There are people in Vegas whose whole job is researching the psychology of spending. They literally build and renovate casinos trying to maximize the amount of money they can take out of your pocket. To give you some basic examples:
- The carpet in a casino is obnoxious. This is done on purpose; they use obnoxious patterns and colors to make you stop looking at the floor when you walk. If you're not looking at the floor you're looking at slot machines and table games.
- There are no clocks or natural light. They don't want you to know what time of day it is. People are happy to drink and gamble at 8 a.m. on a Wednesday just as long as they don't have to be reminded of it.
- The casinos are a maze. You will have to walk past hundreds of tables and slots to find your way out.
- Higher-limit tables and slots are in more attractive areas with more attractive people in them. Casinos hire beautiful women to sit and play at higher-limit tables. You won't be the first, or last, guy to sit next to her to chat her up. (These people are known as "props.")
Where to Play Low-Limit Poker in Las Vegas
The whole city is built in a way to make you want to play games and limits in which you had no intention of playing. The Vegas culture glorifies any decent-sized wins, and sweeps losses under the carpet. Don't get me wrong and think I'm talking smack here; Vegas is one of the greatest cities in the world. You just have to know how to keep your roll in your own pocket. This guide should be a great starting point for you.
The Company You Keep
If you're a low-stakes professional poker player you're going to Vegas to work. This will translate into 8-20 hours of poker a day. You will live in the various poker rooms and be more than content doing just this. As a result you have to go with friends in a similar frame of mind. If your best friend wants to go with you but he/she doesn't play poker, you'll be making a big mistake going with them. You'll have the choice of making them hang out in Vegas alone, or chilling with them and losing out on playing cards. If you can't play cards, you can't work.
Your goal is to leave Vegas with more money than you had before you arrived. You need to make enough money to cover all the costs of your trip, as well as earning for yourself. To do this, you need to grind.
Ladies: before you write angry letters to me about this next point, please read the reasoning as well. Guys, it's a mistake to go to Vegas exclusively with your girlfriend (unless of course she's going to be playing too). If your best buddy wouldn't like being left alone to entertain himself, how do you think your girlfriend would feel? I've said it before, and I'll say it again: no girl wants to feel like she's second-best to a card game.
If you go to Vegas just for a vacation, then by all means, there's no one better to bring along. But if you plan to go and play some serious cards, it would be a mistake to bring the old lady. Along with not being able to earn, you're going to be spending significantly more money on entertainment and food if you're not playing all day. That's a double hit to your roll.
Another person to watch out for is the über-gambler. If you bring your friend with a gambling affliction, it's easy to get dragged along. If your friend is rocking the table games all day, you're going to be doing the same. You'll want to party with them, and it's easy to say "Screw it; we're in Vegas!"
I'm not just making these things up. I've been in these situations and made all these mistakes. Luckily for me, "All of it on red" was very good to me. After your fifth glass of cognac, putting all your money on one spin of a wheel can seem like a really smart idea.
Being a low-stakes professional, you can't afford to be giving away a few buy-ins on a roulette table. Playing a little $5 blackjack is one thing, but when you get in with a manic gambler, it's not long before you start pushing $200 bets.
The best way to avoid making such a mistake is to only carry a small portion of your roll on you. Hotel rooms have safes, and hotels have lock boxes. I suggest you use them.
Where to Stay in Vegas for Playing Poker
Anyone who's been to Vegas before will understand why I say "Where to put your suitcase" rather than "where to stay." You're not going to spend much time in your room at all. When you do need to sleep after being up for 36 hours or so, you'll crash so hard that you couldn't care less what the room looked like.
When you go to Vegas to play poker exclusively, it's more of a working trip than a vacation. On a trip like this you won't be partaking in many of the inter-room activities you otherwise would. (I'm talking about playing big two and Yahtzee!, obviously). If you're going to be spending almost no time in your room, the quality of the room isn't of the foremost importance. I'm pretty sure my girlfriend would disagree with me on this point - yet another reason why it saves you money to go with someone other than your honey.
Imperial Palace: This is the go-to hotel. It can be booked for as low as $40 a night, and it's literally across the street from Caesars Palace and the Bellagio. All hotels in Vegas cost more on weekends and during peak times, so it can go up as high as $90 a night. Staying on or near the central Strip keeps your cab costs low. It also makes it easy to stumble back to bed after a long night. The downside to this wonderland of cheap is it's pretty clear you're not staying at the Ritz the second you step through the front door. Some people describe the place as "creepy," others, "dank." I like to go with "rustic." It's pretty dark, not the cleanest place in the world, and makes you feel like you've just hit 88 mph in the Delorean. But $40 a night to be across the street from the Bellagio? Fine by me. Plus there was a really awesome, and cute, waitress working the Palace's casino last time I was there.
