In the world of poker, Robin McCarty and Lauren Failla do more than massage chips, don poker faces and shuffle cards on felt tables. The two Broward residents are co-owners of the largest female conglomerate in the poker industry — Empire Industries.
They didn’t launch their careers anywhere near a casino; the game of cards was merely a hobby that eventually turned into something more serious.
McCarty worked a 17-year stint in the entertainment business. She resigned and set her sights on raising a family. Her husband, Jason, taught her how to play poker, and the game of cards won her over. She played cash games and proved to be successful, winning enough hands to earn a full-time living while raising two children.
“I have to give credit to my husband,” McCarty said. “He taught me … how to play the game like a man.”
There are almost 60 million poker players in the United States. Only 10 percent of them are women.
Failla, a New York transplant, grew up playing poker. Frequently the only woman at the table, she said the male players weren’t aware of her playing savvy and doubted her ability — something she and McCarty still face today.
Despite an often unwelcoming attitude from male players, female poker player have an edge over their male counterparts. “Women players are the hardest players to figure out,” McCarty said.
And what man really has a woman figured out?
“Because women are hard to read, men have a hard time playing against them,” Failla said. “Women don’t have as many ‘tells,’ meaning their facial expressions, emotions. Women can control that a lot more than male players.”
In the game, a poker player needs to know how to read body language, possess sharp critical thinking and strategy skills, and have basic math skills.
Not only is reading body language vital, but controlling one’s own mannerisms and emotions with consistency is key.
“A poker face is a lack of expression,” Failla said.
She said techniques include wearing glasses to hide the eyes, a hat and something around the neck to hide veins that may throb when nerves kick in.
”The poker face is more than about face; it’s a matter of the player’s entire body language,” McCarty said.
Failla adds, “Part of being a good poker player is doing things consistently, the exact same way as you did them before. You’re playing the last 20 hands the exact same way the as you play the last hand you just been dealt.”
McCarty said poker isn’t gambling. It’s a sport.
Florida recognizes poker as a game of skill. Winning doesn’t come down to luck but rather “manipulating the odds in your favor.”
Failla indeed mastered the odds in her favor when she decided to launch her own business. In 2004, she was playing at Seminole Classic in Hollywood, and an idea for an opportunity came to light.
“I saw there was a niche in the market for women. There were no women’s-only events, and I thought to myself, ‘Someone should start ladies events,’” said Failla, who has 15 years of event-planning experience under her belt. “So I put the two together, and everyone thought I was crazy.”
She launched High Heel Poker Tours, an all-women’s poker tournament. In 2006, Failla met McCarty through the tournaments. They bonded over poker and eventually decided to join forces and go into the poker business together. McCarty owned PMS, a poker attire line, and Failla owned a women’s poker academy and was succeeding with High Heel Poker Tours.
Failla now hosts more than 50 tournaments a year in Canada, the Caribbean and the United States.
In 2010, they expanded their business and co-founded Peace, Love and Poker, an at-home poker party service.
Eventually, the two merged the four enterprises under one company, Empire Industries.
How the two balance friendship, a business partnership and a family life with children is a bit an accomplishment in itself.
“My husband says we share a brain,” Failla jokes.
“She is my long-lost twin sister,” McCarty chimes in.
But in the end, the balancing act the two enjoy is credited to the support of their families.
“If this ends all tomorrow, we will still be professional poker players and best friends,” Failla concludes giving McCarty a high-five like a giddy youngster.
As for parting advice for newbies entering the world of poker, McCarty stresses to mind your money, never go beyond your means and to “never drink alcohol at the table — ever.”
To get into the game and learn more, visit Empire-industries.net.
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