Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Death of RobVegasPoker?

Don’t panic (or, depending on your point of view, don’t celebrate).  The title of this post does not refer to my medical condition, or any bad news I received from the doctor.  In fact, I’m doing well and am seeing the cardiologist at the end of this week.  So we’ll see how that goes.  Right now I sort of feel like Groundhog Day is approaching for me.   I’m wondering if the doc will release me to resume normal activity, or if it’s gonna be six more weeks of winter.

No, I’m not referring to my own death, just the possible death of my name.  I mean, is it time to retire the name “RobVegasPoker”?  I may have to.  How does RobVenturaPoker sound? At least I’d still be RVP as a few people refer to me.  Or perhaps RobBikePoker?

And of course, I’d have to change the name of the blog from Rob’s Vegas & Poker Blog to Rob’s Ventura & Poker Blog.  Or Rob’s Bike & Poker Blog (that would be confusing, I’d start getting visitors looking for info on bicycles…or motor cycles).

But I wouldn’t be the first guy to rebrand his blog. My friend and fellow blogger Pete Peters just did it.  He is no longer “The Poker Barrister” and that is no longer the name of his blog.  Although, oddly enough, he is still a barrister.  I personally think he should give up that profession and find a more honest one… used car salesman, perhaps.  But that’s his business.

What the heck am I talking about?

Well, as you know, it’s been awhile since I’ve been to Vegas.  I was last there in early July.  I haven’t been back because of two surgeries (cataract and triple bypass).  When will I return?  Well, obviously that depends a great deal on what my cardiologist tells me in a few days.

And you would think that I must be going crazy right now.  That I must be chomping at the bit (whatever that means) to get to Vegas.

And I am. Except when I’m not.

It’s just that every time I find myself really looking forward to returning to Vegas, I find myself wondering why.


This is not new, really.  I expressed my displeasure about what’s become of Vegas already this year, most notable in the post that starts here.  But as I was starting to really anticipate my return to Vegas, our pals at Caesars Entertainment just last week announced that they were going to follow MGM’s lead and start charging for parking (that post I just linked to discusses MGM’s paid parking, and you can find even more about it here).

Well, it was really no surprise.  We all anticipated this when MGM broke the ice.  It was inevitable.  But it was in the back of my mind, almost forgotten until CET made the big announcement.  They will be charging for valet parking at all their Strip properties before the year is out and then start charging for self-parking sometime early in 2017.

Just days later, Wynn announced they would be charging for valet parking at both Wynn and Encore momentarily.  They say they have no plans to charge for self-parking, but I find that really hard to believe (to be fair, the poker room Twitter account for Wynn tweeted that self-parking would remain free—we’ll see). 

It is almost certain that it won’t be long before every property on the Strip that has a poker room will start charging for parking.  The local casinos probably won’t follow suit, at least for now.  South Point (which is so far south it isn’t really on “the Strip”) likely won’t.  Who knows about the Stratosphere?

But everywhere else—well you’re gonna pay. Sooner or later, you’re gonna pay.  (T.I. and Venetian will follow suit when either their garages fill up with other casino’s customers or they wonder why they are leaving all that money on the table).

Now recall I got bailed out by MGM because they made a special arrangement for poker players to count poker play towards their reward program.  If you have a player’s card and play enough to get upgraded to the second lowest level of their program, parking is free.  So MGM decided that if you played 75 hours of poker in a single MGM-owned poker room in a year, you would qualify for the upgrade that lets you park for free.  I qualified when the fee-parking started because of all my play at MGM the previous year. 

But now it’s been almost half a year before I’ve play there or any place in Vegas.  At some point, they are gonna figure out that I haven’t played enough to qualify for my gold card status, and I will have to pay to park at MGM, Aria, Monte Carlo, etc.  Maybe even by the next time I get there, if it isn’t soon.

Meanwhile, CET will do the same thing, give free parking if you get one level upgraded on your rewards card (CET calls that level Platinum).  At least CET combines slot/pit/poker player for this (MGM never did).  But that doesn’t help me much.  I don’t play slots or pit games.  I play poker.  Pretty much exclusively.  There’s no way I can play enough poker at CET rooms to upgrade my player’s card.  Especially if I keep playing at MGM rooms (in what would be most likely an unsuccessful attempt to keep my upgraded status there).

