ICM Talent Agency Exec Knows How to Play Her Cards Right

Lori Sales Has Just Returned From World Series of Poker in Las Vegas

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LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- There were a couple of immediate and tangible benefits to Lori Sale learning how to play poker nearly two decades ago. First, she could spend quality time and speak a common language with her husband, Scott, an accomplished player. And second, she could people-watch for hours on end, one of her all-time favorite activities.
Lori Sale, who heads a branded-entertainment division at talent agency ICM, has just taken part in the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.
Lori Sale, who heads a branded-entertainment division at talent agency ICM, has just taken part in the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.

Doesn't keep track
Winning, when it happened, was always third on the list of priorities. "I never keep track of how much I win," said Ms. Sale, 46, who by day is head of a branded-entertainment division at talent agency ICM. "Because, on the flip side, I really don't want to know how much I lose."

She might not consider herself a card shark, but she's no slouch either. She's just taken part in the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas on an Elle magazine-sponsored all-female team dubbed Queens of Hearts. The buy-in was $10,000 for the team, covered by the women's magazine and partypoker.com. Ms. Sale's teammates included actresses Shannon Elizabeth and Jennifer Tilly.

Ms. Sale didn't place in the money, but some of her teammates did, with the proceeds from their winnings going to charity.

College days
It's a far cry from where Ms. Sale first was bitten by the gambling bug, when she had just graduated from college and hit the road with some friends for a Vegas getaway. They were playing craps at the slightly shabby Imperial Palace on the Strip, and Ms. Sale, a novice, did what first-timers often do -- she won. Then she was hooked.

She switched to poker when she realized she could play longer and lose less in a game of strategy. When she got married in 1988, she and her husband started taking vacations that involved card-playing.

"I can't go out and play golf or baseball on the same level," she said, "but I can play cards. I found it was something we could do together."

They've been on poker-themed cruises to Alaska and Mexico, meeting friends they've regularly kept in touch with over the years. They became fans of riverboat gambling when a boat docked in St. Louis, their former home.

Cable TV poker craze
When they moved to Los Angeles in the late '90s, they looked for good card rooms and casinos and found a mixture of high-end and low-rent. Then the poker craze started to catch fire via cable TV, and the buzz around the game became almost deafening.

It's so popular that professional players have spawned their own fan clubs, garnering book deals, advertiser sponsorships and licensing agreements. One well-known player, Phil Hellmuth, has created a poker boot camp in Vegas. For Ms. Sale's birthday last year, her husband bought her ticket to Camp Hellmuth, where she was fascinated by a weekend's worth of classes taught by Mr. Hellmuth and other pro players. One of her favorite sessions, led by an FBI agent, told the players how to figure out their opponents' "tells," those unconscious quirks that show their hands.

That kind of attention to detail has helped Ms. Sale in her day job, she said. Before she joined ICM earlier this year, she worked at Weinstein Co. and its precursor Miramax putting together deals with marketers.

Teach their children poker
Poker has become a staple around Ms. Sale's house, where she and her husband have taught their two children to play -- but for chores, not money.

Ms. Sale has tried online poker, but she quickly lost interest. There's no atmosphere, no human interaction. If she can't be face-to-face with her fellow card sharks, she doesn't want to play.

"What I love is watching the human behavior, the banter, the bluffing," she said. "I would never come into contact with such a diverse group of people in my everyday life. I've met such characters. That's the best part."

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Devoted to a worthy cause? Rabid about participatory sports? If you have a fascinating Off Hours activity, describe your passion in an e-mail to Mike Ryan at mryan@crain.com.
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