The Travelodge behind the Harley Davidson café: If reading that hasn't scared you away already, I highly recommend this place as well. It's also across the street from the Bellagio, but a bit to the New York New York side, putting you more of a walk from Caesars and the Mirage. This place looks pretty sketchy at the best of times. It's also in the $40 a night range, and even sports a pool. I enjoyed my stay here, and found it only to look sketchy. It was clean and friendly and I never felt at risk of being... sketched. This place is my Imperial Palace backup.
The Bellagio: I bet you didn't think I'd have the Bellagio on my list. The Bellagio is my second-favorite casino in all of Vegas (The Wynn being No. 1). The rooms are spectacular, the place is spectacular, and you're minutes away from the Bellagio Poker room. The downfall to the Bellagio is cost. You're looking at close to $500 for a room. Don't get discouraged just yet. The poker rate for a room at the Bellagio is $120 a night on weeknights. To get the poker rate, you're required to play five hours a day in the Bellagio poker room.
The lowest limit the Bellagio spreads is $2/$5 No-Limit. And it's a serious action game. So the Bellagio is a great place for medium-stakes poker professionals with a large roll. I put it here for when you move up the food chain. If you're planning an extended stay it might be really worthwhile to look into this one. If you're staying for over a month, the game changes. You'll play shorter sessions, and spend more time in your room relaxing and sleeping. At this point having a nice room is paramount. Part two to come will cover poker room comps and where to put in your hours. Stay tuned... same bat time, same bat channel.
How to Get Comps for Poker in Vegas
As a full-time poker player, you want to make sure you take advantage of all the comps available to you, with the most obvious being free unlimited cocktails. I recommend you don't take too much advantage of that one while you're playing. Other than drinks, and hotel room rates, the only thing a poker player will usually get comped is food. Here's my chart of food comps:
|Time At Table
|Maybe get a buffet, but they won't be happy about giving it to you
|Harrah's casinos (Caesars, Rio, Flamingo...)
|$1 toward food credit
|$1 toward food credit
|Free buffet or Carnegie Deli Sandwich. You have to ask the pit for it, and they only give out a couple per shift, so be the first to ask.
|$1 toward food credit
|$2 - $3 toward food credit
All of the casinos who use an hourly rate for comps require you to get a card for that casino, and check in and out. Just ask the dealer for the details. There are other rooms on the Strip that offer comps, but I seriously don't understand why you'd be playing in them in the first place. You have a few of the world's greatest poker rooms on one street; why play in a dank room with only four tables?
Live poker rooms will never come close to providing the same sort of incentive as online rooms can afford, so it's important to take advantage of whatever you have available to you. The Venetian has one of the best bad beat pots in Vegas, especially considering most of the other rooms don't offer one.
Where are the Best Vegas Cash Games?
Being a low-stakes professional, you're going to be grinding the cash games pretty much full time. Every room has slightly different buy-in amounts for the same games, and each room plays very differently. You want to play in a room where you can beat the game. Beyond that, all other details are moot.
Caesars Palace: The poker room at Caesars is one of, if not the, largest in the city. The tables have ample room. The setting is bright, white and very open. You'll have an easier time finding alternate and mix games at Caesars than in most other rooms. It's common for Caesars to spread $4/$8 Limit H.O.R.S.E. The game-play here is that of a solid deep-stack game. It's rare for the room to be in an uproar of gambling, and you'll be sitting with mostly decent to good tourists. This is not the room for consistent easy money, but it has one of the best-playing lower-limit games in Vegas.
Mirage: The Mirage used to be the center of the poker world. In the post-Bellagio Vegas, the Mirage has become a pretty low-traffic room that has started showing its age. With the low min-buy, the Mirage attracts the cheaper end of the Vegas players. The Mirage is the place to play with the locals who enjoy poker as a hobby, not a profession. It will remind you of your games back home. The room spreads a No Ante $1-$5 Stud game. The table has quarters in play on it, and is full of cotton-topped locals who get upset when you make bets over $2. Because of the small scope of this game, this is where you want to come for free food when broke. It's almost impossible to lose any money at this game. Sit for four hours and grab your buffet comp.
