In June of 2021, a poker player in Las Vegas was already spoiled for choice. There were four “anchor” properties – Aria, Bellagio, Venetian, and Wynn. A handful of second-tier properties – MGM, Caesars, Orleans, South Point, Golden Nugget (downtown). And who knows how many rooms with a few tables, just so they could say they had live poker. So, it would take nerve to fire up a big poker room within easy walking distance of the Wynn.
But that’s exactly what Resorts World did when they opened their doors on June 24, 2021. Just off the main casino floor, down a short hallway, sits a spanking new 30-table poker room. The jury is still out, but I believe (and hope) that Resorts World will be a big force in Las Vegas poker for years to come.
In the marketing world, you frequently hear the acronym “USP” – “Unique Selling Point” – what do we have that The Competition doesn’t? Resort World’s first USP becomes apparent even before you set foot in the door: they fully embrace the Poker Atlas player registration system. So sitting in my hotel room, I fired up the Poker Atlas app on my phone, selected the games I wanted to wait list for, and pressed “Go.” Within seconds, I could look at the waitlists and see where I was in the queue. Nary a phone call involved, and I knew exactly how many people were in front of me for seats.
In 2023, when we can use our phones to buy IBM stock, book a flight to Amsterdam, or place a bet on the Lakers, getting on a poker room waitlist should never be harder than that. And yet Resorts World is one of only three Las Vegas rooms to use the Poker Atlas system (Westgate and Sahara, both third-tier rooms, are the other two).
Physically speaking, the Resorts World poker room is perfectly placed, for my taste. It’s a hundred feet from the casino floor, so convenient to reach and near restaurants, but far enough removed to be away from the noise, chaos, and (let’s be honest) smoke in the pit.
The room has “north Strip” real estate sensibilities. The Bellagio and Aria are smack in the middle of the Strip, so every square foot of floor space is invaluable. Jason Somerville once remarked, “They built a poker TV studio (PokerGo at Aria) on the most expensive dirt in the state?!?!?” This is reflected in the poker tables being jammed up next to each other, and tight fits for players, cocktail servers, and everybody else. The Wynn and Resorts World can both be reasonably viewed as the northern outposts of the Strip proper. Dirt may be a bit less expensive, so tables at Resorts World, even though there are 30 of them, are generously spaced. The room, like the Wynn, has a bright, open feel – I like to think this is the future of the best poker rooms.
The chairs are, indeed, comfortable, the tables well-appointed, including Poker Atlas’s Table Captain software. This allows dealers to request chips, cocktail service, even a food menu, with the press of a button. It shouldn’t seem like a big deal (we’re not talking technological rocket science here) but it’s, well, it’s a USP for Resorts World.
The staff at Resorts World is top-notch, almost all of them veterans of other premier Vegas properties, so they know their business.
Getting on your feet is hard
I remember my days of trying to sell California legislators on online poker, and explaining the concept of “liquidity” to them. A blackjack game needs exactly one player to run, and that seems to be the model that many people understand about “gambling.” Poker, as we all know, requires a bunch of people. And importantly, the more people you have, the more games you have going. Which brings in more people. Which produces more games, and up goes the spiral.
The problem, of course, is bootstrapping that liquidity. You have to get players to leave their “home court,” whether that be the Wynn, Orleans, or Palace Station, and come settle into your chairs. They have to come on the knowledge that there’s one game going and a decent list for the next game. That once the day matures a bit, there will be a handful of games going from which to pick. This is the challenge that Resorts World management and the poker team accepted, and it’s a slog.
Poker players, like the rest of humanity, are resistant to change, and often just drive or Lyft to the place they’ve been going to every week (or every Vegas vacation) for years. Furthermore, the realities of “post-COVID” staffing make it tough on the new kid. When I was there, they sometimes couldn’t open a new cash game table because they didn’t have enough dealers. Or the promised food delivery from the restaurants couldn’t happen because the restaurants didn’t have enough people to bring it.
This is the world that we have now, and we need to learn to live in it. But I certainly understand the frustration of somebody sitting in the poker room, seeing that they’re 8/20 on the $1/3 waitlist, a dozen empty tables, and wondering, “Well, why in the Resorts World isn’t there a new $1/3 game starting?”
