With more than three million visitors coming to town every month, the Las Vegas poker pond is constantly being restocked with new fish of all stripes and varieties. There are the minnows, young newbies just looking to learn the game and happy to pay for lessons. They are joined by the hooked home party players who want to test their skills at the “real” waters of poker rooms like they’ve seen on TV and in movies.
Whales abound in the desert, too—high-rollers looking to make a killing by bullying opponents with money they can afford to lose. And players who have been successful online in virtual poker rooms want to see how their talents translate from bits and bytes to bricks and mortar. In short, Las Vegas offers the best opportunities in the world for sharks, but where exactly is the angling best?
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Stick to the Strip
Almost everyone agrees that the poker rooms inside the hotels lining Las Vegas Boulevard are the finest fishing holes in town. That’s where the tourists are. That’s where the money is. And that’s where smart money becomes big money each and every day.
The easiest of all fish to catch are the drunken ones, the loud ones and the colorfully dressed ones. As visitors intent on partying, they don’t pay close attention to their cards. They like be seen where it’s trendy as well, with lots of people around. So although the $1/2 cash games of the Mirage or Caesars Palace offer plenty of opportunity to encounter inexperienced players, there is much more to be won at the $4/8 tables of the MGM Grand, Bellagio, Venetian and Wynn, which are stocked just as nicely.
Also, because the action goes on 24/7, the best fishing isn’t only at night. Ring games (cash games) feature seating non-stop, with crowds increasing after daily tournaments, when losers look to win back their entry fees with fresh buy-ins. Many of the casinos offer “free poker lessons” during the day, too, and the newly instructed schools of fish swim straight to the tables to become part of the food chain.
More Fishing Spots
Off-Strip Las Vegas poker rooms attract their fair share of poker fish, too, playing the tourist angle to the hilt. Downtown, there’s Binion’s, the original home of the World Series of Poker (WSOP) along with the Golden Nugget, where the television show “High Stakes Poker” was taped.
Camera-toting visitors flock to the Rio to see the actual venue of the current WSOP events, while those heading across Flamingo Road to the Palms want a look at the home for TV’s “Celebrity Poker Showdown.” Meanwhile, Hooters’ “live action” poker room on Tropicana has a reputation for distraction that attracts lots of testosterone-fueled players.
Some would say there is no particular “fishing season” in Las Vegas, but when a major convention is in town, it typically stocks the rooms of the nearby resorts. The Las Vegas Hotel (LVH, formerly the Hilton) is near the town’s main Convention Center; the Palazzo is adjacent to the Sands Convention Center, and the Mandalay Bay has a huge trade complex, too, as do several of the other Strip hotels.
In the evening, the poker rooms at Red Rock Casino, South Point, Sam’s Town and the Orleans can offer excellent fishing, especially when they host major events, such as big name concerts. That gives tourists reason to travel beyond the comfort zones of the Strip and downtown. Otherwise, such “locals casinos” should probably be avoided.
Beware of the Locals
In fact, for those who would rather feast on fish than become a meal for bottom feeders, it is best to stay away from places that attract a lot of Las Vegas residents. The farther away from the Las Vegas Boulevard they are, the more likely the poker rooms will have a well-established local clientele—players who are at the tables day in and day out and just love taking money from strangers.
When locals go fishing at tourist haunts, they are usually rather easy to identify. They will be dressed comfortably for grinding, not as if on vacation in flip-flops or in club wear for a night on the town. They will probably be alone and won’t chat up other players or staff. They’ll almost never go on tilt.
Of course, literally dozens of professionals make their home in Las Vegas, from WSOP bracelet winners, like Phil Ivey and Doyle Brunson, to lesser known ring game specialists, such as Benjamin Fineman or David “Viffer” Peat. Others travel in regularly from other states to find prey. Listening to the whispers of bystanders often provides a tip-off as to when a known shark is at the table. That’s a good time to cash out and go elsewhere. After all, there is no lack of fishing spots in Las Vegas.