Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Upping the Rake at the Bike

Saturday, I went down to the Bike (in majestic Bell Gardens, CA) for the first time in two months (see here for a report on my previous visit).  This time, it was my intention to play the cash game, not a tournament.

Even before I got there, I had heard about a change that I didn’t like.  I read on Twitter that they increased the rake. It was explained that, if a hand went to the river, an extra $1 would be taken out of the pot for the house.  This is in addition to the $5 taken out of the pot ordinarily, and $1 taken out for the jackpot.

I guess I should explain how the rake works at the Bike, and pretty much all the L.A. area casinos. It may be what you’re used to if you play in your “home” casino around the country.  But if you’re used to only playing in Vegas (or Reno) it’s quite different.

Not only do they take a higher rake than most Vegas rooms, but they take it “off the top.”

What do I mean?  Well, in Vegas, as you probably know, they take a $1 for every $10 in the pot (as it grows), up to the maximum.   So if the pot is $18 at when it is awarded, only a buck comes out of it for the house. And If the room has any kind of jackpot or bonuses, there would be a buck taken out for that too (some houses take a $2 jackpot drop, but it’s rare).  If the pot was $22, then the rake would be $2.  If a pot fails to reach $10, there’s no rake and no jackpot drop.

Most Vegas rooms have a max of $4, so the most they would take would be $5 if they also take a buck for the jackpot.  Note: the big exception is the CET rooms (Planet Hollywood, Bally’s, etc.,) they max out at $5 (plus the $1 jackpot drop) instead of $4.  Thus it was a big concession from CET to reopen the new Caesars Palace room with a $4 max rake, it’s the only room in the chain that has the lower rake (see here).

But at the Bike, they get that full rake right away. They take the full rake as long as there is a flop.  Example: On Saturday, one player limped in.  I called from the small blind, the big blind checked.  Three of us saw the flop, so there was $9 in the pot. And before the flop was put out, the dealer took out $5 for the rake and $1 for the jackpot. The pot was down to $3.  I led out on the flop ($5, I think) and no one called.  My reward?  A whopping $3. In other words, I had just gotten my money back.  I didn’t win a thing—I broke even.  The money the other two players put in all went either to the house ($5) or the jackpot ($1).

In Vegas, I would have gotten $9, since they wouldn’t have taken anything out of the pot as it didn’t reach $10 (only called bets count, so my $5 bet that wasn’t called wasn’t part of the pot).  Now, if one more player had been in the hand and also folded to my bet, I would have taken a $6 pot and made $3.  But the same scenario in Vegas would have resulted in my taking in $10, $7 profit.  You can see it’s a big difference, especially on the small pots.

Another interesting thing is how they do chopping the blinds at the Bike.  It’s not quite a “chop.” At the $2/$3 game I play, when the blinds chop, the small blind only keeps $1.  One dollar is taken away for the house.  At smaller games, say where the blinds are $1 & $2, they actually use 50 cent chips and ding the small blind half a buck.  The big blind always gets to keep his entire blind.  Of course in Vegas, both players take back their blinds in full on a chop.

So, next time you’re the small blind in Vegas and you chop with the big blind, you can consider yourself a winner as compared to playing at the Bike.  Note:  If you’re in a Vegas poker room instead of the Bike, you’re already a winner.

And now, as of this past week, sure enough, they are sometimes taking a $6 rake plus the dollar jackpot drop.  Any time a river card is dealt, the dealer will take another buck from the pot before pushing it towards the winning player.  There were actually big signs in various locations around the casino announcing this change, I saw one as I walked in.  At the bottom of the sign, it said something like, “Thank you for your understanding,” or something similar. 

Now if you’ve only played in Vegas, this all sounds pretty horrible, I know.  However, in their defense, I will point out that the economics—the business models—of the California casinos is quite a bit different than the ones in Nevada. 

