Ben Erwin, Director of Poker Operations at the Thunder Valley Casino Resort in Lincoln, CA was
 interviewed recently by Nolan Dalla about the local scene and “Poker Night in America” coming
 to Northern California for the first time, January 29th through February 1st.

Question: Ben, for those who don’t know you yet, can you give us a brief introduction as to your
 career background and how you came to run the poker room at Thunder Valley?

Erwin: Sure. I just turned 40, last week. So, I’m trying to get my hands around that (laughing). 
But seriously, I’ve worked in poker since I was 18. I started down in San Diego. I’ve always had a
 passion for the game, even way prior to the poker boom. I spent my first seven years in poker 
working as a dealer. Then, I was promoted to work as a floorman at age 24. After that, I became
 a shift manager. When I was 29, I decided to move out to Las Vegas where I ran my first poker 
room. In each of my previous positions, I learned quite a lot
 – and I continue to learn new things to this day. I came to Thunder Valley six years
 ago, and I’m proud to have been here ever since where I’ve seen this poker market continue to 

Question: For those who haven’t been there before, where’s Thunder Valley located?

Erwin: We’re located in Lincoln, California — which is a small town about 25 miles north of the 
Sacramento Airport. But we really consider ourselves part of Sacramento.

Question: What’s the size of the poker room at Thunder Valley?

Erwin: Including tournament tables and cash games combined, we are a 34-table poker room,
the biggest in the area.

Question: Thunder Valley isn’t new to the televised poker scene is it? What major events have
 you hosted in the past?

Erwin: Back when we first opened in 2010, we honestly didn’t have big aspirations, nor did we
 foresee some of the things that we’re doing today. At first, we just wanted to open up the room
 have as a nice amenity to this beautiful property. But just as soon as we opened up, we saw
 enormous interest and our poker room instantly became a tremendous draw. I approached a very
 supportive management team here and said we have some real possibilities to make this much
 bigger and better for our players. So, they gave me the great green light and I began trying out some
 things. In 2011, we started running our own tournaments and saw unbelievable success. Our first 
tour event was with Ante Up magazine in 2012. Our first $1,000 buy-in event drew 342 entries, 
and we thought that was amazing. Then, in 2014 we added the World Poker Tour. Ever 
since we started hosting the big-time events, it’s been an awesome ride.

Question: That’s quite an interesting development — that Thunder Valley initially didn’t plan to 
become a poker destination, but has since become a major tour stop which attracts players from
 all over, especially to the tournaments. Can you explain the reason for this and speculate on 
what makes the Sacramento area unique in this regard?

Erwin: Oddly enough, when the property went through an expansion back in 2010, opening the 
Poker Room was a part of the guest feedback we received. They said, it would be great if you
 could open a live poker room. So, like any good business committed to their guests, Thunder 
Valley decided to offer it. At first, we planned to just have a nice comfortable room as part of the 
property. But then when we opened with 16 tables, they just all filled up and pretty much stayed
 full. We said to ourselves, ‘what’s happening here?’ We hadn’t even started out promotions yet 
and the room was full. Another factor was that we were the only place in the area to offer 
tournaments and major events some time later. The Bay Area had some events as did Reno. But 
here we were in the middle. So, we decided to get into that arena with televised events. We
 initially just wanted to draw even with the other places, and we managed to do that in 2012. Then, 
we gradually grew from there. Now, we want to be a national draw for players from everywhere. 
One thing we really are proud of — poker players are now hopping on planes to fly to Sacramento.
 That might not be a big thing for cardrooms in Los Angeles or Las Vegas or wherever, but for us 
to be able to say that is a source of real pride and quite an accomplishment. We always seek to 
exceed the expectations of player when they come, and I think we continue to do that.

Question: What can visitors expect when they come to Thunder Valley while “Poker Night in
 America” is being filmed during the last weekend in January?

Erwin: One thing that’s really unique about “Poker Night” from the other attractions we’ve had is
 the high-limit cash game. Most other events are built around the tournament experience and pretty 
much follow a similar route in the way they are run and the general atmosphere. But the
 high-stakes cash game element is a really different addition to the mix. We’re seeing a whole new
 level of excitement which reminds me of when we first opened and started doing televised events.
 We’ll be welcoming two of poker’s greatest ambassadors — Phil Hellmuth and Maria Ho. They’ve 
both been here before and have been wonderful to work with. All the other pros and amateurs
 who are coming in will also make things really exciting.

Question: What else was attractive about hosting your first visit by “Poker Night in America?”

Erwin: No doubt, the “Poker Night in America” name has grown. It’s on CBS Sports, which is a 
huge national draw. To know we are going to be on that channel and be exposed to such a huge 
audience is really a great opportunity.

Question: Tell us about the tournament that’s going on, as well as the Main Event.

Erwin: Our tournament runs a couple of weeks, over two straight weekends. We have a variety 
of poker events on the schedule, not just No-Limit Hold’em, but also Pot-Limit Omaha, HORSE,
 Omaha High-Low, a bounty event, and so on. We like to offer a little bit of everything. On the 
second weekend, which begins the 29th, we have the high-stakes cash game which is being
 filmed. The Main Event also starts that day, which will have two flights. The buy-in is $1,650.
That will run over the weekend with a conclusion on Monday, February 1st when the final table will
 be filmed and live streamed here at Thunder Valley. There are
 also satellites running all week long. Players can win their way into the Main Event for as little as

Question: Is there a way for someone to satellite his or her way into the high-stakes cash games
 that’s televised?

Erwin: Yes. There are multiple ways for players to win their way into the high-stakes cash game
 on “Poker Night” and play with the pros, including some poker legends. We expect to fill five seats
 this way. We will run $1,050 satellites. One in ten of those players will get a seat and get $10,000 
to buy into the game and be featured on television.

Question: Do the satellite winners have to play? Or, can they take the money instead?

Erwin: They are obligated to play one session, unless they bust out, of course. Each cash game 
session will last four hours and then that seat will be filled by another satellite winner.

Question: Will filming be open to the public and can fans come and watch?

Erwin: Absolutely. The cash game and tournament final table where “Poker Night in America” 
will be filming will be free and open to the public. We should get lots of walk in traffic, because the
hotel lobby will be right there. As people walk in, the “wow” factor will definitely happen when they
see the whole setup. The feature table and filming area is also adjacent to where the tournament 
will be going on. So, when people are playing in our tournament events or cash games, they can
 come over during breaks or whenever and check out the action.

Question: Are there special perks for those players who are still undecided and thinking about 
coming out this coming weekend?

Erwin: We have special room rates going for players during the entire series. Either call (916)
408-7777 or go online at THUNDERVALLEYRESORT.COM and book hotel rooms. It’s $99
weekdays and $179 on weekends. Of course, we also have great restaurants, other forms of 
gaming, and provide a full resort experience. As I said, our goal is to exceed everyone’s

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