I miss Las Vegas.

I miss playing poker in Las Vegas.

In the grand scheme of everything happening in the world right now, vacationing and playing live poker are pretty minuscule on the list of priorities, but seeing my home away from home suffering through this awful standstill saddens me greatly.

A deep diatribe into economics, politics, medicine, science, and everything else associated with this awful time isn’t what you’re reading this for, and it certainly isn’t what I’m qualified to write about, so we’ll leave that for other outlets.

Plans for a return to casinos and poker tables are starting to float around, but they seem pretty far from the Vegas we know and love, and in some rumoured cases, pretty far away in time as well.

So, for now, this is simply a love letter to the casinos and poker rooms of Las Vegas (in alphabetical order), what I miss most about each of them, and what we can all look forward to coming back to; hopefully soon. The poker is a given, but these are some of the other cool and quirky things about each property that I’ve discovered over the years.

Las Vegas

Aria

It’s only fitting that you’re first on this list, because you know you’re always at the top of my list when it comes to poker in Las Vegas. Others have tried, but no room has my heart like you do.

Besides just the outstanding poker room, I could write a whole article about why I love it at Aria. The gorgeous architecture, the luxurious guest rooms, the super cool vibe throughout, the pizza at Five50, the treats at the patisserie, and above all, the incredible staff — especially in the poker room.

And last, but not least… the watermelon juice. I mean, I’ve bought the Tropicana stuff here at home, but it’s not even close. That watermelon juice of yours is just something else!

Aria watermelon juice
My standard water / chips / juice formation at Aria

Bally’s

I miss that buffet grind.

Being able to drop in for a few hours mid-afternoon (or whenever), then head off to the Paris buffet next door on your dime is pretty sweet.

And speaking of sweet, rolling into It’Sugar in the Grand Bazzar shops outside? Oh yeah, my inner 6-year-old will always be down for a session, with a bag of jawbreakers in my pocket.

Bellagio

Ah, the home of Bobby’s Room. The elite of poker gather within your glamourous walls, and any fan of the game can play just steps away.

The very first time I played at Bellagio in the mid 2004, I bumped into Scotty Nguyen outside the room.

The Prince of Poker was cool enough to chat for a bit and take this pic with me, baby!

Since then, no Vegas trip is complete until I get a session in at Bellagio. The chance to play some $2/5 and brush shoulders with a poker legend as I walk across the room is something I’ll never pass up.

Binion’s

You were my first.

A lot has changed since I sat down in that WSOP satellite in 2004, but I’ll always love gazing at the Poker Hall of Fame photos, and walking past the Million Dollar horseshoe.

I know things are far from what they used to be, but each summer I’m still there, playing in your wonderfully structured tournament series.

It may sound like horror to some, but I proudly talk about the 15-hour day I spent at Binion’s playing razz. (You think the crowd on Fremont is interesting regularly? Try it at 5 am!)

And to be able to lay claim to two final tables in ‘the place where it all began’, that will always be special.

Boulder Station

We just met last fall on a whim, but you were unforgettable.

$4/8 Limit Omaha high. Good lord.

I suggested we make the game double-board, but that radical concept was quickly nuked by the regs who didn’t want a mockery made of their game. Okay, then.

Oh, and as for your giant-ass sign in the parking lot that turns night into day on the Boulder Strip? Holy moly, that thing is impressive.

Boulder Station marquee
Sunglasses at night in the Boulder Station parking lot? Mandatory.

Caesars Palace

I’m not quite sure what it is about you.

Maybe it’s Omnia right next door, or maybe it’s your high-traffic location smack dab in the middle of the strip, but some of the juiciest games, and most interesting characters I’ve met have been in your poker room. Some of the most fun, interesting and profitable sessions I’ve had have come at Caesars Palace.

But yeah, when the cards run cold, that people-watching outside Omnia is a top-notch diversion.

Excalibur

I love that you’re a throwback to simpler days of poker gone by. Just a smoky ‘ol pit in the middle of the casino floor, where every game feels like it’s 2005 again.

And who am I kidding? I’m hitting that Krispy Kreme upstairs at least a couple of times a session.

You may not be the hottest room on the strip, but don’t ever change. You just keep doing you.

Flamingo

You may not think it, because for whatever reason I rarely win there, but you know what? I love ya anyway.

I blame my lack of success on having too much fun thanks to various distractions.

There was the session where I was taught about those just-slightly-bigger-than-chip-sized bubbles on your tables, and the prop betting they naturally lead to.

Flamingo poker table
10 tries to slide a chip completely inside a bubble. Think you can do it?

At Flamingo, I learned how many chips wide 1 poker chip is. Take a guess! (Answer below)

There have been sessions where I’ve just blasted off for fun in that $2/4 limit game to kill time before getting into another game. The folks there just LOOOOVE the young guy coming in and 3- and 4-betting them regularly.

via GIPHY

*So, how many chips did you guess? The answer is 12! (sometimes 13 actually if they’re old and worn down)*

Golden Nugget

I miss the best low buy-in tournament series in Las Vegas, The Grand.

