When the Metro Card Club opened for the first time, it was no more than a 250 sqm set on 2 floors with 12 tables. There was no indication on the facade. All you would see once you enter the owl was hanging our while we waited for the subway to open, was a lonely guard standing by a plain and simple wooden door.
It seems as if an eternity ago happened, but in reality, it only took 3 years for the Metro Card Club to become the poker giant that it is today. Behind this rapid growth is a quiet and unassuming yet a strong-willed and aggressive man, president of the Metro Card Club, Nick Galan.
We were able to get a few minutes of his extremely busy schedule to talk about the man behind the Metro Card Club to steal.
Q: How long have you been in the poker industry?
A: I’ve been gaming since 1999, when I was in Vancouver have been. I was in the online gaming, but not per se in poker. I was involved in companies created the software for online games. But I’ve been playing poker since 1995, but only as a player. But I’ve been in the business side of poker since 2002. And to be honest, I was one of the guys who supported the construction of the pioneer poker community in the country.
Q: What made you come out of Vancouver?
A: I came to some investments in software development for online games to make. There was a healthy development in the community here. There were some people I worked with in North America and they showed me some interesting things. And so I decided to come and give it a shot. Unfortunately, they do not work for a number of reasons – the peculiarities of doing business as a foreigner. Although my heritage and my nationality is Filipino, my whole career happened abroad. And without knowing the pros and cons, and the realities of doing business in Manila, especially in gaming, it was a bit difficult. It was a hard lesson to learn, but I did not want to leave here defeated, after 18 months. It’s just not the way I’m built.
Q: How did you get in Manila in the poker scene here?
A: The poker thing was not part of the plan. I look for a card game. I wanted a couple of cards after a particularly stressful day play one day. I was living in Alabang and I drove from the Airport Casino in Paranaque. I went to the casino and I saw for the first man in a suit and asked him where the poker room was, and he pointed me to a Pai Gow table. At this point I knew that I have a problem – it was going to be hard for me to find a game. I did not press the issue. I suspected that if the largest casino in Metro Manila, and in the country, not a game of stud or Hold’em or what have always, it’s unlikely I’ll find it elsewhere.
At the time, I had to play at least 3-4 times per week. It was my stress reliever. So I took it upon myself to find a game. I started doing research, and I did not know that many people, I started playing around the internet. Friendster, at the time the place was going to be, so I somehow found these little home games happening in and around the city. I was lucky, people who knew this guy and the guy playing a game to go on a Wednesday had to make – this kind of thing. It was funny because, as I said, I was living in Alabang, and if I could find a Php200 Sit ‘n’ Go Hold’em game in Marikina, I would go there. It would cost me more in gas and tolls, but the goal was just looking for like-minded people in it (poker). We could already see 2-3 years old back episodes of the World Poker Tour on television, so people were starting to get it and appreciate the game.
I did this for several months, until finally I felt had enough of people who had put a game together yourself. So on my birthday in 2005, I had made a few cheap poker tables. I brought my driver and some people that I met, how to deal a game of Hold’em. And the people came and everyone had fun. And when I started it, I started blogging. I started linking to other people’s blog. Read people began my things, and I really do not know why they would do that, but they did it. Then Pokermanila.com came up a year or so later, shortly after the blog started.
Simultaneously with this, I started running tournaments publicly in hotels ballrooms. We also have a lobby on a condo in Makati, where I ran two tournaments at the same time – a small buy-in and a large buy-in. I found people who are willing to learn how to deal you cards and how you were running the floor.
Because of being in the fortunate position to meet all these people, I met people at PAGCOR, who wanted to do something with poker as well. The months went by, there were TV saturation, people talking about online poker, there were more blogs and so there were more reasons for people to want to play poker in a sanctioned environment. I even invited the guys PAGCOR to tournaments I ran, and she turned around and sat on PAGCOR to start doing [Poker] stuff. There was guy named JB Bangsil that the senior branch manager of the Airport Casino was at this time that was very, very keen on it. So we started running tournaments there at the Airport Casino. Finally, he designed a poker room. So the first poker room was at the Airport Casino.
