In the summer of 2014, restaurant manager Anthony Scioli of Buffalo, N.Y., formed Elite Poker Runs, LLC. As a high-performance powerboat owner turned event organizer, Scioli had spearheaded the continual growth of the Buffalo Poker Run, then-hosted by the Western New York Offshore Powerboat Association, for three years. He formed Elite Poker runs simply because he wanted to have a spring poker run in the Buffalo area, though not at the same Templeton Landing venue, and the WYNOPA leadership wasn’t interested in expanding its poker-run portfolio.
So in 2015, after working with city officials and leaders in Erie, Pa., Scioli launched the inaugural Erie Poker Run, which was cut short by the big, unruly waters of Lake Erie. Undaunted—OK, maybe slightly daunted—Scioli ran the event again this year. And once again, Lake Erie did not cooperate.
No one could have blamed Scioli for hanging it up, especially when his Grand Island Poker Run at the historic Buffalo Launch Club, failed to produce the 50 boats he needed to break even. A dismal long-term weather forecast and the Lake Cumberland Poker Run on the same weekend—the only dates Scioli could secure for the private club venue—conspired against the Grand Island event. Had Scioli decided to walk away and go back to working 70 hours a week in the three restaurants he runs, everyone—most of all his endlessly supportive wife, Sara—would have patted him on the back and wished him well.
But, you see, Scioli is a successful hospitality person, a soon to-be 40-year-old product of a service culture that those outside it will never understand. No one survives long, much less for most of his life, in the service business without a simple love for people, pleasing them and socializing. And Scioli has all that and more in his blood.
“I am in the hospitality industry,” he said. “I guess that’s why I treat my clients a little bit differently.”
So rather than quit, he’s bringing his event back to Erie, albeit on a date that doesn’t conflict with the Four Horsemen Poker Run in Wisconsin, taking the organizational reigns of what was the Buffalo Poker Run—the leaders of WYNOPA have opted out of the poker run organizing game—and is hoping to bring back the Grand Island Poker Run on a better day that doesn’t conflict with a major event. (As for the weather, he knows that’s a bit outside his control.)
“I am a ‘for-profit,’” Scioli said then laughed. “But the main reason I do this is that through poker runs I have made some amazing friends. Getting them all to converge from all over the country at one of my events is my goal. It’s great when you see them in Key West or Miami, but it’s really nice to have them come to your hometown. Making money is a secondary, maybe even a third consideration behind hanging out with friends and raising money for charities. Even with relatively low turn-outs in Erie and Grand Island, we were able to raise a decent amount of money for charity.”
Scioli also has received lots of encouragement to keep at it, and not just from performance-boat owners looking for organized weekend events. That’s helped him keep going.
“Despite two years of tough events in Erie, we’re doing our third one in 2017,” he said. “The city is awesome. Erie loves the event. The support from the local sports commission is awesome. I get emails from spectators all the time—it’s refreshing to have that many spectators interested in what you’re doing. Everyone who came to the run the past two years said, ‘Don’t get discouraged. This is an awesome venue. You just need good weather one year.’
“I am always trying and I love to have great working relationships with other organizers,” he continued. “Even though I wasn’t involved with Buffalo this year—it will be the Western New York Poker Run (under the Elite Poker Runs, LLC umbrella) next year—I was involved in Poker Runs America moving their date from the same weekend as Buffalo. We finally got Stu Jones of the Florida Powerboat Club to come. We all have to work together. There are only so many weekends.”
Matt Trulio is an award-winning journalist who has covered the high-performance powerboat world since 1995. He wrote for Powerboat magazine for 17 years and was the magazine’s editor at large until it ceased publication in 2011. Trulio is the founder, editor-in-chief and publisher of speedonthewater.com, a daily news site that covers the high-performance powerboat realm. He’s also the former editor of Sportboat magazine.