Less than a year ago, she founded the
High Heels Poker Tour, a female-only event that aims to give women the
opportunity to play for big paydays without the sneers from men in dark
sunglasses. “My motivation was for women to get the recognition and
money they deserve,” Failla said. “I want the everyday player to have
On Friday, April 4, and Saturday, April
5, the 38-year-old married mother of one is bringing her show to the
Turning Stone Resort and Casino in Verona. For $350, players can buy a
seat with the hope of taking home some big bucks. Failla didn’t start
the tour because of some feminist agenda. She just wanted the fairer
sex to have a chance to show their stuff in a live game setting.
“Women’s poker is an untapped market,” she said. “Most choose to play
It’s in the cards: The inevitability of
women invading the formerly male domain of poker becomes evident this
weekend at the High Heels Poker Tour event at Turning Stone Resort and
Casino. MICHAEL DAVIS PHOTO
She admitted that Internet-based playing
is great, but there’s something special about staring down an opponent
face-to-face. “We also use the tour as a springboard for coed events.
Women are great poker players, too,” she added.
Although many High Heels Texas Hold ’Em events take place in South Florida, the tour
will soon make stops in places like New Orleans and Detroit. Failla and
Co. have already sponsored two World Series of Poker women’s circuit
events. They’ve also teamed up with businesses like All In Free Poker
and Pitbull Poker Tables. The expansion and publicity are efforts to
get players like Janis Strope away from the computer and into the
Strope, an Ithaca resident who owns her
own pet-sitting business, is one of the many hopefuls making her way to
Turning Stone this weekend. “I want to win,” she said. “Sunday’s my
birthday, so I hope that’s my present.”
Strope’s journey through the world of
poker typifies the involvement of many ladies interested in the sport.
A player for most of her life, she became serious three years ago when
mouse-clicking replaced back-room bets. While government restrictions
have chopped down the number of available sites, Strope still places
wagers at Full Tilt and Poker Stars. “I think it’s completely unfair,”
she said of the limitations. “There are no limits on horse races. It’s
That’s why live tournaments are growing
in popularity. For Strope, the two-hour drive to Verona is worth the
chance to sit elbow to elbow with some of poker’s rising stars. She
feels that women have a competitive nature against other women that you
can’t duplicate online. Friday’s opening round will be her first
high-stakes casino experience. And, like Failla, she doesn’t view the
all-ladies circuit as an I-am-woman march on a traditionally
“I don’t see it as being about equality,” she said. “I see it as another option: We can do what we want.”
So, out of all the casinos in the
country, why did Failla choose Turning Stone? “You go for locations
that have good reputations for being female-friendly,” she explained.
“Turning Stone was very enthusiastic about promoting women’s poker.”
She believes that some casinos shy away
from encouraging ladies to scoot up to the table. Because opening game
rooms to new people can only increase profits, it’s surprising that
more casinos don’t welcome women’s poker. According to its Web site,
Turning Stone withholds 3 percent of all tournament winnings. Factor in
the buy-ins from the 50 to 100 players Failla expects to show up, and
the numbers speak for themselves.
But this tour isn’t about casinos making
money (which they would do anyway); it’s about women competing with
women—staring each other down as they try to conceal that perfect hand.
And although the poker craze has fizzled somewhat, Failla predicted a
bright future for the ladies’ game. “I think any little thing can start
a surge,” she said. “It’s just beginning for women’s poker.”
Jason DiBenedetto, director of poker
operations at Turning Stone, said the casino has wanted to hold a
women’s Texas Hold ’Em event for some time. “When High Heels Poker Tour
called us, we thought it would be a good opportunity.”
The event begins Friday at noon with
registration and a $45 buy-in game for the chance to reserve a seat at
the $350 event that kicks off at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning. All the
tournament action takes place at Turning Stone Resort and Casino, 5218
Patrick Road, Verona. Free limited seating for the public is available.
Call 361-7469 for more information.