By Steve Beauregard
Picking among the best Las Vegas poker rooms can be very subjective. After all, for some players, a small, fairly quiet room like like the Linq Hotel’s poker room would be a top choice, whereas others prefer a rollicking, loud room with plenty of eye-candy walking by, like at the MGM Grand’s poker room.
So I understand the Vegas poker dens listed below may not suit everybody, but you should definitely be able to enjoy getting your poker fix in at least one of the following four joints.
Playing at the Bellagio is like being in an abusive relationship: they keep mistreating you, let you keep coming back for more.
Despite the sometimes crowded conditions, inattentive waitress staff, disinterested management, and chaotic waiting list organization, the Bellagio Poker Room is the best poker room in Las Vegas. It’s hosted some of the high stakes in the world, yet accommodates low rollers. Where else can a low-limit tourist fish like me, bring $200 and play cards for hours literally a few feet away from top pros like Doyle Brunson, Chau Giang, Sammy Farha, and others, as they toss thousand dollar chips from their seats within the glassed-in confines of the elegant, (and guarded), Bobby’s Room.
The Bellagio Poker room is around 7,000 square feet in space, (half the size of the Venetian), and has 40 tables. Each year, since the poker boom began back in the early 2000’s, it has played host to a stop on the World Poker Tour. The room is next door to the sports books, and has very easy access to bathrooms. Uninteresting but creepy side note: I met Celine Dion’s husband in this bathroom. Yes I had been drinking.
Back to the room, which is designed in that classy, whimsical Bellagio look. I’m not into designing, so I won’t even try to describe it, but it somehow just feels right when you’re sitting there, with your Crown and Coke, and your stack of chips in front of you, and nothing to do for hours but watch football and joke around with other players and play the game you love. It doesn’t hurt that I’ve been seated with some of the worst players in the world here, including a foreign women who didn’t even know how to read her hand. Happy times.
You can reach the Bellagio here: www.Bellagio.com
(Go here to see what was the first casino on the Las Vegas Strip.)
New kid on the block – if the new kid on the block lived in a house that cost $9 billion dollars. I can’t comment on this room, because the two times I’ve tried to play there, the waiting lists were long. That’s good news for the Aria, bad news for me. Everyone seems to love this new room, and many of the higher-limit games have moved from the Bellagio over here to Ivey’s Room, which of course, is named after famous professional poker player Daniel Negreanu.
For those of you like me, who mainly stick to limit hold’em, the game selection seems to be slim pickings. Fortunately, you can always hop on the free Las Vegas tram that goes to the Bellagio, where limit hold’em games from $4/$8 on up are run consistently.
The Aria poker room has two very popular daily re-buy tournaments: starting 1 p.m. and at 7 p.m. The entry fee is $125.
The new remodeled Sands Poker Room at the Venetian has new amenities, but the same smoking-hot cocktail waitresses.
The room is said to be pushing 14,000 square feet in space, with 59 tables. Twenty-one flat screen TV surround the room, for those of you longing for some ESPN to ward off the boredom during stretches when all you see are hands like 3/8 off-suit for hours on end.
Of course they offer all sorts of limits, starting at $4/8 for limit hold’em and $1/3 no-limit. They also spread Omaha. And while I personally don’t play it, my understanding is that the Venetian Poker Room is one of the few in town to offer Stud.
The Venetian’s poker tournaments are very popular, due to the large stacks you start out with, combined with an excellent structure. They are also well organized. The daily noon tournament, with an entry fee of $150, and the 7 p.m. nightly tourney, with a fee of $120, are especially popular. These two tournaments average in the neighborhood of 100 runners, with a first prize payout in the $2,000 to $5,000 range.
For those with deeper wallets, their quarterly Deep Stack Extravaganza Tournament gives you a lot of play. This series of prestigious tournaments bring in thousands of recreational players (and some pros) from all over. Buy-ins for these tournaments start in the $200 range I believe, and go up to a $5,000 entry fee for the main event.
While the room’s bad-beat jackpot has been discontinued, the Venetian continues to offer players a room discount. Play six hours of poker a night, and you’ll qualify for the poker rate at either the Venetian or Palazzo, which is just $129 a night on Sunday through Thursdays, and $179 a night on Friday and Saturdays.
They also offer $1 per hour comps, but only to those playing $10/20 or higher. There is also zero rake on these games from noon to 3 p.m.
Overall, the poker room at the Venetian is a large, yet intimate and classy venue. They say many of the local Las Vegas sharks do most of their feeding there, but if you’re like me, and your bankroll keeps you at the low limits, you’ll share table space with your fair share of donks.
Video of the newly-remodeled Venetian:
When I originally wrote this, the poker room was a 22 table hip joint situated next to the Centrifuge Bar. It has since been moved a couple times, and now seems more of an afterthought. Still we’ll give it a good rating for the poor quality of play here, and because it’s situated in one of the world’s largest hotels, meaning there’s nearly always a good game running.
Still, this is a room in which you have to be in the right mood. It’s located near the Strip entrance of the casino, by the sports book. Between the loud music pumping, the gorgeous women walking by going to Hakkasan, and the screaming cheers (or moans), from the sports and race book next door, your senses get a walloping here.
On the plus side, you get a well-run room with 14 tables comfortably spread out. Another benefit to being the loud, party poker room, is that you’re likely to find yourself at a table full of drunks. Granted, that’s similar to Thanksgiving at my in-laws, but at least these guys are throwing money loosely around.
Other than a long stretch of bad cards, I’ve never had a bad time here. Yes, you’ll occasionally get your ultra-serious sunglasses-wearing, iPod-listening, hoodie-attired, wanna-be pro, but more likely than not, you’re going to be surrounded by young guys wanting to get drunk first, and play cards second.
Tournaments at the MGM Grand Poker room are a little cheaper than the other rooms on this list (They have a daily 11:05 a.m. $35 entry tournament with $5 rebuys, plus a twice-daily $80 tourney during weekdays). As with the Aria and Bellagio, the MGM Grand is part of the MGM Resorts family, so be sure to have the dealer swipe your M-Life card when you first sit down to score your hourly comps.
They spread mostly $1/2 No-limit here, along with a $2-$6 spread limit game and $3/6 limit hold’em.
We’ll review some of the other places on this site, (and there are many worthy rooms), but as a general rule, the Bellagio, Venetian, Aria and MGM Grand are some of the best poker rooms in Las Vegas.