I promised you poker room reviews – let’s get started.
I hadn’t been to the Palm Springs area in too many years and was itching to try out Casino Morongo and Agua Caliente. Both are served by the Palm Springs airport (PSP), which has non-stop service from destinations across the United States and Canada. I’ll get to Agua Caliente in a subsequent report – for now, let’s head out out to Morongo.
Arriving into PSP on a crisp fall morning–when the legendary summer heat had subsided–was a great start. The sky was an eye-searing blue, and the mountains came right to the edge of the baggage claim area.
Casino Morongo is hard by I-10 in Cabezon – an easy half-hour drive from PSP. Cabezon is a wide place in the road, dominated by the Morongo Resort, but there are a few chain food and retail stores. I remember when Morongo was mostly a glorified bingo hall, but it now features a modern 27-story hotel and full casino downstairs. The poker room, I need to emphasize, is in a separate building, which also houses a large bowling alley. It’s a 5-10 minute walk from the main hotel building to the poker room building – a trip you wouldn’t want to do in summer heat, evening winds, or at night. Fortunately, they run a 24-hour shuttle between the two buildings.
This is crucial because the hotel amenities are not near the poker room. The hotel has all the features you’d want in a casino resort. The poker building has only a single diner-like restaurant which has sit-down service until 10:00pm and takeout until midnight. Not that I’ve ever gotten peckish at 1:30am in the middle of a long poker session.
You gotta sleep somewhere
Before we get to the poker room, let’s have a look at the hotel. Quick summary: I’m a fan. Because I have many moving parts in my life, not least writing for this august website, I sit at a desk typing more than I sit in poker room chairs. I need my hotel rooms to be comfortable and functional.
The hotel rooms at Morongo are generous, well-appointed, and comfortable. The bed is great, and there’s an excellent workspace, with a massive 65″ LG flat screen TV mounted above. There is a direct HDMI port to the TV mounted in the wall, and plenty of USB charging ports throughout the room. There’s even a Google Nest speaker by the bed to provide access to hotel services, Bluetooth speaker, etc. My particular room had a view of Mt. San Jacinto to the south, an excellent landscape to work by.
The bathroom is equally nice, including a large walk-in shower with a combination shower head plus wand.
Indeed, on those many days when I have to work, but then can play poker at night, this is a great office-away-from-home. It would also serve nicely for non-pokering S.O.’s who could use it as a base of operations between spa and pool time.
The main hotel has multiple restaurants, and thankfully, a 24-hour coffee and pastry shop called Pink Coffee. They made a lovely decaf cappuccino for me during the wee hours, but I passed on the astonishing array of pastries and tarts in the display case. You may not fight the weight battle I do, in which case, please report back. Importantly, the casinos and restaurants are non-smoking (as is the poker room) so you don’t have to burn your clothes after a four-hour poker session.
I ate breakfast at “Good Times Cafe,” the main restaurant. A 3-egg omelet with toast and hash browns was delicious, and at $15, a reasonable price for a casino property. There is also a steak house, buffet, Asian restaurant, burger place, and small food court.
I’m here for the poker
The poker room in the satellite building was completed in March of 2022. It features 20 tables and looks astonishingly like a poker room. If the Wynn/Encore room is a 10/10 and your buddy’s garage is a 1/10, Morongo gets a 7. The chairs are faux leather and swivel, which is a nice touch. Unfortunately, the pneumatic lifts in many of them have failed (already) so you sit low to the ground, feeling like an 8-year-old who can’t quite manage the grown-up’s dining table at Thanksgiving dinner.
Morongo uses Kem cards, bridge size (ironically, the size that essentially all poker rooms use) with regular (small) indices. The chips are in decent condition. I do wish they’d do something with the felts which felt “sticky.” Not in the sense of actually tacky, but cards don’t glide over them as smoothly as many other properties I’ve been at.
Almost without exception, the staff was polite, knowledgeable, and welcoming. This is a big deal, and arguably the most important feature of any poker room. In some poker rooms, the locals clearly get preferential treatment across the board, and I’m quick to spot that. There should be one waiting list for each game, and it should be first-in-first-seated, no exceptions. Poker room employees – floor, dealers, chip runners, cashiers – everybody – made me feel comfortable and welcome. To be clear, I didn’t drop any “Do you know who I used to be?” or similar hints. I was just an OMC rolled in from I-10, exactly as I wanted it to be.
The dealers were excellent, though there were a couple of notable exceptions. There was also a surprising amount of variance in dealing and chip handling protocols. Nothing that a quick dealer meeting couldn’t solve, but I’m a nit for dealing protocol, and it bugged me occasionally.
My last day there, they had one of their regular freerolls to reward high-hour players. The mood was festive since a handful of the regulars would come away with four-figure payouts – it felt like New Year’s Eve in the poker room, which I enjoyed.
I also enjoyed the company at the tables. It was the normal mix that you get, particularly in a region as diverse as the Inland Empire, and that’s one of the best things about casino poker. People were gracious and made me feel at home – that’s all you can ask for.
Casino Morongo is one of the “go-to” venues in the region. When I walked in at lunch time on a random Tuesday, they had four $1/2 NLHE games, two $1/3 games, and a $2/5 game, all with lists. The day of the monthly freeroll (a Wednesday), 13 cash tables were in full swing at 5:00pm. You shouldn’t have difficulty finding a game.
With that, I’ll “do the numbers,” as they say on NPR’s Marketplace show. Bottom line: I had a good time at Casino Morongo and look forward to returning.
Casino Morongo by the numbers
- Casino soundtrack: She Drives Me Crazy, Walk Like an Egyptian, We’re on the Road to Nowhere
- Room amenities: K-cup coffee, Google Nest speaker, in-closet laptop safe, refrigerator, large flatscreen TV, working desk
- Restaurants, 24-hour coffee/pastry, spa, outdoor swimming pool
- Excellent WiFi in public areas and rooms
Poker room: 7/10
- Separate building, detached from main hotel
- Minimum age: 18
- Restrooms: immediately outside entrance to poker room
- Table management: Bravo. You can’t get on wait lists via Bravo, but you can see what games are available. Those lists were up-to-date as far as I could tell.
- Mask usage: 5% of patrons, 10% of staff. But no notice or shaming of masked patrons
- No-limit hold’em buy-in caps: $1/2 – $20-100 (not a typo); $1/3 – $100-$300; $2/5 – $200-$1000
- Rake: $2 jackpot drop before hand, $3 at flop, $2 more at $20
- Straddle: UTG only, exactly twice the big blind
- Bomb pots: Rarely. Always NLHE single board
- Tables have USB chargers. All the ones I tried worked
- Nobody seemed to know if there was WiFi or not. And you shouldn’t just randomly hook up to an open WiFi network in a public place – nothing good comes from that. My T-Mobile service provided 4G Internet without difficulty.
- Cocktail service
- Self-service sodas and coffee. The coffee service was utilitarian – they could do better.