Poker has had a home here at Turning Stone Resort Casino since we opened our poker room in 1999.
Seven of our current employees have worked the room since then, and around the felt and rails we refer to them as the “Magnificent Seven.”
This opening crew includes Poker Manager Pete Massa, Supervisor Tom Pich, and dealers Kim Witchley, Peter Procopio, Joseph Bellardini, Hein Pham, and Chris Wilson. Dealer Erik Richardson was also on our opening crew, but he left for a while and came back, so he’s also an honorary member.
Director of Poker Frank Foti said it’s unusual to have so many employees on the same team for so long, but he noted that the crew here at Turning Stone undoubtedly helps imbue our poker room with a family atmosphere and a sense of camaraderie that players can experience every time they unload a rack of chips.
“Our crew really is something special,” he said.
Take Kim Witchley, for example. She dealt blackjack at Turning Stone for six years before making the switch to poker when our room opened, and she learned the game to work here. (At the time, Turning Stone was offering paid 8-week poker school to everyone who accepted offers to become dealers for the new room.)
Peter Procopio, from Syracuse, has a similar story.
Peter dealt blackjack at Turning Stone from 1994 to 1995 and left for another job but swore he’d come back when we opened a poker room. As soon as we announced plans for the room, Peter was there.
For Peter, an avid home-game player, there definitely was a learning curve to the new digs.
“It was really kind of weird at first not dealing myself in, but then I quickly realized that it’s not really all that different—you just can’t win a jackpot,” he noted. “As a dealer, in a way you’re in every hand, you’re part of the game. It’s exciting. It’s a rush. Every time there’s something new to keep you interested.”
Joseph Bellardini’s story is perhaps the most colorful of them all. Back in the late 1990s, Joe was laid off from his job at a video store (remember those?) and saw an ad in the local paper for dealers to staff the new poker room at Turning Stone. He didn’t even know the game. But he came and got the job anyway.
Since then, Joe has established himself as the dealer with the best luck—“Jackpot Joe,” the regular players call him. He’s dealt eight bad-beat jackpots, including the largest bad-beat in the history of the Turning Stone poker room—a total prize pool worth more than $507,000 for quad 4s that lost to quad 6s.
“What can I say?” Joe joked. “For a guy who never knew the game, it’s pretty neat.”