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Best of Dan Podheiser

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Top 10 impressions of the Twin River poker room

7 December 2015

I've lived in New England for eight years and my wife's family lives in Rhode Island, but until last week I had never stepped foot inside Twin River Casino in Lincoln. See, while I am certainly a "gambling enthusiast," I really don't care much for slot machines or other table games. I'm a poker player. (And a sports bettor, and a daily fantasy sports player, and I'll probably bet you on anything from a foul shot competition to a pie-eating contest, but that's beside the point.)

But last Tuesday, Twin River opened a 16-table poker room, the first casino poker room in the state. And on Friday, I took the drive down from Boston to play a little $2-$5 no-limit Hold'em for a couple of days and check out the new digs in the process.

The poker room at Twin River currently offers $1-$2, $2-$5 and $5-$10 no-limit Texas Hold'em, $3-$6 limit Hold'em and Seven-Card Stud games with stakes ranging from $5-$10 to $20-$40. The room is open from 12 p.m. to 4 a.m. from Monday-Thursday, and stays open continuously on the weekend from Friday at noon to Monday at 4 a.m. (A few floor people mentioned to me that the plan is to eventually have the poker room be open 24 hours a day, every day, but that plan has not been confirmed yet.)

My experience at Twin River on Friday and Saturday was filled with the usual pros and cons one might expect from the opening of a new poker room. There were a few things that I thought went really well, but there are definitely a bunch of kinks still to be worked out. And some problems may never be fixed without a complete, systemic overhaul.
The new poker room at Twin River Casino drew huge crowds last week.

The new poker room at Twin River Casino drew huge crowds last week.



To start, the place was a freakin' mob scene. I played with a few guys who said they waited over three hours for a seat at $2-$5. That's insane.

Overall, though, I had a positive experience over the span of two days at Twin River. Here are my top 10 impressions and observations of the new poker room in Rhode Island.

10. Poor planning leaves the floor overwhelmed

When I arrived at Twin River at 2 p.m. on Friday afternoon, the poker room had 10 full cash game tables running and six tables completely void of players, but with dealers in place. One would think that there were simply no players available to start more games.

Think again. There were 15 players on the $2-$5 list, a full roster for a $5-$10 no-limit game and a whopping 45 names on the $1-$2 list. That's right: 45 people were standing around with their thumbs up their you-know-whats, looking at tables with perfectly capable dealers sitting there ready to go.

Except the dealers weren't ready to go, because there are a lot of procedures a casino must go through before a game can get off the ground. The floor must call the players for a game, and then they have to record the amount of chips the dealer has in their drop, and then they have to supervise the dealer as they open, shuffle and dissect all 52 cards in two separate decks. And all of this is played out in slow motion because most of the floor people did not have experience running a poker room.

So let me be clear – I'm not annoyed by the fact that a casino has to follow all of these procedures, or even that it would take a little bit longer than usual at Twin River because everyone is new. I get that. What I was annoyed by was the fact that all of this could have been completed a half hour earlier, so that by the time 2 p.m. rolled around and there were upwards of 60 people waiting to play, the games would already be off the ground and everyone would be having a good time. The casino does run poker games to make money, right?

That was problem No. 1. Problem No. 2 was far more excruciating to deal with, and I actually really felt bad for the floor on this one (even though it ended up costing me money).

At most casinos, the poker tables have a built-in electronic system whereby the dealer can swipe your "player's card" to enter you into the game. Once you've been swiped in, you then start earning comps for your play. If you move to a new seat, or to a new table, the dealer can very easily adjust your spot in the electronic system to ensure that you continue to earn comps.

Twin River does not have this built-in system. For players to check in to a game, they have to find a floor person and give them their card. That floor person then has to enter the player into their computer system, and also make sure to notate which seat and at which table the player is seated. This means that if a player switches seats at a table, much less moves to another table, they have to find the floor person again. It is an absolute nightmare for the floor to handle, especially when they have to deal with everything else that comes with managing a brand-new poker room.

