One of the most common questions we get from Vegas rookies at the Red Chip Poker forums is “where should I play poker?” We addressed this question in our WSOP Guide, but that, of course, is tailored specifically to the situation during the annual WSOP. Since 85% of the poker year occurs outside the WSOP summer, we’ve decided to put together a brief summary of each of the Strip poker rooms to give you some idea of what to expect.
There is one meta-room consideration that you may wish to factor in to your decision of where to play. The bulk of rooms on the Strip either fall under the umbrella of Caesars Rewards (formerly Total Rewards) or M life loyalty programs. While both struggle with punctuation, the far greater popularity of Caesars Rewards with locals has an important impact on game texture. This is largely driven by local-friendly promos that are funded by a $2 jackpot drop. Particularly during the day, this tends to promote a fairly high proportion of nits in these rooms, some of whom haven’t smiled since the Nixon administration.
For the sake of balance, it’s fair to point out that such individuals are not completely absent from the M life promo rooms, but their dominance is far more dependent on which promos are currently being run there. The M life promo rooms have, at least in the recent past, run promos that vary in their popularity with the locals, including some offerings that are so complex most Vegas grinders cannot comprehend them. The takeaway is simply that a promo that favors locals can distort the general guidelines given below.
One other key factor that gives an overall indication of game type is how expensive the property is to stay at. Recreational players often default to playing where they are staying, particularly when it is late and they are tired or worse for wear; in other words, precisely when you’d most like to make their acquaintance. The simple consequence of this is that in a card room in which many opponents think nothing of spending $300/night and up for a room, you’ll typically find more money in play than at a property in which the resort fee is greater than the midweek room rate.
Finally, most of the observations below are directed at what one might expect in cash games. Most of the tournament “dailies” on the Strip have such high juice that they’re only worth playing for fun and not profit. Once buy-ins get above about $100, as is the case in some of the larger rooms, one could imagine turning a healthy ROI, but even here close attention to the rake and staff fees is required. More details are given in our tournament strategy series.
In what follows, the rooms are listed alphabetically, with Caesars (CET) or MGM resorts (M life) identified where appropriate and rake and promo drop for entry-level NLHE given. (Some rooms offer lower rake on non-NLHE games that are featured on specific days, or are currently being promoted.) Note for pedants: yes, it’s true that exactly when rake and promo dollars are taken is important, but if you’re thinking at that level you doubtless know how to find out those details by yourself.
(M life; $5+$0)
The (relatively) new posh kid on the block, the Aria poker room is extremely attractive and has uncommonly comfortable chairs. If one of your Vegas poker goals is to spot a famous player, “Table 1” is only surpassed by Bobby’s Room at the Bellagio. (The name change from “The Ivey Room” was made shortly after Mr. Ivey’s difference of opinion with the Borgata over how baccarat should be played, although according to the Aria these events were not linked. Right.) Given its opulence, some patrons find the room rather crowded and complain of the noise from the casino floor. Perhaps a bigger issue is that the $1/$3 and $2/$5 games are frequently populated by the local hoodie-backpack-headphones brigade, who couldn’t be less welcoming to recreational players if their comfort animal was Cerberus. To be fair, these concentrations of baby pros can show up anywhere and tend to drift from room to room. Aria daily tournaments have the reputation of being softer than their counterparts at the Wynn and Venetian, supporting the view that as the density of nightclubs increases, the average IQ drops. The entry-level $1/$2, $5 bring-in PLO runs fairly regularly and usually features excellent action.
Bally’s is something of a conundrum. When the room moved from the center of the casino floor to a quieter corner, many players confidently predicted the action would dry up. For the most part, this was not the case initially and the large room became a favorite with locals and tourists alike, not least because the levels of smoke are commendably low. The room also used to get games going earlier in the day than its CET sister properties, apparently because the hotel is favored by older guests. More recently, however, changes in promotions have led to a marked drop in the number of locals playing in the room. While some may regard this as a good thing, an important consequence is that the number of games has decreased dramatically. It seems likely that this decrease in action has led to the obvious despondency among many of the dealers and staff. The room is still perfectly playable and good games can be found, but it’s not the fun, easy action it used to be.
