Online vs. Casino Play

The Spoils of War

It has been my experience that playing at a casino isn't as profitable as playing online for two main reasons: cost and time.

Casino Play

The costs of going to a casino to play a live game are high. If you are traveling away from home, you need money for travel expenses like gas, tolls, food and accommodation. Tips for dealers and waitstaff, not to mention bigger rakes, can all add up. Although comp dollars pay for some of this, it is not nearly enough.

It also takes time. Like most people, I don't live near a casino. To get to the nearest casino in Atlantic City, I have to drive an hour there and back. That's two hours taken away from actual game play. On top of the lost driving time, live play tends to be slower than playing online. With optimal conditions, players acting quickly and a strong dealer, you may only get to play about 30 hands an hour. In comparison, you can play anywhere from 60 to 80 hands an hour online.

You can also lose time waiting to be seated at a table in a casino. The popularity of poker has grown faster than the casinos' ability to accommodate aficionados, and it's not uncommon to wait for more than an hour for a table, two hours if it's the weekend.

As you can see, that's why I prefer to play online.

Advantages of Online Play

I've done much better with online casinos for a few reasons:

  1. Experience: I play online every day so I'm used to it. I pick up players' tells pretty easily, and I'm probably more experienced than most players I'm up against.
  2. Playing only when I'm at my best: Table selection is much better online, and I don't have to wait for a table. If I sit down and realize all the players are good, I can instantly switch. It's much harder to do that at a casino. It's also considered poor etiquette to leave a table at a casino if you win big really quickly. However, when I play online I can easily leave, bank my money and start a new table.

Another big benefit to online poker is that I can pick and choose when to play. If I'm at home and I play two hands and think, "You know what, screw this," I can stop. The same goes for if I'm hungry, tired, drunk, dumb, angry or sad. The same cannot be said about playing in a casino because I've already spent so much time, energy and money to get there.

  1. Bankroll size: When I play online, I don't sit down with more than $600 on a table at any one time. When I am in a casino, it's quite common for me to have $800 or $1,000 in play at once. There's a lot more pressure when a bigger percentage of your bankroll is in play. The last time I was in the casino, I folded hands I would've called while playing online because I would've been out of money if I lost. Playing online also means I have access to all of my money. At the casinos, I only allow myself to use the money I bring, and having a sufficient bankroll is almost as important as being a good player.
  2. Tells: There are certain tells that I've learned from online play, but I don't need to read any social situations online. So even though my knowledge of poker theory, playing the cards and reading online tells has expanded rapidly, my ability to read people in live games hasn't grown; in fact it may have even shrunk.

Online playing experience also comes with advantages and disadvantages when transferred to a live game. For instance, I have way more facial and behavioral tells in a live game because I don't need a poker face to play on a computer. On the other hand, I have fewer verbal and mannerism-related tells because I am used to playing in solitude and silence.

  1. Patience and time management: As I said before, online games move much faster than live games. I'm also able to play two tables simultaneously online which results in constant action. When someone is used to constant action and then plays in the casino where there's a ton of dead time, they can end up playing loosely and forcing things that aren't there. That can lead to poker suicide and losing sessions.
  2. Skill level: I think online players tend to be worse than those who play at the casinos. The dehumanizing factor of the computer makes good players play poorly. When you combine them with the regular poor players, the net result is pretty good for someone like me who has outgrown and overcome the computer's dehumanizing effect. In contrast, casinos in places like Atlantic City draw the sharks that are playing at the top of their game and preying on fish. This gives bad players less of a chance to gain experience and win some money.

Although every player has his or her own opinion about the pluses and minuses of online vs. casino play, I hope that my personal comparison of the two poker venues helps shed some light on the differences between them and what can be expected.

See you at the tables.

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