As I've made and refined this list over time, the items that make a great poker room are starting to crystallize in my mind. In order of importance:
A. Number of players - Loosely translating to 'action', the number of players the room attracts is the biggest factor. You can have a pretty room with 40 tables in it, but if there's only a single $4-$8 LHE game going, you're not gonna be high on my list.
B. The games being spread - Rooms that spread mixed games get a higher priority because it means that the managers understand poker and cater to their clients. It helps that I love to play games other than Hold'Em.
C. Comfort of players - How far apart are the tables spaced? Are the chairs comfortable? Are the drink waitresses attentive?
D. Physical aspects of the room - Is the room large or small? Noisy? Hard to get to? Is it pretty to look at?
E. Employee professionalism - Does the brush desk do a good job maintaining the lists? Are the dealers competent and professional?
That said, here's THE LIST:
1. The Commerce Casino - Los Angeles, CA
The biggest poker room in the world with 240+ tables. When I walked into the Commerce for the first time, I came in through the wrong entrance into the high limit room. I didn't realize it though, until I saw people playing with bundles of $5,000 in cash! And there were 45 tables of those! Add to that the ability to get any game at any limit at any hour, plus legendary table-side food service, and you have an unbeatable poker experience. When I left Commerce at 4:00am on a Tuesday morning, I railed Cyndi Violette from 3 feet away playing $100/$200 stud. Where else but at the Commerce?
2. The Venetian - Las Vegas, NV
The Venetian isn’t the biggest poker room out there. It doesn’t have the best variety of games. It doesn’t have the best brush desk or comps. What it *does* have is the best looking poker room in the U.S. The room is large and spacious, with lots of room in between tables and very comfy chairs. The tables are top quality as well as the chips. There is a good selection of No Limit and middle Limit games, unfortunately skewed towards Hold’Em. There is a pretty decent meal menu served at your table, with space to actually eat properly. The dealers are competent and the players are relatively friendly. To top it off, the quality of play leans towards the atrocious, which makes the room easy pickings if you’re keeping your limits on the low side.
3. The Borgata – Atlantic City, NJ
This is the premier poker room on the east coast with an enormous room (85+ tables) and a huge variety of games to choose from. On any given Saturday night, you can find NLHE ranging from $1-$2 all the way up to $25-$50 or higher. Limit games range from $2-$4 Hold’em all the way to $300-$600 Hold’em. Mixed games are on the menu too, with a rollicking $10-$20 Stud/8-Omaha/8 going off each weekend regularly with a must move table. The tables are top quality and the brush desk does their best, even if they can sometimes be overwhelemed by the sheer volume of players. The room loses points on their chips, though. Rather than the standard clay chips most rooms use, the Borgata opted for a plastic chip which retains it’s shine but is hard to handle. Players frequently complain that the chips are hard to stack and do chip tricks with. A small complaint, but one of those things that annoys me every time I’m there. Play at the 1-2 and 2-5 NLHE games is loose and aggressive.
4. Hawaiian Gardens - Los Angeles, CA
Similar to Commerce in size, if a bit less classy. A gargantuan sized room with 180+ tables covered by what appears to be a large tent-like structure. The 'Gardens' had all of the attractions of Commerce (large size, lots of players, lots of games), but the place was just a little bit dirtier and a little more chaotic. Still, I was bowled over the first time I stepped in and there's everything you need to play a good game here.
5. The Bellagio – Las Vegas, NV
Ground Zero for many professionals in Vegas. As a result, many visitors seek it out in order to rub elbows with the pros and maybe spot a famous face or two playing in ‘Bobby’s Room’. Middle Limit players will find soft games here but
6. The Bicycle Casino - Los Angeles, CA
Completing the triumverate of Los Angeles poker (along with Commerce and Hawaiian Gardens), the 'Bike' is a another very large room with 135 tables. Unlike it's larger brothers, though, the Bike is probably the most plush and well appointed rooms in the world, and certainly the nicest in LA. Which is why it was puzzling that the room was nearly 3/4 empty when I visited. Granted it was a weekday, but Commerce and Hawaiian Gardens were bursting at the seams on the weekday I visited them. I asked the locals why the place was so empty and I was informed that management was being less then nice to the regular customers. Couldn't get any more details. Despite that, this remains an incredible room and they had 100+ people for a $100 buyin midnight tourney on a Tuesday night! That would *never* happen in Atlantic City, or maybe even in Vegas.
7. Casear’s Palace – Las Vegas, NV
The unique feature of this room is it’s location. Instead of being in a walled off area on the casino floor, like most rooms, this one has it’s own separate area BEHIND the sports book. When I say behind, I mean you have to go through a tunnel to get there. It’s completely isolated from the casino floor and is the quietest room in the city as a result. The players tend to be on the friendly side and the room spreads more than just Hold’em. When I was there, I played in a $1-$3 PLO game that lasted for a few hours and was hugely entertaining. There is an enormous area adjacent to the poker room that is used for tournaments and is a good place to hobnob quietly with famous players when a celebrity tourney is going on.
8. The Horseshoe Casino - Hammond, Indiana
The only riverboat casino on the list, the Horseshoe defies all expectations of a riverboat poker room. It's a big room and plushly furnished, with booths to spare for folks to drink in if they're not playing. And the action is INSANE. I asked if they had an Omaha game going and they told me they had 4 tables. Not bad for a room of maybe 35 tables. But there wasn't a limit game going. It was all Pot Limit Omaha. Furthermore, it was 3 tables of 5-10 PLO and one table of 10-25 PLO! Wow. It seems this is the closest room to Chicago where real action is spread.