We all know that poker is a very small, virtually insignificant part of a Vegas casino’s revenue. Vegas casinos make their money first and foremost on the slot machines.  Although, these days, some of the more popular nightclubs might be just as big of moneymakers for them.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the biggest income producer at MGM for the past year has actually been Hakkasan, not the slots.  Notice how I resisted the temptation to make a comment like, “it’s sluts over slots” or make a double-entendre with the word “moneymakers”.  Hmm, well notice how I almost resisted.

Then there’s the fancy, incredibly expensive restaurants, the bars that charge twenty bucks for a beer, the fancy, high priced hotel rooms, the showrooms and of course the table games (and the whales they attract)  and the sports book.  They make more money on all of those things than poker, that’s for sure.

But the L.A. casinos don’t have any of that.  There’s no nightclubs, no fancy restaurants (rather reasonably priced food, in fact), no showrooms, no hotel, no sports betting, and most importantly, no slot machines.

That’s right, in case you didn’t know, none of the L.A. area casinos have slot machines. Due to an agreement the State of California made with the Indian casinos, the only slot machines in California are at Indian casinos.  The Bike, Commerce, Hollywood Park, Hawaiian Gardens, Hustler, etc, are not Indian casinos.  So, no slots.

As such, they make all their money from table games, and most of that is from poker.  Poker is not an afterthought at the Bike and Commerce, and the others.  It’s is their meal ticket.  It’s their big profit center.

I’m sure they make nice money at the table games, especially the Asian games that attract the high rollers who like to gamble big bucks, but I’d be surprised if they make as much from them as they do at poker. 

Aside:  Due to California law, you can’t play against the house in any of these casinos.  All table games have a prop player, in the employ of the casino, who uses his or her own money to be the bank, and gets to keep their winnings (or suffer the losses).  It is against the law to gamble against the house in any game, except of course, for the lottery.

Look at this way.  The biggest poker room in Vegas is at the Venetian with 59 tables.  The Bike has 190 poker tables (and no, I’ve never counted them).  Commerce is purported to be the world’s biggest card room with 210 poker tables. 

By the way, the Commerce is the only one of these casinos to have a hotel.  But I’m sure they don’t make the kind of money off it that a luxury Vegas hotel does because, honestly, anyone who would pay the same thing for a room at the Commerce as they would for a room at the Venetian would have to have their head examined.

BTW, the Bike is actually currently adding on a hotel, to be ready next year.  I actually saw signs of the construction going on this time.

By necessity, poker has to be more profitable for the L.A. casinos than it is in Vegas.  They couldn’t stay in business if it wasn’t.

There’s also the costs.  Land in southern California is a lot more expensive than in Vegas.  That’s one of the reasons you don’t see any of these L.A. casinos in nice areas.  They’re all located in places where you’re not very comfortable walking around, especially at night.  They don’t put them in Beverly Hills, or Malibu, that’s for sure.

Additional aside: Another difference is that the L.A. casinos don’t offer free liquor to players.  This is not because the casinos don’t want you to get all liquored up and lose control and lose all your money.  Just like the Vegas casinos, they would absolutely love that.  But California law makes it illegal for them to serve free booze, they have to charge for it.  California is protecting gamblers (from themselves).  That’s one of the reasons the L.A. clubs all offer cheap and sometimes free food to the players, as an alternative to offering free booze.

Getting back to my original point, so why, if they had been going all this time with a $6 + $1 drop, did they just decide to take another buck out of some pots?

Well, the short answer is, because they can.

There’s not nearly as much competition in L.A. for poker as in Vegas, right?  If you don’t like a poker room on the Vegas Strip, there’s quite a few more within walking distance.

But there’s relatively few in L.A. and they’re not really close to each other (but then, nothing in L.A. is close to anything, that’s why there’s so many freeways and why they’re all always jammed).  Only Bike and Commerce are “relatively” close to one another and by no means are they within walking distance.

