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Poker Time on the side

Students making game a business

Poker Time on the side

Poker Time on the side

Tim Rubnitz shuffles the deck as Tyro...

        Several Georgia Southern University students in recent years have become entrepreneurs while working their way through school. One started a bus service. Another took over a school supply store. Add organizing poker games to the list of student-run enterprises.
        Jordan Steen, who turns 23 this month, is a senior business administration student double-majoring in management and marketing. He already had a job, cooking and managing at the two Bigshow's Burgers restaurants, which provided an opportunity to start his own business on the side.
        Under the business name Poker Time, Steen and a friend, Tim Rubnitz, 22, have been conducting Texas hold 'em games each Wednesday night for two months now at Bigshow's Burgers & Bar on Lanier Drive.
        "What we're essentially trying to do is boost sales for the restaurant," Steen said.
        It's not gambling, he emphasizes. Gambling on cards is illegal in Georgia. Poker Time players don't bet money. They don't buy poker chips, either, but they do wager with chips during the game.
        "They are not putting in money to receive money," Steen said.
        Instead, each player receives free chips with a 400 value (not really dollars) just for joining the game. The purchase of $10 in food and drink from Bigshow's earns the player a "chip up" with 200 in chips, and reaching the $20 mark brings another 300 in chips.
        However, the initial $10 chip-up level of spending is required to be eligible for prizes, typically Big Show's gift cards, at the end of the night's play.
        Beginning last Wednesday, Steen is introducing a points system, in addition to the gift certificates, for a future tournament that will award cash prizes, he said.
        Steen consulted an attorney in setting up his business, he said. It is modeled on thriving poker-as-entertainment businesses in other areas. For example, the unrelated Georgia Poker Nights operates tournaments at restaurants and bars across northern Georgia. GPN's rules, published online, include a mandatory chip-up for prize eligibility and otherwise appear very similar to what Steen is doing.
        Poker Time has made a modest investment in equipment, not limited to fresh decks of cards. Preparing for a game, Steen opens foam-lined aluminum cases with sorted stacks of chips nestled inside. His little company also owns the portable green table tops with brightly outlined places for cards and recessed holders for each player's chips. Each table top, whether oblong or octagonal, accommodates eight players.
        The whole setup, including seven table tops, cost roughly $1,000.
        "The best thing about the low overhead I have is it makes for a lot of room for profit," Steen said.
Rubnitz, a GSU College of Business Administration senior majoring in information systems, does not work for Bigshow's but helps conduct the Poker Time games. Having previously run a Texas hold 'em club tournament in Savannah, he brought some of the poker know-how.
        "People like Texas hold'em because simply it's easier to learn" than other forms of poker, Rubnitz said.
        The game gives players the thrill of wagering without putting money at risk, Steen added. They sell Pokertime membership cards to devoted players and are having T-shirts made. They will re-invest the proceeds in customized poker gear, Rubnitz said.
        The game drew about 25 players in its busiest night so far, Steen reported. But about 70 people have played at least once, and 30 have become returning players.
        Steen wants to set up games at other restaurants. The restaurant owners would pay Poker Time a fee to provide entertainment and increase sales. At Bigshow's Burgers & Bar, his goal is to generate $600 in purchases by Poker Time players each Wednesday night with the idea that this would warrant a $125 fee. So far, he has topped $400 in sales but not $600, and has not received that large a fee.
        Instead, he and Heath Robinson, who owns both Bigshow's locations, have an arrangement whereby Steen receives a smaller amount while using the venue as a test bed for Poker Time.
        "It's doing great for us. I'm very pleased with it," Robinson said. "You know, Jordan, he's a bright guy. I think he's doing something that's kind of unique to the area, and I'm glad that we're hosting it here at Bigshow's Burgers, for sure."
        As an employee and manager, Steen helped Robinson open all three of his restaurants: 40 East Grill downtown; the original, non-bar Bigshow's Burgers on Brampton Avenue; and now, Bigshow's Burgers & Bar. The original Bigshow's opened in January 2013; the Lanier Drive location, in December.
        Steen reports he has several current or prospective partners in Poker Time, including his brother and his father. His father recently launched a Texas hold 'em tournament in the Cocoa Beach, Fla., area.
        Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.

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