Q: How was the Metro Card Club born?
A: It was a different group, a bunch of Balikbayans with foreign investors, who had taken over the Airport Casino. They are no longer in the industry, but they are the first, the doors were open to private operation. Since there were already people at PAGCOR commitment to the game as well, we decided to form a company and we have been to secure the first authorization to operate a legal poker room outside of a casino.
The first Metro Card Club Davao was in a casino. The old subway here in Manila began with 2 floors, 250sq m floor area with 12 tables at most. We thought that this would be sufficient, at this time, in order to serve the market. Do not forget, there were about 2 years to play for the construction of community poker, meet people, blogging, shows up at tournaments, running tournaments and building a reputation. So people knew who we were, not only at the partner level, but also at the employee level.
We have not the rest. From the beginning we were very aggressive with our marketing campaigns, and we got off the advantage that real people were people. The people knew that we had to invest heavily and they knew who we were. There was a lot of BS that happened in the industry at the time, which never happens on the subway. We were able to attract the attention of (a) players, the most important were put on (b) future critical partners such as FPT (Filipino Poker Tour) and the APPT (Asia Pacific Poker Tour). We started focusing on these tournaments – to work with them and they ended up with major hosting guarantees the lowest buy-ins. The guys gave us credibility and we gave them credibility.
A few months after we were 24 hours. That was a big risk, but it was worth it. In October of the same year, we opened this place (the New Metro), because we knew that the demand was there.
Q: Did you expect to grow so fast?
A: The speed of growth, I can not honestly say I foresaw, but I knew it grow, because the game of poker was tailor-made for the Filipino mentality. We draw on brain sport. The rate of growth was surprising, but the growth has not, as I expected, and I still have to do that one day in the Philippines, a card room, who approached the size of the Chamber of Commerce or the bike in California. We’re talking about 100s of tables in one place. The reason for this – poker as a gaming activity is very benign and people have a chance to win and win in the long run. It appeals to the Philippine skill-based type of approach to competition activities such as billiards, chess, poker and other things that Filipinos are good. Having said that, it then offer to play on the operator, the right environment for people incumbent is.
Q: How does this affect your personal life?
A: Now it’s much better because we were a bit more stable. I’m not here 24 hours a day. But I have a partner in Neil Arce, who is here all the time.
But earlier it was difficult. I lost a family. My wife left me and went back home to Vancouver. It is not only because of poker – it’s a business because of being. Everything has to go into what you are doing. Your world view will change and sometimes left people behind. Now I have read time for me and a book, not necessarily about poker. I can look after my family, even when we’re apart.
Q: Do you still need the poker fix for stress relief?
A: Not so much. I have a personal model had – never pay off your own rake. Yes, there are times when people are required to this action in. Luckily I have a partner who can fill this role, and he’s bringing good at it.
I’m on this side of the poker table. From time to time I play a tournament, most of the majors, with varying degrees of failure (laughter!). But I did not spend as much time on the felt, that’s for sure. But the day will come when I get back the error. Like when I went to Cebu last week I was there for 3 days and I spent the better part of two days playing cards. I have not done that, it enjoyed in a long time and I found myself immensely. But as in the economy, they watch grow, so as to manage the business, watching people’s lives, how our employees to succeed … it’s very rewarding. Seriously, if I came down here, I wanted to do something good – to help people.
Q: What do you think is the secret of success of Metro?
A: All of us were sitting on the seat 3 or 4 as a player. We’ve all experienced bad management and good. We played internationally and locally. We know what it means to be a player and we actually developed the business so that we could play. So I got started, and we are always aware of what is important. The Metro is a poker room of poker players for poker players.
So if you wonder why the Metro is so successful is because of – a series of happy events, to the passion of a group of people who love the game of poker, a strong desire to play with like-minded share the creativity and ingenuity of an inspiring visionary partner in Neil Arce and the leadership of a man named Nick driven Galan.
Published in: Asia Poker Digest