Monday, December 8, 2008

Biloxi Blues (Trip report, part 4)

After I left the Belle of Baton Rouge, it was one last long drive left for me on the trip. This time to Biloxi, Mississippi. I hopped in my car early in the morning, after taking a few minutes to take a few pics of the Baton Rouge water line from the casino, and painted Hermes towards Biloxi. When I pulled up the map, I was happy to see that Hermes was taking me on a Southerly route along the water rather than the inland route north of New Orleans. It took nearly an hour to get to the water via some rather boring landscape, but the water drive along the Gulf was eye opening. It turns out that the Gulf shores of Louisiana and Mississippi are *really* nice. The views are long and pretty and there is only a hundred feet or so between the water and the road, which makes for a nice drive. My first casino stop was en route, the Silver Slipper in Bay St. Louis, MS.

I pulled down an access road amidst some very rural bay-type homes and was saddened to see some of the damage that the recent hurricanes had wrought. Some homes had been stripped down to nothing more than a few beams and a stairwell. Trees had been stripped bare of all branches. Perhaps most depressingly of all, a single home on stilts (most of the homes in the area are on stilts) with the words “DO NOT TEAR DOWN” spray painted on the front. This is an area that’s been hit hard by hurricane damage and it’s impossible not to feel for the locals.

I pulled into the driveway of the Silver Slipper, which sits directly on the water in the middle of nowhere. Next to the casino is a marina with some honest to goodness shrimping boats, straight out of Forrest Gump. I took a few pictures, taking care not to attract the attention of the salty looking workers who were on the boats in the lazy sunny morning. Inside the casino, which was exceedingly clean and friendly, was a small 5 table poker room with very nice people who were playing 1-4-8 spread limit Hold’em. I played for an hour, jawing with the crowd and getting a nice feel of the place before hitting the road again.

Just down the road from the Silver Slipper is the Hollywood Casino. Not quite as nice as the Silver Slipper with another small 5 table toom, this one stuck in a corner. I played 30 minutes of more spread limit poker (hey it’s on a weekday in the afternoon) and got out of there.

An hour later, I was in Gulfport, Mississippi and at the Isle View casino. The Isle View is a large-ish and nice place with a 9 table room in a spacious area with high ceilings. I would have played longer there had I had the time. As is, once again, I was stuck playing Limit poker. I could have waited for a No Limit table but there was only one going and it was full. I had a fun time at this table and I heard one of the funniest lines of the trip. When I showed down a hand for the win, I said, “Third Nuts”. My opponent said, “Bird Nuts?”. It was good for a laugh.

The drive from Gulfport to Biloxi, about an hour, was especially memorable along the water. This area, known as the ‘Redneck Riviera’ in some circles, had especially beautiful antebellum mansions built all along the coast and viewable from the road. These large old southern homes, gazing out on the water with unobstructed views, were simply magnificent. One of them, as I found out when I took a closer look, was known as the “Southern White House”, as it was a popular getaway for the Trumans when they took vacation on the Gulf.

I finally made it to Biloxi and pulled up to the garage of the Imperial Palace, where I would be staying for the next 3 days. The IP bears absolutely NO resemblance to the IP in Vegas. The Vegas IP, while centrally located, is an old and smoky dump of a place (no matter how many mixed games they play in the poker room!). The IP in Biloxi, on the other hand, is new and magnificent and clean and beautiful and chic. Kind of like the Borgata, except smaller and multiple levels. The restaurants were chic, including an asian place that had a unique entrance-way. There was a constant shroud of fog being blown down like a curtain and a laser would etch the name of the restaurant on the fog surface like a floating sign. You would walk *through* the fog to get inside, which made it seem very mysterious and cool. The food, unfortunately, didn’t match the d├ęcor. While it was perfectly fine, the prices made it seem like it would be much better. But when you’re deep in Mississippi, Pad Thai passes for REALLY exotic cuisine. The joys of New York, I suppose.

I checked into my room and immediately found an issue when there was a big ozone machine going full blast. Turns out my room had been smoked in and the ozone was how they got rid of the smell. A quick trip down to the front desk and I was put into another fine room with a great view of the city of Biloxi.

