That time of year is nearly upon us when the masses (of the poker-playing variety) descend on Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker. The cash games and smaller tournaments kick off at the Rio on Tuesday, while other events — such as the Deepstack Extravaganza at the Venetian — have already started.
If you love poker and have the means and time to travel, you’ll want to spend at least some of the next two months in Sin City to partake in the hopping poker action.
First, you’ll need a room — unless you plan to sleep in your car, which I definitely don’t recommend when temperatures sometimes hover in the triple digits well after the sun has set. Fortunately, some of the better rates among the major casino-hotels on or near the Strip are at the Rio itself. That’s due to the property’s age and its somewhat inconvenient location about a mile off Las Vegas Boulevard. But if you’re here to play serious poker that location can actually be convenient. Rise, walk to the WSOP pavilion area, play, go back to room, sleep. Maybe eat. It’s all optional in Vegas.
If you’d rather have somewhat of a respite from the poker action at the Rio you’ve got plenty of choices on the Strip or downtown, and if you’re willing to give them a good gamble during your stay you might get a free or discounted room. Be cognizant of the fact that most Strip properties are owned by either Caesars Entertainment or MGM Resorts International, so keeping your play consistently at one of the chains will help your quest for comps.
Note, too, that just about every casino-hotel now charges a resort fee for services you probably don’t use — like the fitness center or the daily newspaper — and these tend to range from $20-$40 a night.
If you’re cost conscious, you are better off staying on Fremont Street, where both the hotel rates and resort fees are lower. Plus, you can walk to nearly a dozen casinos in a four-block radius. Both Binion’s and Golden Nugget host tournament series in the summer.
I recommend renting a car for your stay, as rates for midsize cars can often be had for $30 a day or less, and smaller cars are a little cheaper than that. Uber has now become a viable option, after city leaders finally allowed ridesharing in Vegas despite the vehement protestation of the taxicab cartel. I closely considered not renting a car for my trip this summer due to that fact, but in the end the convenience of quickly getting in my own car for a drive to the next poker game won out. Be aware, however, that almost every property on the Strip now charges for parking — with Treasure Island, Venetian, and Tropicana being among the rare exceptions. (Parking is free at the Rio.)
Many people walk between Rio and the Strip, but the walk of about a mile is through an unshaded sidewalk along Flamingo Avenue, so it’s extremely hot during the day and a lonely stretch of pavement at night.
Finding cheap food in Vegas these days is harder than scoring a blackjack table paying 3-to-2. The days of the steak-and-eggs specials are long gone, replaced by lavish restaurants fronted by world-renowned chefs. Even the prices charged in the Poker Kitchen set up in the WSOP pavilion area are egregious.
To best save on food I recommend two steps. One, buy the American Casino Guide book and Las Vegas Advisor membership. With these you will get some pretty good discounts on food (one of the coupons in LVA, for example, will provide 50 percent off of a meal up to a $50 discount at several restaurants in the Palms, just down the street from Rio). You also score plenty of matchplay coupons and slot credits, but you’ll need to take a trip to Fremont Street to make good use of them.
Two, make sure you get a players club card wherever you play and check in with that card — whether at a poker table or with the pit boss when playing table games or in the slot or video poker machines. Every dollar you wager earns you a small amount in comps, and you generally get $1 to $2 an hour in comps when playing cash games at the tables. It may not seem like much, but it adds up over time. If you’re playing cash games at the WSOP you won’t automatically get comps; instead you’ll have to ask one of the supervisors for a $10 voucher after playing awhile. The system sometimes changes from year to year so always ask before you begin play.