That schedule, man oh man! For $200, you too could sit in a No-Limit 2-7 Single Draw tourney with Greg Raymer! Cool beans.

As for your actual poker room, I haven’t done this, but if I ever want to drop $10k onto the table in a $1/2 No-limit hold ‘em game, I can!

Oh and one more thing, one of these days I’m going to stay a couple of nights in the hotel for no reason other than to spend a day at your awesome pool, riding down the water slide over and over and over and over and….

Green Valley Ranch

Last year, I had the worst summer of tournament results in my poker career.

I bricked everything. Everything. Not one result.

Oh, and the cash games? Yup, got wrecked there, too. A 6-month downswing in two weeks. Oof.

But before I flew home, tail tucked between my legs, feeling like crap and hating poker, I paid you a visit, and it was exactly what I needed.

The friendly faces and banter of the locals. The feeling of being in a poker room that wasn’t flooded by every poker-playing tourist from around the world. It was a different world.

I felt calmer than I had all trip. I had fun, I chatted with the players and the staff. It was great.

And while in that great mood, the winnings piled up. I racked up four buy-ins before the day was done.

I drove to the airport with my faith in poker renewed. I returned home and went on an upswing that lasted the rest of the year.

Thanks for that, GVR.

Harrah’s

I’ll admit, I’ve had my reservations about you for the last little while, and I’m sorry.

I stayed with you for the first time in years last fall, and I’ve gotta say, I love what you’ve done with the place! Your room renovations are outstanding, and a great value. So naturally I played a couple of sessions in the poker room.

Laid-back atmosphere, casual, fun, appealing to recreational players. Well those are all good things! Drinks flowed, pots were splashed, chips were stacked, and good times were had.

Oh, and White Castle is just steps away.

via GIPHY

Mandalay Bay

You may be a bit out of the way down at the south end of the strip, but your property and poker room are definitely worth making the effort for.

I love the warm, classy vibe your little room gives off. Like a cozy little nook of poker.

And if a break from the wannabe sharks at the table is needed, the real thing is just a short walk away in the Shark Reef Aquarium! One of the coolest tilt-walk destinations you could ask for.

MGM Grand

I miss those chairs.

I’m telling you, people, if you’ve spent the day exploring the Las Vegas Strip and need to take a load off, drop in for a session at MGM Grand. Best chairs in a poker room I’ve ever been in.

Mirage

Ever since that inaugural trip to Vegas when I pulled my first all-night session and had to be dragged out by my then girlfriend, you’ve had a special place in my heart.

I know things aren’t the same as when Mike McD mused about “Vegas and the F***ing Mirage”, but your little room and the Mirage itself are still classics in my books.

Oh, and if there’s a Golden Knights game on and I feel like playing, I know where I’m going.

splash pot Golden Knights Mirage
Golden Knights splash pots at the Mirage

Orleans

Any mixed game player out there loves you. I know I do.

You’re the mortal nuts year-round for small stakes mixed tourneys, regular Omaha 8 cash games, and a great summer tourney series.

And after a rough session of repeatedly getting your Ace-deuce counterfeited, what better tilt-buster than firing off a few frames in the bowling alley upstairs!

Orleans gators
The welcoming committee at the Orleans

Palace Station

Look, I’m not going to lie to you. I’m using you for your Oyster Bar.

But since I don’t really fire in the pit or play slots, you’ll find me in the poker room making that oyster money between sessions of shucking and slurping.

Seriously though, the Oyster Bar at Palace Station is freakin’ amazing for oysters and other seafood.

Planet Hollywood

Day or night, you’re bringing something cool to the table.

Nowhere else in Vegas can I wake up, go to a casino, have a (decent) $5 breakfast, play a few hours, then have a (really good) $5 lunch.

I’m not going to spill the entire secret, but with a little research, you can discover these gems inside the adjacent Miracle Mile Shops.

Then at night PH, it’s go-time!

I know a lot of people generally prefer a quieter room with sounds of chips riffling, some banter, and the occasional bad-beat outburst. Yah, that’s cool and all, but sometimes, I want the party!

I want the music pumping on the casino floor. I want the flashing lights. I want the go-go dancers swaying above the nearby blackjack tables.

A nighttime poker session at PH is really like nothing else in Vegas, and it might be the most fun you’ll ever have at a table.

Red Rock

Oh, Red Rock Canyon. You are beautiful.

Red Rock canyon

Okay, look. If for whatever reason you’ve only ever been to the Strip or Fremont Street while visiting Las Vegas, let me tell you, you’re missing out. I made this mistake for far too long.

The first time I rented a car and drove west through lovely Summerlin, past the edge of the city limits and into the desert, it was mind-blowing. And the fact that one of the nicest casinos to play poker in is just minutes away? What a combination!