MGM Grand: The MGM is pretty much identical to the Mirage in skill of play, tone and buy-ins. The MGM's room is bigger, but unfortunately very loud. It's right next to the Centrifuge bar, so you'll be assaulted by very loud bad music every 30 minutes or so. On the bright side, you can watch the bartenders dance on the bar when the music kicks in. The biggest plus to this room is the deli next to it. Hands down the best Reuben sandwich I've ever had.
Bellagio: The Bellagio is the flagship poker room in Vegas. The tables are packed in, making it a physically tight room, where your chair will be back to back with that of a player at the next table. The lowest No-Limit game the Bellagio spreads is the $2/$5. It matches the lowest max buy-in for any $2/$5 game in Vegas, but don't let this fool you into thinking it's the best choice to play on a short roll. The $2/$5 at the Bellagio is a serious action game. Most players on the table will be sitting with chips between $500 - $5,000. Because the Bellagio is where all the pros come to play, it's also where all the well-to-do tourists come. If you have a very large roll, this is the place to play.
Venetian: The Venetian underwent a massive renovation a little while back. The place is large, and looks fantastic. Unfortunately I can't personally comment on the play in this room. They pump some sort of potpourri smell into the whole building, which gives me a massive headache. Everyone I talk to seems to really enjoy the room. It's also the only room I've seen spread a low-limit mixed game including Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw Lowball. The only other place I've seen this game spread is in Bobby's Room.
Where are the Best Poker Tournaments in Vegas?
Before you go to Vegas search Google for a current tournament guide. Every room spreads tourneys; you just need to find out when, where and how much. My favorite daily tourneys are held at Caesars seven days a week:
The buy-in structure is unique for these. At noon there is an $80 buy-in with a single $50 re-buy. You get more chips for the re-buy (or add-on) than the starting chips. In this case, the $80 gets you 1,500 starting chips with the $50 re-buy adding 3,000. Essentially you're playing a $130 tournament with 4,500 chips.
At 7 p.m., it's $120 plus $100, again for the total of 4,500 chips. The rounds are 40 minutes in both, with a relaxed structure, allowing the tournament to have a lot of play to it. At 11 p.m. the tournament is $60+$10 for 2500 chips and 30 minute rounds. You have until a set deadline to use your re-buy/add-on. If the majority of your table adds on immediately, do the same. If they wait, then so should you. When you can afford to wait, and still have a stack well into the Harrington Green Zone, you might as well keep the add-on as insurance for a botched coin flip.
What to Do in Vegas Without Playing Poker
Vegas offers some of the world's best entertainment. It would be a shame to make a trip to the city without enjoying some of the world-class entertainment it has to offer. The only problem with all this grandeur is the sizeable dent it puts into your roll. A night out in Vegas can quickly become very expensive.
The Shows of Las Vegas
Every casino in town has its own show or shows. The casinos will sign big names such as Jerry Seinfeld, Elton John, Celine Dion and Tina Turner for weekly appearances. On top of the concerts and comedy, you'll have Cirque du Soleil, cabaret and magic shows to choose from. You could see a different high-quality show every day of the week. At around $100 a ticket it can get expensive to see everything you'd like. These shows truly are one of a kind and I recommend you get yourself into a seat for at least one of them.
I'm not a shopper. I avoid malls like the plague and have a hard time spending more than 10 minutes inside a store. That said, the shopping in Vegas is amazing. The forum shops at Caesars give you a chance to try on shirts that cost more than my first car. Armani, Donna Karan, Gucci... even a non-shopper like me can appreciate high-quality goods.
The Great Outdoors
Believe it or not there is actually an outdoors to Vegas as well. Most of you will spend 98% of all your time indoors in the city but there's a lot to do out in the surrounding Mojave Desert. Golf: It's no secret that lots of poker players are also big fans of golf. Vegas offers courses a short cab ride from the strip. It might seem odd to have a lush green course in the middle of a desert but they do it and do it well. The other advantage to playing golf in Vegas is you can always find someone willing to play you for your roll. If you're the next Ty Webb, it could be a good place to pick up a few bucks.
Tours: The Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam make up the majority of the tours you'll find around town. If you've never been, both are worth a look. No better way to see them than in a glass-bottom helicopter. One thing to keep in mind: It's ridiculously hot all the damn time. You might think to yourself "Wow, I had no problem getting a 1 p.m. tee time in the middle of July!" Unless you're used to 115-degree heat and direct sun, I'd try to keep my skin indoors around this time.