This is especially true since I’ve been missing in action from Vegas for the second half of 2016 due to the two surgeries.  But I probably couldn’t do it even if I visited as often this year as last year.  It’s hard to make two different casino chains happy with your play when you only play poker and don’t live in Vegas.  Pretty much impossible, I’d say.

So, depending on when I return to Vegas (assuming I do), it’s very possible I will have to pay around $10 every time I go to the Strip to play poker. 

For me, that is a big deal.  It’s like starting every session down ten bucks.  And if I want to go to another poker room after a session in one room, that could easily become $20 a day just to park.  Maybe more.

I know for some people who come to Vegas for 2-3-4 days at a time, it won’t be that big a deal.  But typically, I go for 10-14 days at a time.  We’re talking maybe $140-$200 per trip added on to the cost of a visit.  For nothing.  For absolutely nothing.

That’s on top of increasing room rates.  Even without the parking, it’s getting to the point where it is too expensive to visit Vegas as much as I’d like, or I used to.  I can’t reveal where I stay (or I’d have to kill you) but when I started staying there it was pretty cheap.  Now it seems every time I book a stay, the price has gone up a few bucks.  When you book for 10+ days that adds up fast.  And I actually get a discount for being a frequent stayer.

(Just to answer your anticipated questions:  I am not in a position to move to Vegas at this time due to personal reasons.  And I can’t afford to buy a place in Vegas and keep my L.A. home, I’m not that well off)

Plus everything costs a lot more in Vegas than it did just a few years ago.  Food used to be a bargain.  No more.  For example, my favorite junk meal (from Nathan’s at NYNY) just a few years cost less than $5.50.  Now it’s almost $10.  Exact same meal! They are even charging three bucks for pickles and onions (see here).  They only way I can make it work is because the place I stay has a kitchen and I have at least two meals a day that I prepare myself (last time, I even had all three meals in my room a bunch of times to save money).

Of course, I can use poker comps to get some “free food.”  But if you get it in a sit-down restaurant, you still gotta pay the tip out of pocket.  And guess what?  A lot of rooms have become less generous with their comps (Wynn and Venetian come to mind).  And did you know that all poker comps at MGM poker rooms now expire after a year?  And since the food is so expensive now, $1 in comps (even if you get to keep it) ain’t what it used to be.

You know, maybe if I concentrated all my play on one set of rooms, I could keep free parking for that chain.  But hard to see how I could do both big chains (let alone Wynn, Venetian, etc).  So what do I do then?  Avoid the other casinos altogether?  What if I just want to go to Caesars or Planet Hollywood to eat or meet someone?  I guess I could park at Mirage and walk to Caesars, Harrah’s, Flamingo.  But it’s likely I’d never set foot in Bally’s or PH again (well….if I didn’t hate Bellagio parking so much, I guess I could park there and walk to Bally’s).

I suppose I could ignore all of this except for one thing.  Last week, even before CET announced their parking plan, I was anticipating my next Vegas trip, starting to really look forward to it.  Hell, when you’re basically housebound for five weeks, you look forward to walking to pick up your mail.  And you know what?  As I started thinking about it, I became distressed to realize I was having a hard time thinking of even one poker room in Vegas I was really looking forward to playing in.  Honestly.  I was starting to wonder why I even wanted to go back there.

I probably should be careful here.  As the guy who works for PokerAtlas and Ante Up Magazine, my official position has to be that all Vegas poker rooms are great.  If asked which is the best, my answer is, “They’re all fantastic, but everyone has different tastes, you should try them all and figure out the ones you like the best.”

But the truth is, if I think of the Vegas poker rooms, I can find fault with pretty much everyone of them, and it’s much harder to list each room’s plusses.  Sorry.

I mean, my first thought was that I was looking forward to playing the Aria tournament again.  But as I’ve discussed, they changed the weekend versions to a time that is really inconvenient for me.  During the week when it is the “right” time,  I should be working.

