The World Series of Poker is the big attraction for poker players, who have swarmed to Vegas this month from all over the world (if you want to see global diversity, this is the place), but I was stunned at the number of entrants in simultaneous tournaments elsewhere. The other day, while 2,800 were beginning a three-day WSOP event at the Rio, another 700 were playing in the Venetian’s noon tournament, and another 600 or so were going at it in a tournament at Caesar’s. Those numbers don’t include hundreds playing in smaller tournaments in other poker rooms, or the thousands sitting in live cash games everywhere in town. If you couldn’t find a game you like here, you just weren’t looking.
You’ll notice I didn’t mention Bellagio, which used to be the place to go for serious poker players. No longer. It has become too crowded (the wait for a seat can be over 90 minutes), the games aren’t as good, and the floor staff offers virtually no customer service without blatantly putting their hand out for a tip. I was treated much better, and found much more pleasant poker environments, in the newly expanded poker rooms at Caesar’s, the Venetian, and the Wynn. Even the MGM Grand has increased its poker footprint, but the room is right next to a bar that blasts its music at such high volume you can barely hear the other players at your table (in fact, the dealers put out cards that say “all-in” and “call” so you know what’s going on visually, since the aural component is overwhelming). Incidentally, you can call any of those rooms to get on the waiting list for a game, except for the Bellagio, which won’t put you on the list until you show up in person. It’s typical of a place that was number one for too long and forgot it was in the business of keeping customers happy.
While passing some slots players at the MGM Grand last night, I heard a woman exclaim, “I won, and I don’t even know how!”
That must be a common occurrence. I challenge anyone to walk up to a modern slot machine, with its video screen full of animation instead of reels, and explain what you need to win. There’s a fleet of programmers developing new software every day — often tied to a movie, TV show, video game, or other product placement — that includes so many lines, icons, graphics, and sound effects that it’s impossible to understand what constitutes a positive outcome.
In essence, the machines work on one simple premise. You put your money in, push the button (there’s no arm to pull anymore), and wait for it to tell you to play again. It never says you lost, only invites you to try again. Of course, even winners do play again, especially since there’s no coin drop. Your rare winnings become new credits, which remain in the machine to be played until you print out a coupon for whatever money you have left. And they know what you’re not going to print that coupon out right away — you’re going to keep pushing that button, thus keeping the lights on and the casino employees paid.
Best bathroom in town: under the gaming floor at Caesar’s Palace, down the escalators opposite the doors of the Colosseum amphitheater. The bathroom was clearly built for the crowds who need to freshen up after being swathed in diva-ness by Cher or Bette Midler or Elton John. I found it during the day on a break from a tournament (the men’s room nearest the poker room was far too crowded), and was surprised to be alone in a marble room surrounded by sculptures and murals of Roman gods on the walls and stall doors. It also has the nicest sink I’ve ever used in a public bathroom.
Worst bathroom in town: next to the Chinese restaurant slash donut place at the Four Queens. I took my wife downtown to show her the Fremont Street Experience and some of the oldtime Vegas casinos. Stepping one foot into this bathroom, I knew that leaving my waste there would be redundant.