(M life; $5+$0)
The self-appointed queen of Vegas poker, the Bellagio is also probably the most polarizing room in the city. There are locals and tourists alike who rarely play anywhere else, and an equally resolute group of players who refuse to set foot in the place. One area of agreement is that the room is crowded, at least outside of the high-limit areas. There are times when the back of your chair will be bumped so regularly you’ll think you’re flying economy directly in front of a six year-old who just consumed three Red Bulls and a pound of hard candy. Whether this explains why many players and dealers often seem irritable is open for debate. There are reports that customer service is improving, but it is still common to hear of haughty floor who seem incapable of being polite to patrons playing the lower limits. You may have been told that “every poker player should play in the Bellagio at least once”. A significant number of people who have done so have concluded that “once” is also the maximum number of times anyone should play in the room.
Promo pressure on Caesars finally forced them to join the rest of the CET Vegas empire and add a $2 promo drop to the max $5 rake. The room continues to offer double tier credits (34/hr) and comps ($2/hr), helping it remain popular with locals. While this makes the room something of a nit magnet, there is enough traffic that you can invariably find a good table, even if it requires a change or two. The proximity of the poker room to the large sports book tends to mean that major sporting events have a more profound impact on the poker action than elsewhere. It is not uncommon to see players have one-and-a-half eyes on the TV as they sweat a $15k sports bet while pulling buy-in after buy-in from their pocket. In practice what all this means is that the games tend to improve considerably in the evenings, once the bulk of locals have gone home and the NBA or other league is in full swing. On weekdays in particular, this also means the best action can dry up earlier than in other large rooms. The quality of dealers and floor is mostly well above average, while the somewhat sub-standard construction of the chairs is balanced by there being plenty of room between tables.
(M life; $5+$1)
The closure of the Luxor poker room seems to have breathed life into the neighboring properties of Excalibur and Mandalay Bay. The Excalibur only takes a single dollar for the promotional fund, but comes up with some amusing promos, some of which are linked to the fortunes of the local NHL team. The action is best described as “non-threatening”, and it’s the sort of room where a polite local can make a decent hourly unobtrusively. The $60 minimum buy-in sometimes depresses the depth of the game, but this problem is ameliorated by the room often running $2/$6 spread, which gives the impoverished a better low-risk option. If you’re on the southern end of the Strip and can tolerate maidens in wimples speaking in excruciatingly bad English accents, you may well enjoy a good game here.
Of all the rooms on The Strip, the largest local player base of octogenarians can be found at The Flamingo. The majority of them favor $3/$6 LHE and as such are of little consequence to RCP subscribers. Don’t judge this book entirely by its cover, however. While it cannot be denied that the room is crowded, so that access to about 20% of the seats is basically impossible for anyone who is moderately obese, floor staff are mostly excellent and the dealers are above average. As the definitive “locals promo room”, action is far better on graveyard shift than before sunset. If one of your motivations for playing poker is to annoy Vegas nits, play days and raise your button regularly. However, if you do opt for days, avoid the temptation to back-chat the cocktail servers; a couple of them bite. A $1/$1 PLO game with a $500 max buy-in always seems to be on the brink of getting established here, but never quite manages it. During the WSOP it runs regularly and is amusing.
Editorial note, August 2020. This room is currently closed. CET has indicated this is “temporary”, but what isn’t?
Another CET room where the action is frequently dominated by promo-chasing locals, the main hidden danger is for players who simply cannot tolerate Country music. Not only does it tend to permeate the room from the pit area to the north, but completely random “popular” music often competes with it at a comparable volume from the south. To their credit, management have reduced the problem by installing perspex panels above the rail. This would have eliminated more smoke and noise had the perspex extended to the ceiling, but apparently a decision was taken not to spoil patrons. Avoid table 4. Half the seats are jammed up against an unnecessary wall, and even if you’re not sitting in one, you’ll get static from the irritable players who are. The carpet design is based on the work of mathematician Huxley Alderhouse who dropped acid and discovered the Venn diagram for everything.
(M life; $5+$2)
The Mandalay Bay poker room has historically set itself apart from other Vegas rooms, primarily in negative ways. The most troubling for unwary visitors was a handful of unusual, yet strictly-enforced non-standard house rules. These led to a couple of incandescent threads on well-known poker forums involving stories of unscrupulous locals exploiting these rules to effectively angle shoot tourists. Combined with dealers that ranged from surly to plain rude, this led to many locals simply avoiding the place. Based on recent reviews, it seems that dealer turnover has produced a more pleasant current crop, but direct information is not available to us at Red Chip since we don’t know anybody who has played there in the last seven years. Anecdotally at least, the games are good. While the usual entry-level game is $1/$2, unusually the room also offers $1/$3 with a $1000 cap. If a band of Red Chippers would like to take advantage of this quirk, we’d be interested in an account of the experience.