Binion’s also changed their big Saturday tournament to a less convenient time.  Plus, they closed their main poker room and moved to the pit. And most of my favorite dealers have left for greener pastures.  I’m almost afraid to go back and see what’s left.

Most of the Strip rooms have freerolls.  I’ve discussed how I am trying to avoid rooms with freerolls.  I don’t play in the freerolls so that is just income redistribution, money taken out of my pocket and given to the local grinders.

But….let me defend freerolls for one moment.  Last time I griped about them I received a communication from one of my local buddies explaining how important those freerolls were to the grinders in making a living at poker.  So for locals, they are very important, and a good thing (especially for the locals who know how to excel in turbo tournaments).

And I can’t blame the rooms for offering them.  If it brings people in (and it does), they have to offer them.  Not a single room on the Strip could survive with just tourists.  They depend on locals to start games and keep them going and keep the room busy. So I certainly can’t criticize those rooms that offer them.

But the drain of money that I have no chance of winning back bothers me.  Maybe that’s a mental thing for me that I should just get past?

I also have to worry about other promos, the ones that might affect the game, or my game.  I did a post about how those MGM promos affected my game negatively (see here). Do I play too long to chase a promo?  Play hands I shouldn’t play to chase a promo?

As I will discuss in my next Ante Up column, the Venetian is about to become the next room to take a promo drop and offer promos. It starts day of Xmas.  They’ll have a bad beat jackpot and for January, high hand bonuses mostly being offered during weekdays when I am unlikely to play.  The Venetian has a $5 max rake, so it will now be $6 out of most pots.  So this definitely makes V less inviting to play cash.  I mean, the odds of hitting that BBJ are so remote.

Again, I will defend Venetian for trying this, their cash games have been suffering lately and it makes sense for them to try this to get more people in. 

That leaves four rooms left in Vegas without a promo drop: Aria, Bellagio, Wynn & Caesars.  In theory those should be my favorite rooms (for cash games anyway).  But….

The first three have 1/3 NL, not 1/2 NL.  When you go to Vegas for 10 days at a time, and have to manage your bankroll, it makes a big difference to walk into a room knowing if you have a bad run and lose 2 or 3 buy-ins, it’s a loss of $600-$900 vs $400-$600.  Oh and plus, Wynn, nice as it is, takes a $5-max rake.  And if you eventually throw a parking charge on top of that, it is definitely a factor.

So Caesars it is, right?  It’s 1/2 NL, there’s no promo drop and it’s $4 max rake.  Just one problem.  Virtually every time I’ve played in their new room, I’ve had to leave early because I was so damn cold.  I can almost count on having to walk to Mirage to continue my poker evening every time I play there.  If you’re sitting there shivering, not only is it unpleasant but you can’t play your best poker.  Oh, and the temperature is a problem no matter the time of year.  It was bad in the winter, and perhaps even worse in the summer.

Speaking of Mirage, that would be a viable option for me to play more often, except that is like the last room in Vegas to still have 10-handed no limit tables.  I hate that.  Whenever I think of playing at Mirage, that usually stops me (unless I’m coming from Caesars to warm up).

Everyone knows that for years my favorite room was MGM.  But lately, that has been less true.  One of the reasons it’s lost its appeal for me is that many of my dealer pals who worked there have moved on. I mentioned last time that Jack and Brent, who I always enjoyed bullshitting with (and were featured in many of my favorite blog posts) are no long there.  That’s just bad luck (for me, but good for them) and no fault of the room.

They kept trying different promos, some I really liked, some I didn’t.  I never cared for the “Invitational” because it was a freeroll, nuff said.  Some of the promos they tried recently were so confusing that I didn’t quite understand them.

But, I did receive some good news about MGM while I was working on the Ante Up column I just filed.  The new promo that starts Wednesday sounds really good to me.  It’s a pyramid of full houses (only consisting of Jacks, Queens and Kings full) that is progressive.  At first glance I really like it. We’ll see how it goes.

Also the promos that I didn’t understand are going away (or already went away).  They have a couple of other promos that are better. And I understand they are discontinuing the “Invitational", but they haven’t told me what is replacing it.  That sounds promising but I suppose it could just be replaced with another form of a freeroll.  We’ll have to see.

