I have temporarily misplaced my Cannes Film Festival diary, so the tenth and final entry must wait (for the first Cannes entry, click here).
In the meantime, let’s talk poker. A new poker-themed thriller, Runner Runner, comes out this autumn starring Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake, and a terrific-sounding documentary, Bet Raise Fold, has its premiere at the Palms casino on Wednesday. I’m just back from a successful five days in Vegas during the World Series of Poker, so to get you in the mood, here’s my insider’s guide to the best places to play:
There may be greater places to gamble than Vegas – Singapore’s two casinos take as much revenue as all the Strip’s casinos combined, while Macau takes in seven times as much – but there is no better place to play poker. There are 30-plus different rooms, running the gamut from tourist crap-shoots to high-stakes games for hardened pros, and at the lower stakes it’s almost guilt-inducingly easy to make money: most people are hobby players, home-game regulars who fancy their chances in a proper poker room, but don’t mind blowing a few hundred bucks over a free beer or three.
I’ve been to Vegas eight times now, and have played in pretty much every poker room, usually ending the week in profit. This is a two-part guide to the 12 best:
Aria (centre Strip): The poker room here is close to perfection, purpose-built just a few years back when the Aria opened, ultra-comfortable and with friendly and efficient staff. It attracts good players, rather than drunken fish, but it’s worth going nonetheless just to play some proper poker in a professional environment. Tournaments: daily $125 at 1pm and 7pm.
Bellagio (centre Strip): Despite its 30 tables, you have to wait a long time for a 1-3, no matter the time of day. On the plus side, the standard for 1-3 or even 2-5 is not that high, as the real pros are playing 5-10, 10-20, or “The Big Game” in Bobby’s Room where Devilfish told me he had once won a million in three days. (NB: Mind you, I’ve watched the Big Game at Starworld’s Poker King room in Macau, and written about it in Condé Nast Traveller: there you can win or lose a million in a single pot!) Nice, busy atmosphere, quick service, mostly friendly crowd. Tournaments: daily at 2pm: Mon-Thur $125, Fri-Sat $545, Sun $335.
Binion’s (Downtown): On Fremont Street in the happier, cheaper, sleazier Downtown area, Binion’s was the original home of the WSOP, and was freshened up a few years back with a new ten-table poker pit (tournaments are held upstairs, where there is more space but less atmosphere). Players are mostly old-timers, but underestimate these grizzled veterans at your peril. Do make sure you buy a FOOTBALL OF BEER (that’s two pints of beer, served in a receptacle shaped like an American football) from the outdoor frozen cocktail bar a few doors up, and tip the serving girls well — seemingly they can’t afford clothes. Tournaments: daily at 10am ($60), 2pm ($80 weekdays, $125 weekends), 8pm ($60).
Caesar’s (centre Strip): A lot of rich Eurotrash of varying playing standard, the odd perma-tanned trophy wife, and some decent players. The 25-table poker room is sealed off from the casino floor, and so can feel rather bland and soulless, until the dancing girls file through the room on their way to perform. There’s an extra room for tournaments, which can attract more runners than anywhere outside the Venetian. Tournaments: daily at 9am ($70), 12noon ($110), 4pm ($70), 7pm ($110), 10pm ($85). Also Sat-Sun 2pm ($235).
Mandalay Bay (south Strip): The poker room is nothing special — ten tables, friendly, soft players — but it is relaxing, and I include it because the casino itself is one of my favourites. It’s discreetly upscale, with a terrific vodka bar guarded by a giant headless statue of Lenin: you’ll find his head frozen, like Walt Disney’s (apocryphally), in the ice room inside. The tournaments, however, are as random as the low buy-ins suggest. Tournaments: daily at 10am ($40), 1pm ($60), 3pm ($50), 6pm ($50), 9pm ($60), 11pm ($60).