Biloxi is set up like a grid, with the IP standing tall on the north end, by the inland bay, and the Beau Rivage standing on the Gulf Coast on the south end, maybe a mile away. Along the edges of the bay and the gulf were a few other casinos, but the Beau Rivage and the IP are definitely the two brothers of the city. The Beau is actually more like the glamorous older brother and the IP is kind of like the scrappy younger brother. In between, in the city, is absolutely nothing but residences for a whole square mile. I mean there is NOTHING to do in Biloxi other than the casinos. Not recommended for a long trip, for sure.

I high-tailed it to the poker room where I found a nice setup of about a dozen tables with a few of them in action. They spread the general 1-2NL and 4-8 LHE with an Omaha table going twice a week (more on that later). I played a little NL and then my curiosity got the better of me. It was time to go looking at the other poker rooms.

I managed to see all the poker rooms in the city in about 3 hours. Sams Town, which has a western theme, was the worst one. 5 tables and smoking allowed. Blech. This continues to support my theory that western themed casinos are by far the worst kind. The Isle of Capri had 9 tables and a nice local vibe though there wasn’t much action going. In any city I’ve been to, incidentally, I’ve always like the Isle of Capri casino chain. They run a good operation. The Hard Rock, next to the Beau Rivage, was like all Hard Rocks. Smallish, loud and catering the the youngun’s. From what I heard, the small 5 table poker room has some of the biggest action in town but it’s one of the worst locations I’ve ever seen for a poker room. There’s a long-ish corridor leading to the entrance of the casino and when you get to the entrance, a wave of noise hits you like a slap in the face. That’s where the poker room is, almost at the end of a funnel of noise. And very small on top of it. I hear the Hard Rock room in Vegas sucks too, continuing a trend. It’s odd too, that the best Hard Rock poker room I’ve seen is in Hollywood, FL, where they don’t even play real No Limit!

By far, the best poker room, and hotel, in Biloxi is the Beau Rivage. This is certainly the Grande Dame of Biloxi hotels and it was modeled on the Bellagio in Vegas (same owners). The room is about 18 tables and has plenty of action, day or night. Everyone was nice, from the players to the dealers to the waitresses, and the chairs were the absolute best I’ve ever sat in after 120 poker rooms. They were similar to Aeron chairs, if they were padded, and they had pneumatic action on them for a comfortable shock absorbtion. Outstanding.

A word about the comps in Mississippi: Fantastic. For the three days I stayed in Biloxi, I didn’t pay for any food in the poker room. Twice, I had $15 meals that were comped after I had only been playing for about an hour. They didn’t even check my card. They just took my order and when I asked how much they said, “don’t worry, it’s comped”. Crazy. The food was pretty good too. For one of my meals, at the Beau, I had a really decent Pastrami on Rye with a chocolate covered strawberry (huge and delish) for desert. All gratis. Also, at the IP, if you played 4-8 O/8 for two hours, you got $25 in cash! Wow. Considering a starting stack in that game is $125, that’s a serious profit motivator. Not to be outdone, the IP had a thing where if you played any regular raked poker game prior to a tournament, you would get an additional 250 in chips for every hour you played up to 1000 in chips. This for a tourney with a starting stack of 2500. Sweet advantage. Not to be outdone, the Beau had a free $500 drawing promotion where you’d get a free ticket every hour you played. You just had to be there for the drawings, which happened every few hours. These are insanely good comps compared to the measly $1 an hour you get in Atlantic City.

As far as poker went, I did pretty well in Biloxi. It’s a small town and there are a lot of locals, so I got to see most of the same people over the next three nights. My highlights were a $250 win at 1-2 NLHE (a set of 3’s doubled me up) and chopping for first in a 40 player tourney. It was actually a 5 way chop for first, but I wasn’t complaining. After being first in chips most of the way through, I doubled up two opponents on bad beats (my QQ vs. JT and my AK vs. KQ). At that point, everyone was about even so we decided to chop it. I made about $300 in profit on that one.

Biloxi was a fine place to visit, and I really liked the Beau Rivage, but I doubt I’d go back. Just not enough to do between poker sessions.

My next and final stop on my southern tour was New Orleans, which featured two poker rooms and a visit from Ali who would spend the rest of the weekend with me in the grand city.

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