A study in contrasts
The Resorts World poker room is architected and structured to be one of the preeminent rooms in Las Vegas. Its location isn’t as dead center as Bellagio or Aria, but the Wynn does just fine. Opening a massive resort into the twilight of the worst of the COVID pandemic can’t have been an easy decision, and no doubt the poker room has suffered along with that. But man, there’s so much to love. The people running the place are polite, efficient, and good at their jobs. There’s even a pour-your own soda machine and a roll-your-own espresso machine.
They are running promotions and tournaments to drive liquidity, and doing lots to support poker (e.g. there was a series of ladies tournaments running while I was there). They’re also vlogger-friendly, which is good for all of us. Again, I’m rooting for them – they’re doing live poker the Right Way, and I want to see them succeed.
Two fun stories from Resorts World
Let’s play some cards
One of the guys at my table noted that 2004 WSOP Main Event champ, Greg Raymer, was down to the final table of a daily tournament, a few tables over.
Dealer: “Oh. They’ll be there all night.”
“Usually they get to the final table, everybody wants to just chop it up and go home. None of them are experienced at short-handed play, the payout jumps are meaningful, and they are just out of their comfort zone. Greg always says ‘no’ to any deal. He believes he has an edge (fair assumption, Ed.), the pay jumps don’t mean as much to him, and everybody plays predictably against him.”
“Either they go after him because he’s a legend, or they’re terrified of him because he’s a legend. I guess he figures out which it is and goes from there. Whatever, they’ll be begging for a deal, and he just says, ‘No thanks.'”
Good ol’ FossilMan. Same as ever after all these years.
As one dealer was pushing out of the box, he said that his next down was dealing $500/$1,000 PLO. Almost certainly the biggest poker game in town at the time. Wait, we didn’t see that game in the glassed-in room at the back.
“No, it’s in the private room at the back of the Crockford’s-branded casino-within-a-casino.”
For no good reason, I didn’t get back there to get a picture of the Crockford’s poker room. Already I have an excuse to go back. Interestingly, it was at the Crockford’s Casino in London where Phil Ivey won all that money edge-sorting cards at baccarat, but then they didn’t pay him. I doubt he’ll be darkening the door of the Crockford’s at Resorts World any time soon.
Resorts World by the numbers
Poker room: 7/10
- Non-smoking, and no detectable smoke because of distance from casino floor
- Casino soundtrack: Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift
- Casino chaos coefficient: Extremely low to non-existant.
- Minimum age: 21
- Restrooms: very convenient, and uncrowded. Exit the poker room, roll right twice. They’re in a hallway toward the Hilton registration area.
- Table management: Poker Atlas. You can register for cash games and tournaments directly on the Atlas app. This sets the room head and shoulders above any other major room in Vegas.
- Mask usage: 5% of patrons, 5% of staff. But no notice or shaming of masked patrons.
- No-limit hold’em buy-in caps: $1/3 – $100-$400; $2/5 – $200-$1200; $5/10 – $500-$3,000. They get $1/2 PLO ($200-$1,000) going on their busier days.
- Rake: 10% capped at $5. No jackpot or high-hand drop. I know some people love those lottery bonuses, but they’re just another leak in the pokeronomy. Resorts World doesn’t take a fifth dollar until the pot’s at $120 (most rooms do it at $100) – it’s a small, but pleasing concession.
- Straddle: UTG or button. Action starts UTG+1 for a UTG straddle, or UTG with a button straddle. Action jumps button straddle unless there is a raise in front.
- Bomb pots: Rarely. Always NLHE single board
- Cards and chips: Faded Spade bridge-size (now my favorite brand of playing cards). Chips are, of course, brand new, and pleasing to handle.
- Tables have USB chargers.
- Excellent WiFi.
- Hero-spotting coefficient: I saw PLO and investigative hero Joey Ingram, content creator and high-stakes player Lynne Ji, the aforementioned Greg Raymer, and up-and-coming vlogger Frankie (NextGen) Cucchiara. I’d love to get a look at the faces of the $500/$1,000 PLO players. There are occasionally big semi-private games in the glassed-in area at the back of the room. Keep your eyes peeled for your favorite poker players back there.
- Cocktail service, and you can order food from any of the restaurants with a quick QR code. The property and room are struggling with growing pains on delivery, but I trust that will get sorted out.