However, I’ve heard another reason given for this increase, and it ties in with something I heard when the Bike had some employee cutbacks earlier this year.  I mentioned that they let all their “porters” go in that last Bike post I linked to at the beginning of this one.  And the explanation I heard was because of the minimum wage increase that passed in California.  It increased $1 and took effect on July 1.

Consider that a large percentage of the employees at these casinos (even in Vegas) are minimum wage workers.  Of course, they depend on tips to make their real money….the dealers, the food servers, the cocktail waitresses.  But now they have to increase the pay of most of their workforce.  You don’t have to have a degree in Economics—and by the way, I actually have a degree in Economics—to know that, if a business’s expenses go up, they’re gonna figure out a way to pass that cost onto the consumer.

So that was probably part of it.  The information I received on Twitter was that all the L.A. area casinos would now be taking an extra buck on the river, with the exception of Hollywood Park.  However, I would expect Hollywood Park to start doing this shortly if they haven’t already.

Am I happy about the extra buck?  Of course not.  Will I stop playing at the Bike?  No.  I don't play there very often, and of course, I always prefer playing in Vegas.  I understand the Indian casinos in Southern California might not be taking as much rake.  Even if that's true, they are not conveniently located and I would lose in gas money more than I could save by going to them instead of the Bike (and that assumes the games are equal, which I find dubious).  So I'll grin in bear it until I get back to Vegas. 

Anyway, hopefully all of that was more interesting than the poker turned out to be.  You see, in order for the increased rake to have made any impact, you actually have to win some pots.  And then, they have to go to the river.  I think I won one, maybe two hands that went to the river.

It was a friendly table.  The two guys on my immediate left were buddies and nice guys.  The guy immediately to my left happened to notice the PokerAtlas card protector I use and asked me where I got it.  I gave him the long answer and then the short answer, I work for them.

He and his pal went on to tell me how much they love the site and how useful it is to them.  In fact they told me they had recently been to Canada and used the mobile app to find games. Another guy from across the table also said it was a great site.  Nice to get that kind of feedback.

The guy closest to me asked if I had a spare card protector.  I checked and I didn’t.  I usually carry a few extra whenever I play poker—especially in Vegas—but I had forgotten to grab a few when I left that morning.  However, when he left, I gave him the one I was using and he appreciated it. 

This table was also generally tighter than most games I’ve been in at the Bike, especially after a couple of aggros who there when I first got into the game left.  Usually, I can sort of sit there and wait for a hand one of the maniacs will pay me off for, but not this time.

My best hand came early.  I had pocket 5’s, limped in and had to call a raise to $12 from one of the blinds.  He was an elderly Asian man who had played fairly tight since I had gotten there.  Four of us saw a flop of K-6-5.  The two lower cards were both hearts.  He made it $35 and I re-raised to $100.  Too big?  Too small?  I’m not slow-playing sets these days and it was a wet board.

It folded back to the better and he actually acted insulted that I had raised him.  Honestly, he did.  “How could you do that?”  I knew when he said that he didn’t have a set of Kings.  Since he had raised pre, it was a possibility.  “I have a King!” he said.  Ok, thanks for the info.  As long as he didn’t have two Kings I was feeling pretty good. He had about half my stack; I still had more-or-less my original $300 buy-in.  He kept looking at his stack, and his cards, and finally folded.

But he was upset.  “What did you have?”  Really, you really expect me to answer that, sir?  I shrugged my shoulders and said, “I don’t remember.”  He repeated that he had a King.

Later I badly misplayed a hand, although it probably didn’t make a difference.  In late position I had pocket Queens (that was the only pair bigger than 7’s I saw all day, and I had AK once).  The guy two seats to my left, the friend of the guy I gave my card protector to, opened in early position for $12.  Two players called.  I knew I should have put out a big three-bet there.  And at most games at the Bike I would have.  But as I said, this was a tighter table than usual.  And this particular guy who led out had been playing tighter than I had been.  OTOH, he only had $31 after his bet.  If he had initially shoved for $43, he would have been confident of a call at most Bike games….but not this one.  I weakly just called.