But if I continue to play MGM, it is important that I feel that their promos are achievable for me,  as they take $2 for the promo drop (plus the $4 rake).

And of course, the MGM is still, to the best of my knowledge, the best place to enjoy the last really great, free show in town (if you’re a heterosexual male), The Slut Parade.  At least it’s free for now….until I have to pay for parking to get to MGM.

At this point, I wonder if that’s really the only thing that I would really miss if I stopped going to Vegas?

You might be thinking, well, the locals poker rooms aren’t going to be charging for parking, why not play there?  It’s true, there are some nice locals rooms in Vegas.  But you know, I feel that if I’m going to play in a room full of locals, why go to Vegas?  I can play in locals rooms without travelling out of Southern California.

To sum it all up, a few things.  I need to get back to Vegas fast, if possible, so I can still enjoy free parking. I worry that I won’t be able to go before the free parking is over for me (both at MGM rooms and CET rooms).  So for now, I am incentivized to go, if I am physically able.

But soon….I will have to consider going to Vegas less often, if at all.  I can play poker at Ventura and the Bike….and other rooms in the vicinity.  I don’t have to pay for parking or a room.  It’s a lot cheaper.  The promos are just drops for a bad beat jackpot that I could conceivable hit.  True, hitting the BBJ is only slightly more likely than having the lady depicted below showing up to my door stark naked one evening, but still.  I can get cheap food at home or on the way.

Maybe I should just take a few days off every month, spend a few days driving out to one of the local rooms and getting my poker fix in that way?

How does RobVenturaPoker sound?

This is what Vegas is driving me to consider.  And it is a shame.


  1. Maybe it's time to check out Reno. Admittedly, it's a 7.5-hour drive instead of a 4.5. And you have to wait until the roads are safe from snow. But they still cater to low-rollers (If DW hadn't needed me to drive some of the dogs down on our last trip from the Pacific Northwest, I would have stopped at a casino I barely play for two free nights).

    (And we do have friends who live just a few miles north of the fun zone who would be glad to see you).

    1. Thanks, Norm,

      Not really a viable option. There's really only one or two good poker rooms in Reno and it's a LONG way to go for just one or two places to play. I have two places to play here in L.A.

      The other stuff (except for maybe the cost of the room and the free parking), I don't need cuz I don't play table games any more.

      Although it would be nice to visit the friends you reference.

  2. You sound like you are depressed. While things in Las Vegas are not perfect, Sin City is still a great place.

    You are fortunate to have some other options in L.A. it looks like you might have a new poker priority system when you get back on your feet.

    1. Like I said before, they killing the goose that laid the golden eggs. Month by month it gets worse. I'm near the breaking point.

      Now if you were to move to Vegas, and have a nice roomy guest room for me....hmmm.....

    2. Use to be a great place, not anymore. Its been 4 years the last time i went to Vegas. I just go to Louisiana now, La buerge du lac and Golden Nugget are great.

    3. when really, what u should be visiting is shreveport instead, before i leave the area

    4. @Zin: I certainly understand it. Do you live close to LA? Or at least closer to LA than Vegas?

      @Tony: Well, I'm pretty sure with transportation costs, that would cost me more than Vegas, really have no desire to fly anywhere. I really like having a place I can drive to.

    5. Rob its a 6 hr drive, but never in a hurry so does not seem like 6 hrs. To fly to Vegas from start to finish is basically the same amount of time.

      Employees remember you by name when you get there, some even remember my favorite beverage.

    6. That's great, Of course, there are plenty of Vegas poker people (and waitresses) who remember me.

    7. when Zin says LA, he means Louisiana, seeing he lives in Houston and often visits lake charles. i meant for him to come here, not directed to u

    8. OK, gotcha, Tony. Thanks for the clarification.

  3. Sorry to hear that Rob, but I've thought the same thing. They seem to be doing everything counterintuitive. They aren't making money so they cut back on everything that made people want to come to Vegas. There are lower comps, worse odds, higher limits, etc. I was angered when I was comped for my WSOP trip last year but still had to pay resort fee.

