Where are They Now is a series of an in depth look at all poker players - not just the pros - as they travel through one long game. Some of the players profiled are deceased but not forgotten.
I feel that one of the most common misconceptions about poker is that many new fans to the game believe that all the star poker players made all of their millions of dollars from poker alone. They like to believe the fairy tale story of a man or woman walking into a casino with mere dollars to his name, winning a fortune that night, and never looking back. While it’s true that it has happened, its fair share of times, more often than not, it’s not the case. Many poker players were successful in another avenue of life, usually business, allowing them to make the switch to poker with a lot of money to spare while they are adapting to the learning curve of the game. Sure, many of these business men and women turned poker pro are usually good at the game, but because of their abundance of wealth previous to entering the world of poker they have a lot more chances of succeeding because they can afford large tournament buy-ins and large swings at cash games.
Lyle Berman fits this definition for the most part, but what is amazing about him is that his learning curve was small. Despite playing in just a small amount of tournaments over the last 25 years he has one of the best records you can imagine, seemingly making the money in every tournament he does find time to play in, despite his hectic schedule. You will also soon see that Berman has also done his fair share for poker not inside of casinos, but inside of boardrooms.
Lyle Arnold Berman was born August 6, 1941 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His father owned a company called Berman Buckskin, which sold leather products. As a youngster Berman had no clue he would work for his father soon after graduating college. Berman played just a little amount of poker as a child, instead focusing on his education. In 1964 Berman graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in business administration, and as mentioned, went to work with his father shortly thereafter.
His father’s business had a good string of success, mainly because leather became very popular in the mid to late 60’s. Many people started buying both their clothing and furniture in leather, and Berman Buckskin flourished because of it. Over time Lyle began to take over more and more of the everyday operations, until he eventually began running nearly all of it. In 1979 he sold the company to W.R. Grace. W.R. Grace liked Berman’s work so much they kept him on as President and CEO. This company was eventually bought by Wilson Leather, the biggest producer of leather in the industry. This gave Berman a small fortune, and also set him up for a number of other business ventures.
Berman has thrived with a number of businesses outside of the poker world. The most popular of those businesses is probably the Rainforest Café restaurant and chain store combination. Berman ran that company from the years of 1994 to 2000. Of course, Berman is also known in the poker world for helping to expand the game in a number of ways, including the World Poker Tour.
Berman first thought of the idea of some kind of poker tour in 1985, but he thought the timing wasn’t right. He felt the game of poker wasn’t quite popular enough yet, and also had a feeling the game wouldn’t catch on in TV because there was no way to see a player’s whole cards. For the time being he left that idea on the backburner. In the meantime he became one of the most influential people the world of gambling has ever seen. In 1990 he was co-founder of Grand Casino’s, which first made it possible for gambling institutions outside of Las Vegas and Atlantic City. The company helps Indian Reservations with money needed to open casinos on their land, and then helps them with day to day operations of the casinos. The company would eventually be changed to Lakes Entertainment, where Berman would become the CEO.
In 1995, the company, still known as Grand Casino, was named the fastest growing company in America by Forbes magazine, mainly because the company now held an ownership share in nearly 40 casinos, including those in Vegas. The same year he won a CEO of the year award, but often jokes that at least he won it then, because the next year one of the casinos his company had a share in, “The Stratosphere,” went bankrupt. Regardless, Berman has had many more hits than misses.
Around the year 2000, eventual creator of the WPT, Steve Lipscomb felt the time was right to start a poker tour, and asked Berman for both his financial help and his thoughts. Berman, who had of course envisioned the tour 15 years prior, jumped on board, and together they helped build the WPT to one of the most successful poker ventures in the history of the game. Berman remained CEO of the WPT until just this past month (November 2009) when it was announced that the WPT was bought by PartyGaming.
While this is just the tip of the iceberg regarding his business endeavors, Berman has found some time to play poker, and with very good success. Berman’s favorite game is No Limit Hold’em, the higher the limit, the better. Berman has been a part of the “biggest game in town,” currently at Bobby’s Room at the Bellagio, for nearly 25 years. Many poker players consider him one of the best cash game players of the group. One of his best friends, the late Chip Reese, often said he was his toughest competitor, and Berman said the same about Reese. Berman says he can’t keep his focus long enough for tournaments, but don’t let that fool you. Despite large gaps of inactivity in poker tournaments, he has one of the best resumes in recent years.
Berman began playing tournaments in the mid-1980’s, with his first memory coming from when he knocked Tom McEvoy out of one of the first events he ever played. Although he didn’t play much, he always tried to play in the bigger events. In 1994 he won first place at Amarillo Slim’s Super Bowl of Poker in the $500 Pot Limit Omaha event, winning $97,750. His success at the World Series of Poker has been even greater. He won his first of three WSOP bracelets in 1989, defeating all comers in the $1,500 Limit Omaha event, winning $108,600. Number two came in 1992, winning $192,000 in the $2,500 No Limit Hold’em event. Number three came just two years later, winning $128,000 in the $5,000 No Limit Hold’em Deuce to 7 Draw Event. On top of three bracelets he also finished second three times. He has shown that despite calling No Limit Hold’em his best game, he can hold his own at any game thrown in front of him. Berman has also found success on his own WPT, finishing in the money of three tournaments. His career tournament earnings are approaching three million dollars.
In 2005 Berman wrote “I’m All In: Lyle Berman and the Birth of the World Poker Tour,” chronicling his life starting from childhood, and the ups and downs he faced trying to get the World Poker Tour to where it was at the height of its success. Berman never went too far from home, currently residing in Plymouth, Minnesota with his wife. He also has four children.