The flop was 7-6-5, two hearts.  My hand was all black.  The preflop raiser shoved for his final $31 and one player called.  The other one folded.  I think my overpair might be good but I’m not that confident and I wanted to get to the showdown cheap.  I just called.

The turn was a blank and we all checked.  The river was a black 4, and the guy who still had chips bet $15.  I couldn’t fold to such a small bet, so I called.  Short stack turned over pocket 7’s for a flopped set.  The other guy had the Spanish Inquisition—6-3, both hearts.  He flopped a pair and both the flush draw and the gut shot.  And hit the gut shot on the river.  Ugh.

So he called the $12 raise in early position from a tight player with 6-3 suited.  He wasn’t what I was referring to when I said the table was tighter than usual.
If I had three-bet preflop, I’m sure the guy with the 7’s would have been willing to gamble the rest of his small stack on his hand.  So likely the other two fold and I lose $15 less than I did, losing to a set instead of the straight.

In the big blind I checked with 9-4 offsuit in an unraised pot.  Four of us saw the flop, which was 9-2-2.  I checked/called $10 from a bit of wild-card of a player.  I couldn’t rule out his playing some kind of crazy hand with a 2.  One other player called.  I check/called $15, now just the two of us, when the turn was another 2.  There was a Queen on the river, and I checked again, this time he bet $50.  Gulp. Obviously I was worried about a bigger boat, in addition to quads.  But the boat…..did that Queen hit him?  I tanked and then called.  He said, “You got it” before he even saw my hand.  He had pocket 7’s.  I took the pot after watching the dealer taking out an extra buck from it.

I had been so card dead and played so few hands I thought I could take advantage of my image a bit.  So with Queen-Jack of spades in early position I made it $15 after that guy from the last hand limped in.  The card-protector guy behind me said, “Well, I was gonna raise, and I still would if it was anybody else but you raising…” and then folded.  Only the limper called, and he was one guy at the table I probably couldn’t bluff.  The flop was all low, two deuces again.  I c-bet $20 and he called.  A blank on the turn and I checked behind him.  He bet $50 on a blank river and I had to fold.  How many barrels am I supposed to fire there with nothing?

I was down less than $100 and decided to call it a day. The new rake at the Bike hadn’t cost me much, but that’s actually not a good thing.


  1. i know a ton about how the rake works in cali on the small limits i play and its a large reason why i spend so little time in cali, regardless of the fact the massuese is actually a lot cheaper in cali. but i dont think its that way out east, with the possible exception of some places in CO or FL.

    1. Its even worse, proportionally, on the smaller games that you were playing, too.

  2. I play @ Bay101 in San Jose, CA where the rake is $5 if you see a flop and $1 if you don't. Rake is set by city ordinance and the city gets about $15 million a year between Bay101 & M8trix.

    1. Thanks for that info, Anony....interesting. Of course the gov't has to get its take on everything, right? But I had no idea they would actually set the rake themselves....Doesnlt seem like capitalism to me.

  3. I started playing 1-2 limit at the Bike oh maybe 25 years ago. I moved to Northern Calif when I retired and now play at the Thunder Valley Casino. I understand all your reasons for why Poker rooms have a higher rake in Southern California. You can not beat the rake in lower games. The rake takes all your money so why bother to play.

    I play mostly tournament poker now. Last week I played at the new Stones Casino in Sacramento. It was a $ 125 buy in 10,000 guaranteed tournament ( $105 + 10 entry +10 staffing 15,000 chips 30 minute levels. I did not cash but lasted 5 hours. When you do cash you make most of your buy ins back. I keep track of my tournaments for the year. I have played 42 tournaments and cashed 8 times for $ 1200.00. Unfortunately my buy ins have cost me $ 1810.00 so I am down $610.00 for the year. This works for me. I am small time player but I get to keep playing. Cash games with the rake kill me. Keep up your posts.

