My fascination with the game of poker traces back to 2003 and the time I spent a wild Las Vegas night in The Real World Suite at The Palms. I had an assignment to write about the 2,900-square-foot penthouse where MTV filmed its trend-setting reality show back in 2002. Cost per night: $7,500. I had 24 hours to enjoy the rooms, the full kitchen, the aquarium, the pool table the show-biz mystique.
Problem was, the previous guest was late checking out. My photographer buddy and I waited in the lobby. And waited. Hours passed before we were cleared to take ownership. A maid confided to us that it was a celebrity, Justin Timberlake, who’d taken his sweet time exiting the suite.
At our check-out time it seemed fair to reclaim the lost hours clocked by JT. So, we racked up the pool table and flicked on the TV. And there it was: Televised poker. They’d just come up with the idea to place cameras on the tables so viewers could see players’ hole cards. It was fascinating. I was mesmerized. When we could no longer ignore hotel staff beating on the door, we took our leave—but I was hooked.
Soon after, I summoned the nerve to sit down at a poker table in San Diego’s Viejas Casino. Back then, they had a Learner’s Table. Blinds were as low as you could go, $1/$2, and it was a limit game. The dealers were trained to answer dumb questions. It was a lower-stress way to learn not to string bet, bet out of turn, or space out when it’s your turn to bet. Still, the first time I raked in a pot, my hands were shaking and my brow was sweating. Rookie tells, indeed.
Some 15 years later, I’m regrettably not much better as a player. But I enjoy the game—the strategy, the human drama, and, yes, the times when the river is kind and the chips come my way.
Here, then is a list of 10 Las Vegas Poker Rooms that will service your Texas Hold Em needs. There are 31 poker rooms in and around Vegas. This isn’t a checklist for high rollers. The rooms on this list will: reliably host cash games and tournaments and allow you to spend hours chasing quads, avoiding bad beats and spend quality time with kindly degenerate poker players from all over the world.
Aria Resort & Casino
Aria’s poker room is centrally located in the hotel, and even within the CityCenter complex that includes the Mandarin Oriental and the Vdara hotels. If you stay at the new Park MGM (formerly the Monte Carlo) there’s an easy-access, covered walkway that connects directly to Aria. The buy-in for $1/$3 No-Limit Hold Em (NLHE) is $100 to $300. Of the two dozen tables in the busy room, 18 are casino-floor level; the rest are up a couple steps and reserved for high rollers. One high-roller table is in what’s called Ivey’s Room (named after poker pro Phil Ivey) and is often populated with pros playing $300/$600 blinds. Tables: 24
Bellagio Las Vegas
The high-end hotel attracts players with big bankrolls, nonetheless there’s always a $1/$3 NLHE game going. If you’ve got $20,000 burning a hole in your pocket you can buy your way into a game in Bobby’s Room (named for poker pro and casino exec Bobby Baldwin). This large poker room is situated right next to the sports book, so if you get antsy at the table and want to multi-task, you can take a break and wager on the ponies or major-league sports. Tables: 36
Ah, the history. Binion’s Horseshoe, as it was formerly known, was home to the original version of the World Series of Poker. The last WSOP final table was played there in 2005; now the big event is held at Rio All-Suites and Casino Las Vegas. After a redesign in 2016, Binion’s houses just a half dozen tables. It’s a chill scene. The cool part of the new set-up is a Poker Hall of Fame display—with big photographs of pros like Johnny Chan and Phil Hellmuth up on the wall. Those were the days. Tables: 6
The medium-sized poker room is situated between The Colosseum and the Race & Sports Book, and has more energy to it than a previous location that had it at the end of a hallway. You can play $1/$2 NLHE cash game for a $100 to $300 buy-in. Caesars runs four tournaments a day, at 10 a.m., 2 p.m., 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., with buy-ins that range from $100 to $150. Tables: 16
You can buy into both $1/$2 ($100 to $300) and $1/$3 ($100 to $1,000) NLHE games here. Mandalay holds three tournaments a day, at 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 10 p.m., all for a $65 buy-in. The poker room is behind the casino’s sports book, up on a raised platform that’s surrounded by large pillars. You can’t miss the large, lighted “POKER ROOM” sign. Tables: 10
The poker room is located near the entrance to the casino, so it’s gets a lot of traffic and is usually lively. The $1/$2 ($100 to $300 buy-in) NLHE games are common; but note that the $2/$5 NLHE game has a buy-in minimum of $200 and no maximum. The tournament schedule: 11:05 a.m ($100), 2:05 p.m. (($65), 7:05 p.m. ($100), and 10:05 p.m. ($65). Tables: 13
There’s a comfortable ambiance in this large poker room at this off-strip, deal-oriented casino. It’s off to itself down at the end of a hallway next to an over-priced food court. But this folksy room is a haven for locals and tourists. The $1/$3 NLHE game has a $100 to $500 buy-in range. Daily tournaments at 12:05 p.m. and 7:05 p.m. are $80; the popular, sometimes all-night tourney is on Saturday (7:05 p.m.) with a $130 buy-in and a deep stack of $15,000 in starting chips. Tables: 35
Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino
Yes, the Rio is home to the World Series of Poker that annually draws as many as 6,000 players for the main event, but realize that the WSOP is played in the resort’s convention hall. The everyday poker room is much, much smaller. Choose between $1/$2 ($100 to $300) and $2/$3 ($200 to $1,000) NLHE games. Four daily tournaments go off at 10 a.m., 1 p.m., 4 p.m., and 9 p.m. (with $55 to $65 buy-ins) Tables: 9
The large poker room matches the opulence of the rest of the resort—with overhead crystal chandeliers and walls adorned with sconces and swatches of leather. The $1/$2 ($100 to $300) NLHE game are a mainstay. The daily tournaments are pricey—with buy-ins running from $150 up to $340. A big draw is the monthly DeepStack Extravaganzas, including the likes of a NLHE DoubleStack, with a $400 buy-in for $25,000 in tournament chips and a $100,000 payout guarantee. Tables: 37
The fancy and expansive poker room is actually located in The Wynn’s sister property, Encore. While you play, you won’t miss any of the day’s sport action, with 37 65-inch TVs up on the walls. Play $1/$3 with a buy-in from $100 up to $500. The $5/$10 action has a minimum buy-in of $1,000 and no maximum. There’s one daily tournament at noon, with buy-ins that range from $140 to $230. Tables: 28 J&J