Trust me on this one. A morning hike, followed by a profitable enough session to pay for the car rental plus a meal and a beer at the Yard House afterward? Chef’s kiss of a day right there.

Rio (During the WSOP)

It’s true. You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.

Right now, I’d happily freeze my ass off in the Amazon room, endure the full-court press from the phone charger guys in your hallowed hallways, and battle huge lines for well, pretty much everything.

Hell, I’d even play in the storage closet / bowling alley just to see you again. (Congrats, by the way, on wresting the name ‘Ivey’s Room’ away from Aria with that one.)

With maybe just one more WSOP within your walls, that might just feel as special as my first one.

I hope everyone appreciates you a little more once we’re all finally back.

Sahara

There was nowhere I was looking forward to visiting more.

We’ve flirted online, I’ve seen your pictures; you’ve teased me mercilessly.

Players rave about your staff, the games and the promotions. I’m even told your chairs are comfier than MGM Grand! I need to know for myself, and I can’t wait.

But since I haven’t actually played poker in that brand-new room yet, and these stories are about what I miss about you…

Well from Northside Café’s decadent breakfasts to Bazaar Meat’s incredible steaks; oh do I eat well when I stay at Sahara! That walk down the Strip doesn’t seem so daunting when you know you have 10,000 calories of delicious meals to burn off.

On top of that, your beds are the comfiest ever, your pools are chill and fun, and your casino floor and bars are just sexy as hell. You truly are a hidden gem right in the open, up at the top of the Strip.

And now you have a groovy little poker room too. I can’t wait.

Sam’s Town

Oh, the sights you’ve seen.

As a poker geek fascinated by the history of the game, when I heard about what’s happened within your walls, I had to pay you a visit.

Everyone may know that Bobby’s Room is home of the big game. But when Bobby Baldwin was president of Bellagio in the early 2000s and wanted to play in that game, he couldn’t because it might have been perceived as a conflict of interest.

That’s where you come in. The game would be relocated to this classic old Boulder Strip casino to accommodate Baldwin.

On my visit last fall, I embraced the old-school, rough-around-the-edges feel of your casino and historic poker room. It was like a trip back in time, right down to the classic slot machines lining the back wall near the poker room.

Sam's Town slot machine
Anybody got a pocketful of change for this baby?

I loved your history and was pleasantly surprised by the mystery bounty tournament that drew one of the better fields I’d seen for a daily Las Vegas tourney!

And if the Killers like you enough to name an album after you? Well you’re okay by me!

South Point

I’m always going to have a soft spot for you because of your equestrian / rodeo arena. I had a helluva fun day there a few years back, and I’m certainly not going to blame you for an unfortunate incident in the stables. That was my own stupidity for going back there in flip-flops. But I digress…

Thank you for embracing the MUGs! Andrew Neeme and Brad Owen’s meetup games have found a happy Las Vegas home within your walls, and have been more successful than ever, with a big assist from you!

Your room is always bouncing for the boys, and I hope to get back there for more bomb pots and shenanigans ASAP!

Venetian

Hi there. it’s been a while. Like, Black Friday a while. (Hi Sheldon.)

I know a lot of players still like your poker room, and I’ve read that you’ve been pretty good to your employees through all this.

So, for all of them, I wish you well.

Westgate

You’re so eager to please, and anyone that knows that absolutely loves you for it!

The nonsense your staff put up with on a night last summer, when a group of knuckleheaded mixed game players basically hijacked your room, your dealers, your servers, your massage therapists, everyone. And you loved it all and asked if there was more you could do!

You accommodated in spades when Robbie hosted his meetup game, and have been amazing hosts for other meetup games as well.

Mixed Game crew
Fun times were had (even with Robbie on my direct left…)

Oh, and you’re also the home of this little beauty…

Westgate Fruity Pebbles donut
Yup, that’s a donut with Fruity Pebbles on top. Yabba dabba doo!

And finally, three simple words: World’s. Largest. Sportsbook.

You rock, Westgate.

Wynn

Damn. I mean, just look at you.

Wynn Poker Room

Where else can a small stakes player feel like they’re playing in a glamourous high-stakes area?

I feel my t-shirt and jeans transform into a tuxedo when I step inside. My sneakers refashion themselves into patent leather Oxfords. My beer morphs into a martini (although I guess I could just order a martini).

I can only speak as a visitor, and not one of the fortunate folks who can play there regularly, but I feel special when playing at the Wynn.

So yeah, I miss you Vegas.

A lot has changed over the 16+ years we’ve known each other, and things will definitely be changing again, no time more than in the very near future.

I know it won’t be like it was for a while, and that’s okay. It’s for the best. In time, you’ll be back.

For now, I’ll be keeping a close eye on you from afar. Watching you return to your glorious, beautiful self.

I’ll be eagerly awaiting my return to you, and your return to the world.

Love,

Mike

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