    1. Thanks, Anony.....you make good points about tourneys....but they take pretty high juice too, in most cases.

      Sounds like I need to do a post talking about cash vs. tourns one of these days.

  4. Rob, don't know if you've heard but Hawaiian Gardens Casino in southeast LA County is undergoing a major renovation right now. Hope you'll come on down to my neck of the woods and check it out once it's done, probably around late next year (2015). Would love to get to play NLHE with you some time. :-)

    1. Thanks....I've never made it over to Hawaiian Gardens but I have thought about it....just a longer drive than the Bike. Also not sure you can buy in for 100 BB's in any game I could afford. But for sure when they get that renovation done I'll have to check it out.

      I understand tho, why'd you want to play NLHE with me. And it's not very flattering. :)

    2. Rob, steve is not like that at all. he only wants to get to know u as a friend, same as me when someone is in town (and to analyze my game) certainly not because i feel theyre a fish, or him feel u are a fish. this is why i get pissed when people like u and PPP dont come by where im playing. People need to quit being so goddamn selfish, quit thinking of whether having a friend at the table hurts their profits, and just fucking hang out to be nice. i cant stand the way some husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends refuse to play at the same table, hated claudia doing it, and would really resent and dislike a women if she was my wife.gf and wanted to play a different table. in fact anytime i see a couple check it down HU, it pisses me off

    3. Tony, I was just joking about why Steve wanted to play with me, I know he was trying to be friendly, and I appreciate that.

  5. That's I never complain about the Las Vegas poker room rakes -- even the $5 rake, cause I've played in a few of the California and it's criminal how they rake some of those rooms

    1. Thanks, Ron. Yeah those CA clubs sure make Vegas poker rooms look good, don't they?

      Even...ahem....those CET rooms! :)

      I do wonder tho if larger than normal rakes hurt the dealers. I would be hard pressed to give the dealer more than a buck for even a huge pot with that kind of rake. And of course, it's not the dealer's fault at all.

    2. In my experience, it hasn't really affected my bottom line cause the majority of our clientele are tourists so their playing with disposable income so they tend to tip more. From what I've seen, dealers who work in "tourist" based rooms make more per down than working in a "locals" room

    3. I'm sure that's true about the dealers making more in the tourist rooms OTOH, those locals places all know the dealers so stiffing them would be like stiffing their friends. But I bet they're not as generous on those big pots.

  6. but r the restrooms nice???????????? LOL.

    1. Actually, there are pretty nice. All new waterless urinals.

  7. I was playing at the Bike a fair amount the last 6 weeks while working in Cali. That additional buck was added last week and I think is the final nail in the coffin for me. The limped pots at 2/3 were so ridiculous that I was only entering for a raise. Rarely can nice pots slowly develop. Back home in LV this week has been a welcome change.

    1. also, i think the additional 1 rake was the final nail in the coffin 4 the Raiders moving to Texas.

    2. @CoolDave....I know how you feel. I wonder if they will lose enough business for them to reconsider? I guess time will tell.

      @anger ??? Raiders should move to the new downtown stadium they will build for them in L.A.

    3. that would b AWESOME, Rob.but the Spurs sport the silver/black too. coincidence????????? where is mulder and scully??? i am trying to think( ha ha ) what the rake was at the Golden West in Bako but the 4/8 kill omaha was SOOOOO loose it didnt matter.

    4. Well, if you're gonna go by uniform colors, they would have to insist that the Raiders switch to the Lakers purple & gold colors if the move down here. heh heh.

    5. LOL.that is funny. that is what the KINGS were( purple/gold) b4 the RAIDERS moved to LA the first time.

    6. I think that had to do with the Kings being sold. They had the same colors when they were owned by the same person (first Jack Kent Cooke, then Jerry Buss). When Buss sold the Kings, the new owner changed the colors.

    7. I hated the Raiders before they moved to L.A., managed to root for them when they were here, and then hated them again as soon as they ditched us.

      If they come back, I may be able to root for them again. But only if they "just win, baby."