years. They started with about 15 to 20 people, and now on Thursdays we're seeing 40 people a game. We rely on their following."
Schroeder said they want the venue to be happy with Back Door Poker, so he and his partner try to offer excellent customer service and extra incentives for the bars.
"We definitely do a couple of different things (from other leagues)," Schroeder said. "We try to make sure we're more on top of things, we offer food chips where if someone buys food they get extra chips, and drink chips."
Karsten Deuschle, an ASU student who plays at Long Wong's in Tempe, said he enjoys the free poker. "It helps me first because it gets me comfortable playing in situations that I'm not used to being in," Desuchle said. "It's similar to a casino environment, playing with people you don't know, and when you play with people who know what they're doing it helps refine your skills."
Desuchle added that when he goes he is more likely to buy some food from the venue. He said he thinks it's smart for the venues to award gift cards for victories, because it adds incentive for the player to come back to the bar.
For a night to be considered successful, Back Door Poker needs about 60 or 70 players, depending on the venue, Schroeder said. That number of players makes it competitive and attractive to players and keeps them coming back.
It's also a number that generates decent revenue for the partners. There are no other investors in the business, and no real expenses other than assuring there are enough decks of cards and poker chips.
The partners haven't established annual revenue goals. Schroeder said it's always a goal for everyone to have fun.
"The fact I found so many people willing to learn and with potential (surprises me)," Schroeder said. "I also found a lot of people who know how to play but with financial problems keeping them from the casino games, not skill problems. It's awesome how many great people I have met who are absolutely helpful."