Las Vegas is nicknamed "Sin City" for a reason. Whether you're in town for a bachelor party, convention, or a poker tournament, at some point one of your friends will blurt out, "Let's go to a strip club!".
Some players prefer tournaments, but for this article, I will just focus on cash games. Back in the day, the biggest cash games were at the Dunes, then at the Mirage, before migrating to the Bellagio, then the Wynn, and eventually to Aria. Not everyone has a monster bankroll, but that's what is awesome about Vegas because it's a town that caters to all kinds of gamblers from amateurs who just learned how to play to grizzled professionals.
Here are some of my favorite poker rooms in Las Vegas…
Going downtown to Binion's is like visiting Mecca for poker players. Binion's is where the World Series of Poker began; it's where Johnny Moss and Nick the Greek played their legendary heads-up match. For several decades, Binion's hosted the biggest cash games in the world. Because of its location in the heart of dingy downtown Las Vegas, Binion's doesn't attract as many casual players as it could if it were situated on the Strip.
However, you still get a mix of elderly locals that smell like Ben Gay, drunken tourists in Hawaiian shirts, and hardcore poker geeks paying homage to one of the most renowned card rooms in the history of poker. The bad news is that downtown still smells like a wet dog that rolled around in a puddle of urine. The good news is that Binion's remodeled their poker room with comfortable seating and the walls are adorned with photographs celebrating the history of poker.
There are only ten tables and they spread low-limit hold'em and low-stakes NL. If you go to Vegas a lot but only hang out on the Strip, then you should pay your respects to Binion's and play in their Midnight tournament, which attracts some of the most flavorful characters you'll ever come face-to-face with.
If you've never been to Vegas, you have to take at least one trip downtown to see where it all began.
The Aria is part of the City Center monstrosity. It almost looks too fancy for my tastes, but the poker room is the current locale for the biggest action in the Western Hemisphere.
The Aria created a special private room specifically for Phil Ivey. Although Ivey rarely plays in Vegas these days, there's almost always a $300/$600 mixed game going on. If you're a low-roller, not to fear because the Aria spreads multiple $1/$3 NL and $2/$5 NL tables. If you're an action junkie, then Aria is the place to be because they also offer up PLO.
Locals prefer the Aria because of its hourly rate comps, while tourists like it because they can play a friendly game while catching a glimpse of one of those “pros you might see on TV.” In addition, the Aria has plenty of daily tournaments with deep stacks and long structures that make even the biggest nits content.
The Aria is still relatively new which means the staff is extra nice. Out of all the poker rooms on the Strip, the Aria is probably the best run. The only downside is the fact that the room is somewhat small with only 24 tables, which means you'll have to wait a while during peak hours to get a seat.
The poker room at Caesar's Palace is located off the casino floor which is good because it separates you from the circus-like atmosphere of the Strip. The poker room is divided into a couple of sections including a high roller area and a spacious room specifically utilized for tournaments and private events. Caesar's Palace is smack in the heart of Las Vegas Blvd., which means it's the crossroads of the entire city.
The poker room has 25 tables and attracts both locals and tourists, so there's always a proper balance of good and bad players. The NL tables are always juicy because there's no maximum buy-in for their $2/$5 NL game.
The only drawback is that the poker room is hidden away behind the sports book, so you cannot actually sweat any games while playing cards. Caesar's also runs six daily tournaments with varying buy-ins from $70 to $235, so you have plenty of variety to choose from.
When I used to live in Vegas, I loved playing at the Wynn because the poker room was very close to the parking garage. Locals never had to walk very far from their car to the poker room and vice versa. The Wynn is one of the swankiest casinos in all of Vegas and the poker room reflects that elegance.
Don't be fooled by the opulent setting because the room is filled with very bad poker players. The Wynn is a luxury hotel so most of the clientele is upscale with lots of disposable income to gamble with, which makes them the perfect marks at the poker table.
The Wynn has approximately 25 tables and it can get claustrophobic during peak hours. However, the bad players make up for the cramped spacing. The Wynn features a $5/$10 NL game that doesn't have a cap.
The Wynn also has amazing hot chocolate, which is an added bonus during the winter months or whenever the air conditioning is cranked up on full blast.
The Bellagio used to be the epicenter of poker during the height of the boom almost a decade ago. When the poker room was remodeled in 2005, the new design featured Bobby's Room, a private room encased in glass where Bobby Baldwin hosted the Big Game. Bobby and his friends engaged in some of the biggest nosebleed games in the world. Regulars at Bobby's Room included Doyle Brunson, Phil Ivey, Jen Harman, Johnny Chan, Sammy Farha, Gus Hansen, and Lyle Berman.
One of the coolest things about playing at the Bellagio was that even if you were playing low-stakes, you could still peek into the room and watch the biggest names in poker battle it out. These days, the Big Game doesn't run as frequently as the high-stakes cash games moved down the street to the Aria. The Bellagio used to spread a juicy $15/$30 LHE game, but those middle-stakes limit games are tough to find.
These days, Bellagio has a $10/$20 LHE or $20/$40 LHE game, but those are difficult to crack. The Bellagio has anywhere from 35-40 tables, yet caters more to middle-stakes players like their uber-popular $10/$20 NL game and a rare $20/$40 Stud game. If you're looking for a low-limit table on the weekends, you might have to wait a while.
I get asked about poker rooms all the time. It's really hard to give someone a specific answer, because much like playing poker, it all “depends” on the situation. What constitutes a good poker room? I'm looking for terrible players with deep pockets, comfortable seats, good and quick dealers, and a knowledgeable floor staff to adjudicate disputes in a swift, fair manner.
Buffets and Las Vegas go hand-in-hand. Buffets represent the best and worst aspects of our self-indulgent culture of overconsumption. If you like to people watch, then a trip to the buffet is like a National Geographic special – spending time in the wildlife watching lions in the Serengeti feast on gazelles.
You're in downtown Las Vegas and either got really drunk and a taxi dropped you off there, or you opted to let your friend book a cheap vacation and ended up at one of the many seedy no-tell motels on East Fremont. Well do not fear, I have a couple of things you can do while you're slumming in Downtown Vegas…
When I was a kid, my parents told me they saw Elvis Presley perform in Las Vegas, so from a very young age I associated Las Vegas with musical spectacles and over-the-top performances. The King has been dead for several decades, but the modern-day headliners in Sin City are still heavyweights like Celine Dion and Elton John.
An entire culture in Las Vegas exists around pool parties. There's been a big push to capitalize on "day clubs" or massive gatherings poolside with lots of booze, lots of skin, and lots of loud music.
Las Vegas is one of the few places in America in which you can legally place a sports bet. You don't have to worry about getting scammed by an offshore book or dealing with shady local bookies. If you're a fan of any major sport or horse racing, you'll be able to wager on the outcome at different sports books in Las Vegas.
If you're visiting Las Vegas for an extended period of time, you might want to break up your holiday by scheduling a side trip. Las Vegas is a pretty crazy place and excessive indulgence has ruined too many people, which is why you sometimes need a vacation away from your Las Vegas vacation.
We've all hit the low point at some point in Las Vegas when you ran bad and lost all your money, whether it was the bad end of variance at the poker table or an annoying dealer cold-decked you at blackjack.