In Las Vegas, poker is one of the most favored games on the casino floor. Its popularity is indelible, having seemingly forever altered the way people think about casinos. It’s also the only casino game where top players have transcended the game to become the equivalent of rock stars. Players like Doyle “Texas” Brunson, Phil Hellmuth and Chris “Jesus” Ferguson have become household names.
Steve Wynn's passion for poker shines through in his poker rooms
And the payoff for poker can also be immense for those at the top end of the game. In 2006, the World Series of Poker awarded its highest-ever grand prize for its signature event. The $10,000 no-limit Texas Hold’em paid an astounding $12 million to first-place winner Jamie Gold.
Such a high payoff was due to two main reasons: poker’s stunning rise as a highly rated TV event and its growth through play on the Internet. Playing poker on the Internet for money is now illegal after Congress banned it this past year, but the trend lasted long enough that the game has become permanently entrenched in millions of lives. Many casinos on and around the Strip have a variety of games designed for all skill sets.
“The exposure of poker on TV has grown the field by leaps and bounds, as has the exposure on the Internet,” says Deborah Giardina, director of poker operations with Wynn Las Vegas. “Since players don’t play any longer on the Internet, it’s pushing people into brick-and-mortar facilities.”
Poker is also one of the most social games in town. Each table—which can sit eight to 10 people at peak times—is a natural setup for good-natured conversation.
“People come to socialize with others and because they are playing against each other and not against the house, it makes it a better game,” says Kathy Raymond, director of poker operations for The Venetian.
But even though Vegas poker rooms are bastions of friendliness, there are many first-time Las Vegas poker players nervous about entering a poker room and getting set up for a game. Assure your clients that casino employees are specially trained to make customers feel right at home.
Right at the entryway of every poker room is a podium where one or two employees are ready to get your client set up with a game. Unlike blackjack or other table games, players don’t simply walk up to a table and sit down. They must choose the game they want to play, such as Texas Hold’em or Omaha, and the amount they want to spend on the blinds, such as $1-$2 or $5-$10. Then the player is either put on a short waiting list or is seated at a table by the casino host. Giardina said her staff is aggressive in approaching players. It helps eliminate any awkwardness the player might have, and help get the player into the right state of mind to test his mettle against the competition.
Inexperienced players should start with a $1-$2 game. It is the smallest game some casinos run (most start at $4-$8, especially on weekends) and is also played by those who do not have the depth of skill others have.
Tournaments are also another great way to get involved in poker at a casino. Tournaments cost a fixed amount to get involved in and for many it is a preferred way to play. Basically, the player may pay $100 to enter the event but gets thousands of dollars in chips to play. Tournaments are also typically played for a set amount of time, meaning that it’s a great way to spend a specific amount of time in a game. Another type of tournament, Sit and Go-style events, are even faster, sometimes running as little as an hour. These are good alternatives to open-ended games, which could go way into the wee hours of the morning.
Players can also get a bite to eat tableside. This is good for players fully engrossed in the game who do not want to get up from the table for sustenance. Usually available are items such as burgers, sandwiches and a full bar of beverage choices. So tell your clients to go out there and have fun playing poker in Las Vegas.
The Venetian Poker Room spreads out over 11,000 square feet of playing space
Where To Go
Here are some poker rooms to send clients to:
Rio All Suites. This casino is home to the World Series of Poker, the biggest event of the poker year, and grants instant stardom to anyone who takes home one of the coveted World Champion bracelets. There are several events, including Texas Hold’em Limit, Omaha Pot Limit, 7-Card-Stud Hi/Lo, Pot Limit, No Limit and other types of poker, such as Razz and Lowball, ending with the grand finale—the World Championship Event. This year’s WSOP runs June 1-July 17 at the Rio.
As one of the main homes to Las Vegas poker, there are also complimentary lessons every day between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. It’s a great way to get into shape and glean some good advice before putting money on the line. Poker-room teachers use a unique teaching table featuring a specially designed felt that visually highlights the key elements of the game. The table shows hand rankings, betting options and other key characteristics of the game, including when to bet, fold and check.
Bellagio. The poker room, which expanded a couple of years ago, is world renowned among poker professionals and fans. It’s been home to some of the highest-wagered poker battles ever, including one famous 2001 match where a rookie took on the pros with more than $20 million at stake. This 7,000-square-foot room features 40 tables in a highly modern venue featuring a Murano hand-blown glass chandelier and intricate marble flooring in the entryway. Throughout the room hangs artwork depicting the excitement of past Bellagio tournaments and World Poker Tour events (a competitor to the WSOP) from the past. There is also “Bobby’s Room,” a two-table, high-limit room named in honor of 1978 World Series of Poker Champion Bobby Baldwin.
The Venetian. The Venetian Poker Room, at nearly 11,000 square feet, is among the city’s largest. It’s also the poker room of choice for those staying at Palazzo, which is connected to The Venetian complex. Here there are 39 poker tables featuring a wide array of games, including limit and no-limit Texas Hold’em, Stud and Omaha, with limits starting at $4 and $8. There is also a separate high-stakes area featuring seven high-limit tables, two relaxation areas, butler service and gourmet dining.
“We’ve gone out of our way to create a highly comfortable environment,” says The Venetian’s Raymond, noting the space is smoke-free and features 21 large-screen plasma TVs, adjustable chairs with wheels, and safe-deposit boxes for players looking to leave cash behind. There is also food service and complimentary valet parking.
Wynn Las Vegas. The ultra-posh Wynn poker room features 26 tables and a variety of games, ranging from a low of about $4-$8 up to $100-$200. Private games can go for much more.
“Steve Wynn influences everything in this building. His passion behind this poker room and his passion for poker are clear in the environment we developed here. We provide top-notch service and don’t sacrifice on anything,” says Wynn’s Giardina. For information on tournaments, check out www.wynnpoker.com.