9. Taj Mahal – Atlantic City, NJ
Yes, it’s gone downhill recently. Yes, it’s dirty and chaotic. Yes, it badly needs to attract younger players. But the grand dame of Atlantic City poker rooms still has a lot to offer. Aside from a dizzying array of games geared towards middle limit players, there is an active low limit Omaha and Stud community that plays here. Tournaments here are a real affair and the room still impresses with it’s size. You have to stay on top of the brush desk though, because it’s impossible to hear your name being called over the loudspeaker and they *will* give away your seat in a heartbeat. The chips need a cleaning, desperately, but the tables are being upgraded and are actually pretty good nowadays.
10. Mohegan Sun – Uncasville, CT
I first saw this room in February 2009, when I scored big in the Winter Chill Tournament, Event #1. At the time, the room was pretty great, but overly loud due to it's open exposure to the casino floor. I re-visited the room a few months later to find that they've fixed the issue with an enormous stained glass partition. The noise level is now very comfortable and the room is worthy of the space. It's a large room with very high ceilings and about 35 tables spread out nicely. The dealers are competent, but still learning, and reports of tip-trolling continue to trickle in. I'd love to see Omaha games go off here, like they do at Foxwoods down the road, but overall, the room is jelling quite nicely. Best part about the room, the incredibly bad players make profit a practical given.
A. MGM Grand – Las Vegas, NV
I actually detest the layout of this room. The tables are spread out around a circular club in the center of the casino. Because the tables are spread circularly, you can’t see to the other end of the room, which feels odd somehow. Also, the club is LOUD and frequently drowns out all other sound. The room is on the list, though, for the action the players give. The room attracts a lot of high rolling young bangers who insist the way to take down a pot is to keep betting until the other person folds. Players playing NLHE stand to make a lot of money off of these hyper-aggressive donkeys. The tables have a strange marble racetrack around them, which is an awful choice because it makes your wrists cold! Other than that, this is a perfectly functional room known for it’s action.
B. Foxwoods, Ledyard, CT
The Foxwoods poker room gets a mention for it's size (~100 tables) and it's ability to get Omaha games going. That's pretty much it. The room, if you want to call it that, is a sprawling space set up in a large empty area in a corner of the casino. It isn't a poker room so much as an awkward place under a stairwell that the powers that be decided wouldn't normally get a lot of foot traffic. The tables don't have any particular order to them and spill out of a room with very low ceilings and dark lighting towards the windows. That said, there is plenty of action and some high limit games too. Worth a visit, but I like Mohegan Sun better as a poker experience. Oh, and the brush desk at Foxwoods sucks. I've never seen more disinterested people and good luck hearing your name called. They cleared my name off the list because I didn't respond within 5 seconds of my initials being called over the tinny loudspeaker.
C. Red Rock Casino, Las Vegas, NV
A hidden gem on the outskirts of the city, this treasure has a beautifully appointed poker room that’s begging for attention. This room would rank much higher if it was actually near the Strip. The tables, chips, chairs rank up with the Venetian and all types of games are spread in their 40+ table room. When I visited there was an $8-$16 mixed limit game going that included Badugi and Razz! The casino is exceptionally clean and new and everything just sparkles with class. It’s quite a shame that it isn’t more well known and that it’s about 20 minutes west of the main casinos.
D. The Wynn – Las Vegas, NV
This is one of the premier hotel properties in the world and walking through the hotel is an experience in itself. It’s too bad they couldn’t spare some room for poker though. The room is dark and on the small side. However, it is run by a first class staff who knows their stuff. They spread a bunch of middle limit games which go off on a regular basis as well as a juicy and soft $10-$20 Omaha/8 game which I was fortunate enough to play and score in. The room could use an expansion and more lighting, but is otherwise first class all the way. If there was one room that I could see some billionaire gentlemen playing in, this would be it.
E. The Orleans – Las Vegas, NV
By far the dirtiest poker room on the list. The Orleans is off the strip, and it shows. At least there’s no smoking in the poker room! But what the room lacks in cleanliness, it more than makes up for in pure enjoyment. The room is surprisingly large, with at least 85+ tables. Half of the tables are used for tourneys and there is a significant demand for the others for cash games. In addition to the numerous $1-$2 and $2-$5 NLHE games going on, as well as low limit HE games, the casino is *the* place in Vegas for Omaha. There is a regular $80 buyin Omaha Hi/Lo tourney that goes off twice a week and regularly gets 75+ players. In addition, there are multiple Omaha Hi/Lo cash games going at any time with a few different limits. Just a fun place populated by locals who can sure tell a story or two!
F. The Showboat – Atlantic City, NJ
This room is on the small side and has a very intimate feel to it. The games are on the soft side in the $1-$2 NLHE category. Where the room excels is in their equipment (beautiful tables, chairs and chips) and in their NLHE tourneys. The tourney structures are very forgiving and you can go a long time without having to play a hand. The proximity to the Taj Mahal (you don’t even have to go outside!) is another draw Also, the room has moved from it's windowless room upstairs to a much more spacious setup on the casino floor. Much noisier now, but great views of the boardwalk and the ocean while you're playing.