I just returned from our twice yearly trip to Las Vegas, trips that are designed to increase our face time with the grandkids and our daughter who live there and enjoy it very much. We, my wife and I, enjoy Vegas too but not enough yet to pick up our hardened east coast roots and move out there for good. We go with great anticipation having not seen any of them for months and we take full advantage of spending as much time as possible with them. After about three days we are so exhausted that a side trip to a local casino (they live in North Las Vegas) is a necessity. Once refreshed we are back into the fray and happy for it.
This time around I had the opportunity to play poker in three distinctly different ways – one of which is very familiar to me, another something I really enjoyed once upon a time, and the third a completely new experience.
The Red Rock Tournament: By rental car my daughter’s home is about 25 minutes east of the Red Rock Resort and Casino on the 215. As “station” casinos go it is one of the nicer ones and the one we prefer over the closer Santa Fe Casino. Red Rock has everything a gambler could want plus a bowling alley, a Bingo hall, a 16 screen movie theater, restaurants galore, low, mid, and high range, and a friendly local atmosphere although there are tourists a plenty. Parking is plentiful and nearby and the valet option is free of charge although a nice tip makes a lot of sense and generates a lot of good will. I played in a noon time No Limit Hold’em tournament on a weekday where the entrance fee was $60 with a generous add on for $10 more. Ten bucks went to the casino and the rest was player money. Only 15 players sat down that day but according to the TM that’s about average on a weekday with Friday and weekend tournaments generating at least double that number.
We played for about four 20 minute levels and then arrived at the “final” table which meant that five players had been knocked out – not your typical World Series of Poker experience for sure but a minor victory nonetheless.
The play after that was every bit as competitive as any poker game I ever watched on TV or anywhere else – bad beats, suck outs, near misses, bluffs, tense races and uncanny reads. It was great fun. With $900 in prize money at stake and a disdain for the normal pay out structure of money for places 1, 2 and 3 only, talk of an amicable fair split started when there were 7 players left. Most of these kinds of conversations defer to the chip leader and he was not interested with that many players left. However, he was a nice guy and when the table was reduced to 5 players and he had the lion’s share of the chips he suggested a split that gave him the winner’s badge and $400 while the rest received $125 each. He wasn’t sacrificing much in terms of money and he was eliminating the risk of being blown away by a lucky hand. So, that’s where it ended. I was one of the lucky recipients of $125 and after a tip to the dealer I was still ahead.
What this brings to mind, and this is why I write about it, is that the vast majority of people play poker, in a casino or anywhere else, for FUN! Winning $50 bucks is not going to change anyone’s life in any way at all. Losing $70 bucks is not a big deal for most people. Yet, having spent a few hours with like-minded people enjoying a pastime that we all agree is fun, is an experience worth savoring. Why this fact is not universally recognized and why some people still have to travel outside of their own states to play harmless games like poker is, and always will be, incomprehensible to me.
Online Poker in Nevada: The last two times I was in Las Vegas online poker was already legal but I was too busy doing other things to bother. This trip, once the grandkids were bedded down for the night and the catching up with my daughter was done, I decided to play.
Before they were shut down by the US Justice Department, I had played online poker before on sites like Full Tilt Poker, Ultimate Bet, and Poker Stars. I was never a big winner but then I never played big stakes either. I enjoyed playing Sit ‘N Go type tournaments and when I had the time to invest I was not beyond playing a MTT sometimes with thousands of others from all over the world for $5 or $10 entries.
I chose to open a WSOP account on the site run by Caesars just because I had heard that they had more liquidity at their site – more people playing at any given time. Honestly, the liquidity was far less than anything I had experienced before Black Friday. Given the choice between cash games, sit ‘n gos, and tournaments, I always will choose sit ‘n gos. Never in an entire week of evenings was I able to find a table of this kind with more than one other player waiting hopelessly for additional players. Cash games for micro stakes were available but not in abundance. Tournaments were the one area where you could register and play easily.
