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Best of Gary Trask

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Top-10 things to look for in a poker room

15 September 2008

In the past three weeks a pair of new plush poker rooms have opened on opposite sides of the U.S.

In Connecticut, Mohegan Sun brought live poker back to its casino floor for the first time in seven years with the opening of Casino of the Wind while in Las Vegas the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino rolled out the red carpet for the grand opening of its state-of-the-art poker lounge this past weekend.

Both new venues are of the upscale variety. In fact, the Hard Rock spent $30 million on the poker lounge as part of an $800 million expansion and renovation. Yes, that's right, $30 million for a room that is dedicated to poker.

The new openings got us thinking about what makes a great poker room. While all poker players are different, there are certain things every player should consider before choosing a spot. Here are the 10 things we recommend you look for before settling in for a marathon session of your favorite poker game. If you find a room that fits your needs in all 10 of the below attributes, let us know because you just found Poker Heaven and we want to be there for the next hand.

10. Smoking rules
The days of smoke-filled poker rooms are numbered. In fact, most casinos across the country have banned smoking. And, depending on your preferences, this may be a good or bad thing. The bottom line: If you can't stand the thought of playing cards without a cigar dangling from your mouth, make it a point to go out and find one of the few remaining rooms out there that have a smoking section. In Las Vegas, you'll have to go off the Strip to locales such as Arizona Charlie's, Sunset Station, El Cortez and The Orleans.

9. Accessories
We have a feeling that when Johnny Moss and Doyle Brunson began their careers, the option of having iPod docks at the table wasn't first on their list of requirements. But that's where the state of poker rooms is today. The new lounge at the Hard Rock has a Genesis Reservation System, a completely automated system that will text message players anywhere on property when their name is called. The Red Rock in Vegas features a Genesis Bravo Tracking System that uses the Boarding Pass player's card to track time and to roll over comp time into player account points. Other things to take into consideration are cup holders for drinks, the comfort of the chairs and whether or not the room has automatic shufflers to keep the pace of the games going briskly.

8. Televisions
Not that we want to paint all poker players with a broad brush, but we're willing to bet (pun intended) that the majority of people that come to poker rooms have at some point in their life thrown a few dollars down on the outcome of a sporting event. If we're correct in making this assumption, those same people would probably like to follow the action of their bets while playing poker. Even if it's not the case, it's always nice to have a TV to look at when you're out of a hand. Mohegan Sun's new room has 23 50-inch LCD televisions hanging from the rafters. They're set up so that from any seat in the 42-table room you have a decent sight line to at least three or four monitors. To some people, this may not be important. But to the guy who fills out one of those "For Entertainment Purposes Only" football cards before venturing into the room on a Sunday afternoon, this may be No. 1 on their list.

7. Food and beverage service
If you're going to spend 10 hours sitting in a poker room, you've got to eat and/or drink at some point. Most every poker room has tableside cocktail and beverage service, but not all allow you to eat at the table. If you plan on spending an extended period of time in one that does not allow you to dig into your favorite submarine sandwich while simultaneously raising from the big blind, make sure you find out if there is a decent place to eat that is nearby and fits your budget.

6. Staff
Win or lose, you want your experience at a poker room to be a pleasurable one. You can get a pretty good idea as to what kind of service you are going to receive from the very beginning by the manner in which you are greeted by the room's host. You want a floor manager who fills the open spots at each table quickly. And the professionalism and personality of the dealers can make or break the entire affair. Just like before you try a new restaurant, ask people who are in the know or your knowledgeable friends which rooms have the best dealers and most helpful floor staff. It will make a huge difference.

5. Variety of games
If you're strictly a Hold'em player, this may not apply to you because most every room out there will fit your needs. But if you get bored with Hold'em and prefer moving around and playing Omaha, Stud or even something like Razz, make sure you find a room that offers a variety of games.

4. Number of tables
We're not sure if you're aware of this, but poker is a fairly popular attraction these days. Even the poker rooms with more than 100 tables will be jammed at peak times of the week or day so don't show up at a room with 10 tables on a Friday night looking to waltz right in and sit down at a table playing your favorite game. You'll end up waiting for a spot, which means you're more than likely going to saunter over to the section of the casino that offers table games and blow your poker stash on the slots or Let It Ride. Don't laugh. It happens to the best of us.

3. The rake
Keep in mind that the casino you are playing poker at is not in this business just because they enjoy your company. They want to make money off of you, even if it isn't directly from the actual game you are playing. Rake is a percentage fee that is taken out of the pots at each table. Typically the rake is 5%, but some casinos vary or try different rakes at different times of the day. Your winnings can increase and your losings can decrease if you pay careful attention to what kind of rake you're being charged.

2. Available limits
If you're not comfortable sitting at a table with anything more than $2/4, make sure the room you are going to offers more than a couple low limit tables. Don't get caught in a situation where you are playing in a game with limits that far exceed your bankroll or you could be in for a short and costly night of poker.

1. Caliber of play
Along the same lines of knowing what limits are available, you should also know in advance what kind of player you most likely are going to run into at a particular room. Some players like to find rooms where there are beginners or "fish" and they try to clean them out for a quick profit. Do your homework so you can avoid being on the wrong end of this scenario.

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Best of Gary Trask
Gary Trask

Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT
Gary Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT