POKER LIFESTYLE

Interview with Bellagio Poker Director Craig Larson

It used to be the case that I was afraid to step into the Bellagio Poker room. You might be surprised to learn that what kept me away up until a few years ago was plain old fear. See, I’m positive that I’m not the only one out there who believes that the Bellagio Poker Room has a reputation for being one of the – if not THE – top places to play poker in Las Vegas. “Only the best play there”, “watch out for the sharks”, and “you better have a LOT of money on you if you don’t want to feel out of your depth”, are some of the various things I’ve heard about the room over the years.

Bellagio Poker Room

Bellagio Poker: Whither the Recreational Player?

All of the aforementioned sentiments were of course meant in a very reverential way, so kudos to the regulars who’ve earned the room such a stellar reputation; you’re certainly the cream of the poker crop. On the other hand, however, it leaves recreational players and weekend warriors like me potentially feeling awkwardly out of place; like we don’t “possess what it takes” to step foot on the hallowed ground. No home game hero wants to get smoked or feel like they’re playing out of their comfort zone. The fact of the matter is that to many poker players, the Bellagio Poker Room feels like the major leagues when we’re all minor leaguers. In short, the place is awesome to behold, but it’s intimidating.

I finally got over my fear of playing poker at Bellagio about six years ago, and wrote about that here. Lest you think my worries were without merit, those jitters I had were quite real. When I arrived at the room, it was packed to the gills. Hundreds of players sat hunched over large stacks of chips. I recognized many of them; these were pros, grinders. While walking around the room, I noticed many a player either counting out hundreds or pulling large wads of cash out of their pockets. Sure – it was WSOP season, but first impressions are hard to shake.

While my fears eventually proved completely unfounded, still the “stigma” persists; many recreational players out there just don’t feel they’ve “got what it takes” to set foot in the Bellagio poker room for a cash game session.

Well, we’re about to flip that notion on its head.

Introducing Craig Larson, Director of the Bellagio Poker Room

Many of you have seen our announcement that Mixed Game Festival VIII will be held, for the very first time, at the Bellagio. We’ll be bringing all the low-stakes dealer’s choice cash game goodness you know and love to one of the finest properties not only on the Las Vegas Strip, but in the entire world. I’d like to thank Craig Larson, Director of Poker at Bellagio, for kindly agreeing to this interview. He shares with us what we can expect to find when we descend upon one of poker’s most legendary venues.

Craig Larson

You started out working at the Bellagio in 2010 and became their Poker Room Operations Manager back in 2017. For the last two years, you’ve been the room’s Director of Operations. Please describe what your responsibilities used to be in your previous position, and what they currently are.

First, let me say that I consider myself the luckiest person in the poker industry! I am leading such a distinguished poker room located in an iconic property. As Director, I find myself more involved in other aspects of the Bellagio Casino than before while still representing as the face of our esteemed poker room. The Operations Manager handles more of the processes behind the scene to help things run smoothly.

What sort of evolution/changes have there been to the poker room and its clientele over your 15-year tenure at the Bellagio?

What a good question! Bellagio poker has evolved so much in the past 15 years and will continue to do so. Black Friday, the dramatic swings of Cryptocurrency, and Covid have all had a dramatic impact on the diversity of our guests. Our goal is to have enough variety in game offerings to remain relevant in any financial climate.

Yours is certainly a top-notch poker establishment; sort of like entering the First Class lounge to play poker – replete with Leroy Neiman-commissioned artwork, etc. Would you say that your room caters more to those with larger bankrolls or also to those with more limited means to play poker? Why?

Bellagio poker caters to ALL guests! One thing I continue to stress to our new hires is to treat ALL guests the same. Whether a guest has a buy in for $100 or $100k they all come to Bellagio expecting an exceptional guest experience. As they should!

Bobby's Room

You’ve been at the helm of the Bellagio Poker Room for over two years now. What would you say is the defining characteristic that sets it apart from other Las Vegas poker rooms?

We offer luxury and value that no other poker room can offer. We offer fair rake and time collections while still taking care of our guests to the best of our ability. The amenities Bellagio can offer are unmatched not only in Las Vegas but in the poker world.

The Onion ran a story a while back indicating that I’m not necessarily the only one who used to be afraid to sit and play poker at the Bellagio. Obviously I know we’re dealing with The Onion here, but there’s always a kernel of truth to good satire. What’s your response to a piece like that?

The first time I played at the Bellagio poker room, I was intimidated as well. Visualizing the legends who have played here on a regular basis was daunting. We have and will continue to focus on guest service ensuring players of all levels feel welcome. This is the transformation our room has been through and one I am very proud of.

In what way would you say the room’s action is different during peak poker season than versus the rest of the year? Would you say that recreational players have a better chance at protecting/growing their bankrolls over the summer or in other seasons?

The easy answer is game selection. During the summer season and major tournaments, we have run up to 15 different types of games to choose from. Outside of those seasons we still have the best variety of games in Las Vegas with Limit, NLH, Mix, and Reserved games running almost daily.

Anytime is a good time to grow and protect your bankroll at Bellagio poker. We always have a large number of poker enthusiasts who come from around the world just to say the have played here.

When you and I were discussing the possibility of staging Cardplayer Lifestyle’s upcoming Mixed Game Festival VIII at Bellagio, you had some interesting things to say about low-stakes mixed games in general. Can you kindly elaborate on this for our readers?

Mixed games offer the next real growth opportunity in the poker world. There is a reason a large number of players at the highest levels play mixed games. NLH has so many good players at every level where the learning curve for mixed games is harder. Having all of the steps, or levels, for players to take as they learn mixed games and grow their bankroll is important and a goal of mine.

Las Vegas poker seems to be consolidating, with the smaller rooms closing and the larger rooms growing. What are your goals and hopes for the Bellagio Poker Room over the next few years beyond the obvious of “keeping the room as full as possible 24/7”?

My goal is to continue to grow our diversity of games while maintaining the highest level of guest service in the industry. We will also grow our tournament portfolio seeking to be a leader in that area as well. This is how I see Bellagio Poker remaining a destination for poker players of all levels and from all over the world.

Bellagio poker room

Image credit: Poker.org

Give the Bellagio Poker Room a Try!

At the end of the day, $1/3 No Limit Texas Hold’em is played the same way no matter where it’s spread. And they spread plenty of $1/3 tables at the Bellagio poker room. Plus, of course, we’ll be staging Mixed Game Festival VIII there from June 16-20, where the primary game being spread at our tables will be fixed limit $4/8 dealer’s choice. You could easily sit at the table for hours with your initial $200 buy-in and get tons of play value for it. On top of that, you might win free merch, and even possibly a $400 seat into a Moneymaker Tour side event just for answering a trivia question about Chris Moneymaker correctly!

With most Las Vegas venues offering a large slate of tournaments during peak summer season this year, the Bellagio is “zigging while the others zag”; being a strictly cash game-only poker room hub throughout the summer. It’s the perfect place to come, chill, and take a break from the tournament grind.

Sure, Craig Larson’s job is obviously to make sure that the room caters to all sorts of players and he doesn’t want to scare anyone away, but I can assure you that his answers are 100% genuine. He’s witnessed the Bellagio poker room action on a daily basis for over a decade and a half. His is a word we can trust, as the room’s high roller clientele and low-stakes regulars alike would surely confirm. 🙂

Bellagio poker room

Image credit: PokerNews

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Written By.

Robbie Strazynski

Robbie founded Cardplayerlifestyle.com in 2009. A veteran member of the poker media corps, in addition to writing and video presenting, Robbie has hosted multiple poker podcasts over the years, including Top Pair, the Red Chip Poker Podcast, The Orbit, and the CardsChat Podcast. In 2019, Robbie translated the autobiography of Poker Hall of Famer Eli […]

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