Most of the ones I played were $5 or $10 entries with unlimited re-buys and an add-on before the re-buy period ended. In live tournaments I am against re-buys. For me it defeats the purpose of tournament play. With unlimited re-buys you can play like an ass, bust out, and return from the dead immediately. Overly aggressive play is not penalized as it should be. In the case of WSOP online tournaments that never attracted more than 125 players and usually attracted in the neighborhood of 60 or 70, re-buys tend to fatten up the prize pool and, for that reason, I can live with them in these kinds of cases.
As the week progressed my late night escapades showed an improvement in finishing, getting down to just before the money twice. I invested $150 overall and left with about $15 still in my account and a “cash” nowhere in sight. I will try again next time and work harder at better results.
Poker Pro at Aliante: The Aliante Resort and Casino is the closest gambling option to my daughter’s house. It is, in fact, within walking distance or a short five minute drive away. My wife and I have stayed there a few times rather than bunk at our daughter’s house but we prefer being around the kids as much as possible. The hotel itself is nice and the pool, in season, is pretty. It has a Bingo hall, a few nice restaurants, and a movie theater. It was once a “station” casino but changed hands about 4 or 5 years ago. Soon after the property changed hands they abandoned their small but cozy poker room and, for all intents and purposes, it was gone forever.
It’s hard to say what made management change its mind but I, for one, always left comments in the hotel lobby and online, lamenting the loss of poker and pleading for its return. This trip I was able to experience what the Aliante has done to make up for that.
Poker Pro machines are not new. They are ubiquitous on cruise ships and have been known to show up in smaller casinos when the demand was there. They had been set up in a nice circle on the casino floor since November 2014. They only opened for play recently and customers are just now getting used to them.
For anyone who has ever played poker on a computer or smart phone, these machines are a dream. However, rather than playing with someone, somewhere far away, with a Poker Pro machine there are ten people seated around a poker layout playing electronic cards and betting accordingly.
I played in a small, inexpensive ($30) tournament with 17 other players – two tables. I busted out after about an hour but played long enough to see the potential of these machines. Although they are expensive to own or lease, they require just one live worker to register players and pay off winners. Over time they will undoubtedly pay for themselves. A few days later, when no tournament was scheduled, I played No Limit Hold ‘em at a full table. The stakes were small (.50 and $1 blinds), the buy ins were from $40 to $200, and bets of $15, $25, and all in bets for $100 or more happen at the drop of a hat. I played for about 2 hours, holding on to about $150 in winnings that I accumulated in the first 20 minutes, just enjoying the experience most of the time.
The “touch” screen in front of each player is not what you are used to on your phone. In order to place a bet or “turn up” the ends of your cards so you, and no one else, can see them, pressure rather than touch must be applied. Most players use the edge of the players’ cards to press down on an icon; others use the edge of their fingernail with the same results.
This is a great way to satisfy a known need in this small casino. I can see that they are starting out slowly and I support that. I would recommend that they run more tournaments each day (right now most days they have one at noon and on a few days they have an evening one as well). Following that they have a lot of room to increase stakes to the $50 or $60 level for tournaments. If you are in the area I suggest you try them out!
And By The Way: I love poker. My wife does too and is trying to muster up the courage to play in public. We both enjoy other casino games as well but are not comfortable playing at high stakes. We like $5 Blackjack, $5 Craps, and we sometimes play quarter or lower slot machines and Keno, of course. I also enjoy playing draw poker machines and although I know the basic strategy for Bonus Poker and Jacks or Better, I have never walked away with more than a few bucks in winnings, certainly never a jackpot.
Walking through the Red Rock Casino one morning, on the way to the cafe, we passed a bank of 8 poker machines that advertised 100% pay back. I know that means that over all, over time, that’s the rate these machines are set to pay off. Any one player and any one given time will still lose their drawers! I decided that we should give them a try on the way back from breakfast.
Sitting next to each other, investing $20 worth of quarters each and playing 5 units at a time, we both set to our mission. Not long after we started I had spun my first Royal Straight Flush ever and I quickly printed out my ticket for $1000+ and we left.