When you're driving down the strip in your air-conditioned cab, you'll have the pleasure of seeing a look akin to "I think my intestines are starting to boil" on the faces of people walking from one casino to the one next door (if you've never been to Vegas, you'll learn that "next door" or "Just one block away" translates into an epic hike). Once they get to the halfway point you can spot a look of terror now that they realize they're committed to the task at hand. I try to avoid the outdoors in the state of Nevada between the hours of 9 a.m. and 7 p.m.
Vegas is in the running for having some of the world's greatest nightclubs. I don't think it's possible to beat L.A., but that doesn't stop them from trying. Between clubs such as Rain, PURE, Tryst, LAX, Tao and Jet you'll be sure to find your fill of drinks, dancing, celebrities and good tunes. The free drinks theme of the Vegas casino is not continued in the clubs. In fact, it's quite the opposite. I highly recommend you search various Web pages or ask around to find out how to get on VIP lists for these clubs. There are multiple levels of VIP and even being a VIP might still land you a four-hour wait in line.
The only way to be a true playa is to grease your way in. After greasing the bouncer for a bill, and paying cover, you're now in the club for $130. If you want to be a someone in the club you're going to need a table. Where else will you bring someone to sit and chill out with you? To get a table, you have to buy a bottle. A bottle of your favorite booze (Grey Goose, Crown Royal, etc.) will cost from $400-$600. Wait in line and have a great time for $30 plus your drinks or be the (wo)man and fork over half a G - your choice.
Gentlemens (and Ladies!) Clubs
Don't be fooled by the name: women are welcomed and encouraged to partake in the dark seedy world of the gentleman's clubs. As is the way in Sin City, they do everything they can to "class the joint up." The peelers in this town are largely very attractive "normal" women, working in a moderately attractive and "nice" establishment. You can usually get a free cab to the peelers as the club will pay the cab for bringing people to its doors. This might seem like a good idea but it means you will be charged full cover because you arrived in a cab. If you show up on your own steam you can usually haggle for a reduced fee, if they charge you at all.
Out of all the clubs in the town my personal favorite is the world-famous Spearmint Rhino. Not only do they have more girls working at any given time than you can keep track of but you can have a table or seat without having to pay a VIP premium and the girls all come and sit on your lap to "chat." You can sit down, have a few drinks, watch some professional dancing and leave, having spent very little. Or you could rock the private dances and leave having spent a whole heck of a lot - your choice. If you do decide to pony up for the VIP room at the Rhino you might find yourself partying with a well-known poker professional. His Mercedes SLR McLaren has been known to be parked out front.
If scantily clad women aren't your thing, how about scantily clad men? The most obvious choice here would be the world-famous Chippendales. Male strippers and a lounge featuring an all-male serving team "tastefully dressed"... or undressed. Some lady friends of mine just returned from Vegas and can't stop rhapsodizing about "The Thunder From Down Under" at the Excalibur. Apparently the show is worth a look or two. They opted for three trips to visit the dancing Aussies.
Do I Feel Lucky? Well Do Ya Punk?
The Gun Store. It's not a short cab ride but it's well worth it. It still seems odd to me that any adult can hand over their ID to have a guy with arms larger than my thighs hand them back a carbine assault rifle, a magazine and a box of ammo without a single moment of hesitation. The walls behind the counter are covered in firearms of every variety. From a .45 Dirty Harry Magnum to a Bonny and Clyde Tommy gun, they have what you want to shoot. If you're from countries with strict gun control, such as Australia, this place will really be a trip for you. The snub-nosed .45 magnum kicks like a mule. Don't say I didn't warn you.
Flights and Fights
If you're in North America, the continental United States especially, you can find yourself dirt cheap airfare to Vegas. It's not hard to find a flight for $99 or less. Plan ahead a little bit and you can find your way to the action, no problem. Before you book your flight you might want to check to see if there are any good fights going down. Many of the biggest boxing matches are held in Vegas along with a large number of UFC events. Some of the high-profile fights are next-to-impossible to get tickets to, but you never know.
I recommend everyone go to Vegas at least once in their life whether they gamble or not. It's a city unlike anything you've experienced. If you're a poker player, you have no excuses. Print out this article, book your flight and go have the time of your life!