Before the Bellagio joined the Vegas skyline in 1998, The Mirage poker room offered some of the largest games on the Strip. As late as the mid-2000s, $20/40 LHE was commonly spread, but then the room went into something of a decline. In 2015 the room closed for several months for remodeling and emerged as a smaller but brighter twelve-table space. While the new digs are comfortable, the room still seems to struggle for an identity. Some of the dealers are good, but there are others who seem to be competing with the cocktail servers to see who can move the slowest. A more troubling recent development has been multiple reports of incomprehensible floor decisions. The good news is that, despite being a bit faded, the Mirage is still a relatively expensive hotel, so that good games driven by well-heeled guests can still break out.
(M life; $5+$2)
For many years, the biggest problem with the MGM poker room was finding it. It moved so regularly that it was recommended players not linger in the bathroom lest it had upped sticks again by the time they got back. The new location is a bit lacking in character, but as advertised the chairs really are surprisingly comfortable. The game texture seems to be even more sensitive to current promos than other Strip rooms. When a freeroll qualifying period is running, the room can get quite busy but the games are dominated by local grinders. The action seems loosest when the promos get so complicated that even dedicated promo-chasers cannot estimate the hourly $EV. Perhaps best described as “exceptionally unexceptional”, but with softer than average games outside of freeroll promos.
It’s loud. If you’re not a casino creature you may find all gaming floors are pretty noisy, but if you play poker at P-Ho you’ll need to recalibrate. Unless you visit at night. Then it’s really loud. The trade-off is that the party atmosphere has the reputation for translating into wild action, so if big swings with the potential for big scores is your cup of tequila, you’ll likely enjoy the room. One drawback is that, like many rooms that advertise themselves as “fun and friendly”, some of the floor decisions can be esoteric at best. The associated potential for angle-shooting is magnified when California comes to town.
Many locals mourned the closure of the Stratosphere poker room, not because they ever played there, but by virtue of its historical significance to the Las Vegas strip. In an interesting act of symmetry, the SLS not only returned to its storied Sahara name, but also opened a poker room. We suspect it may act as a direct Strat replacement, and slots into exactly the same spot in this article vacated by Bob Stupak’s towering vision. The old Sahara poker room was sufficiently threadbare that sawdust instead of a carpet would not have seemed out of place. The new digs are a clear upgrade. The low rake may attract some local interest, either as an incentive to try the room, or as the source of a prop bet on how long it’ll take to be bumped to $5+$1. The room currently offers both $1/$2 (min/max $80/$200) and $1/$3 ($100/$300), which may be optimistic given the room size, and will spread bigger games and other variants upon request. It seems the $1/$3 is the most likely to run. (Photo credit: lightning36.)
If anyone can figure out what is happening at the Venetian, please contact email@example.com. It used to be unambiguously one of the leading cash-game rooms, and attracted a good mix of locals and deep-pocketed tourists. Then the room was reduced in size at around the same time the Deep Stack Extravaganza increasingly dominated the annual calendar. The DSEs are now so frequent, and when in progress so limit the available cash-game tables, that the Venetian lost some of its regular games. (Notably PLO, which briefly established a Vegas home at the Venetian, is now more common elsewhere, and the $8/16 LO8 – which for years has drifted with the whims of the grumpy regs – now appears to have gone off-Strip to the Orleans.) The latest development in March 2020 is the introduction of “experimental” $6+$3 rake. We have no idea how this experiment is panning out, since we have no wish to support that kind of juice. Apparently it will return to the new industry standard of $5+$2 in April. The fact a room like the Venetian takes a promo drop at all moves it off the Wynn-Bellagio-Aria axis onto… We’re still not sure.
The Wynn poker room at the Encore is beautiful. The people wandering around the casino floor are beautiful. The artwork is… frequently incomprehensible, but extremely expensive. Many of us had misgivings when it was announced that the Wynn poker room was moving from its location opposite the Ferrari store to the Encore. The room was so comfortable and attractive it was difficult to imagine how any change could be anything but for the worse. We were wrong. The majority opinion seems to be that the new room is even more spectacular. Floor and dealers are some of the best in Vegas and the daily tournaments are arguably the best value in town. Unlike the other big four, the Wynn caps it’s $1/$3 at $500 and its $2/$5 at $1500. It seems probable these higher caps attract better players, so that the cash-game regulars at the Wynn are tougher than elsewhere. The only knock on the place has been the claim that at $5/10 many of the players are on the same bankroll. At weekends some very good action can break out in the $1/$3 if well-heeled tourists are kind enough to “try their luck.”