    They can't have it both ways. They are making less money because less people are coming, but they are the cause of that. Vegas casinos are becoming just like cable companies and airlines. Reducing benefits and service while increasing prices. There is too much competition for them to behave like that and it not have a negative affect, but for some reason they are all too stupid too realize it. I used to get out there five or six times a year, now I am not even sad if my summer trip is the only one all year.

    Just my $.02.

    ps - This is Dave Palm. I tried to post with an account but it says, "URL contains illegal characters." Whatever that means.

    1. Thanks, Dave, sorry you had trouble posting under your name. No idea why blogger is problematic like that.

      Yeah, they just keep cutting back and cutting. I know that less of their income comes from gambling than it used to.....but is that because fewer people are interested in gambling or because they keep offering worse and worse odds.

      Plus they have so much more competition than they used to. Most states have legal casinos. Instead of trying to lure people with better deals than the local casinos, they just charge more and try to make it up that way. It's brain dead.

  4. There is no use staying where you don't want to be. When one place turns bad another springs up. Go where you like and prosper. LA culture and poker is worth endless words - right up your alley.

    1. True enough and I am thinking a lot about this (obviously).

      Only thing nightclubs to attract, um a certain kind of clientele I do enjoy in Vegas.

  5. Rob I am glad your health is improving enough to bitch about Vegas. I think the casinos have moved on from the poker players. They make their money from more international tourists who pay for high priced food and shows. They are not interested in the smaller players. The locals who want to play freerolls and grind out a small living. I have skipped going the last two years and my bankroll is not hurting at all. Do whats best for your health and it will work out.

    1. Thanks, Ed. Actually, Vegas has decided that they can no longer make any money on gambling (not just poker, but slots, pit games, etc).

      They got it into their heads that millennials don't like to gamble so they are coming up with other ways to get money out of them. They never considered the possibility that millennials aren't gambling because those Vegas geniuses just keep making the odds worse.

  6. Well if you're looking to change the name of the blog I had a few thoughts as you may or may not be interested in.

    The writers grind ( this title sort of combines the fact that you are a poker writer and you also grind No Limit cash games)

    West Side Story. ( I kind of like this one utilizing the classic film title of course because that you live in the western side of United States and you do play poker in both California and Nevada which would obviously be considered the western part of United States this might be kind of cool blog title for you)

    Interstate Poker( definitely describes your adventures between playing in California and Nevada)

    Rob's poker world( titleencompasses all aspects of your personal poker World between playing cash games and tournaments and writing about it and just everything that is you)

    1. Thanks, FD. Some good suggestions there. We'll have to see. If I really do abandon Vegas, also thinking of Rob's F.U. Vegas & Poker blog. :)

  7. Rob, based on this post, it sounds like your reasons for staying away from Vegas outnumber the reasons for going back. I think it's time to rename the blog to LA-Rob's-Poker-Blog

    1. Thanks, Ace.

      You know, if Vegas can actually keep someone like me away, they must really be doing something wrong.

  8. I don't know if Vegas is not a destination anymore. There is still money to be made. It is a great play to get paid off on your premium hand by greedy tourists. If you just go there to grind, I think the locals have you beat. The issue is that they don't have to pay for housing and food. I just go for entertainment. Winning at poker just defrays the cost. We stayed at time shares and sat through the presentations to defray the costs. It is not all good.

    1. Thanks, Anony. One reason it's hard to get money out of the locals--they're playing nitty just to get hours in to make the freeroll.

    2. The locals can spew chips when they are in the last hours of a promo. Certain promos need a minimum of a $40 pot to qualify. I saw this with "four flush promo". Every time a local got a pair of his "final flush" cards he raised $20 not matter which position. Then he folded quickly when the flop missed him. The sad part was that he was up more than $500 which was the promo jackpot. He dropped quick a bit when his horse didn't come home. It was a pain in the butt to watch. I never had a hand to try and pick up his bets but it did "feed the table".

    3. Yep, chasing those promos can kill you if you're not careful. Throwing away twenty bucks every time you get two of a certain suit is nuts. And I don't mean "the nuts."