But it gets worse! Not only do you have to have the floor swipe you into a game, you also have to go find them when you leave so they can sign you out. If you forget, well guess what? You earn zero comps for your play that day.

The industry standard for comps tends to be about $1-$2 per hour back to the player that they can use to buy food or merchandise from the casino. (At Twin River, players earn $1 an hour for all poker limits.) Those dollars add up.

On Friday, I didn't remember until I reached the parking lot that I had forgotten to sign out with the floor. I went back and received credit for my eight and a half hours of play. On Saturday, I didn't realize I had forgotten until I was lying in bed at 2 a.m., and I had played for a whopping 13 hours that day. That's $13 in crappy casino food down the drain.

That, my friends, is what we in the industry like to call "breakage." Great for the casino, not so great for its faithful customers – like me.

9. There are a lot of silly rules

Silly sign featuring silly rules

Silly sign featuring silly rules



You can't wear a hoodie, but you can wear sunglasses. You can't have your phone on the rail of the table, or play or text on your phone in the space above the rail, but you're perfectly welcome to do the same thing an inch behind the rail. Cash on the table plays ($100 bills only), but a player cannot reload with cash and trade it to another player for some chips.

These are just some of the silly rules in the Twin River poker room. I know there were more, but I'm not even sure if what I was told was true or not. Let's just say there were a lot of inconsistent "rulings" during the poker room's opening week.

To be fair, everybody had their phone on the tables and was able to text or play a game without much pushback. Every once in a while, some "suit" would come around and gently tell the players to put their phones away. But then we'd all get back to the real world and take them out of our pockets. We live in the 21st century, after all.

Again, some of these kinks will be worked out. But they added up to quite a bit of frustration over the course of two days.

8. The live music is a problem

Oh my god, that damn music.

The poker room is located on the second floor of Twin River in a boxed-off, rectangular area directly adjacent to the Lighthouse Bar, which hosts live music performances on Friday and Saturday nights at 7 p.m.

I'll reserve my judgement on the quality of the music and just say that it was loud. Really, really loud. And loud music is the last thing anybody wants anywhere near a poker room. Imagine playing in a poker game where every single person, including the dealer (and the floor people), is wearing headphones listening to music with the volume turned all the way up. Kind of annoying, right? More like mind-numbingly painful.

I'm guessing nobody at the casino put two and two together and realized the music would interfere with the poker room. Or maybe the higher-ups at Twin River thought, hey, people like live music, and this should liven up the atmosphere in the poker room!

No.

7. Eighty percent of the dealers were great; 20% were complete disasters

I think I probably encountered 15-20 different dealers over the course of the 22 hours I played poker at Twin River last weekend. I can safely say that four out of every five dealers were fantastic. Many of them had long backgrounds dealing in poker games across the country. Most had spent some time at Foxwoods Resort Casino and neighboring Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, while others came from as far away as Bestbet Poker Simulcast Racing - Jacksonville in Florida. Those dealers were all world class.

Then there were the one out of every five or so dealers who weren't just bad; they were apocalyptically bad. They made mistakes that ranged from merely annoying up to literally costing players money with their mistakes. These poor saps had no idea what they were doing, and they all looked like they wanted to crawl into a hole and die, right there at the table.

I felt bad for them, I did. But the fact of the matter is that a poker room is a financial marketplace masked as a parlor game, and the dealers play a crucial role in ensuring that everyone has a fair stake in the game. When dealers make simple operational errors over and over again, it doesn't just slow down the game; it causes fights among players and ends up costing people time and money. That is not OK.

I get that every dealer has to start somewhere, but that should only be after a significant amount of training. These new dealers clearly weren't trained adequately.

6. Twin River is not on the Bravo system

The Bravo Poker Live website and app is a fantastic tool that allows poker players to look up any casino and see how many tables are running and the waiting lists for every game. It's an especially helpful service in markets with multiple poker options, such as Las Vegas, Atlantic City or even New England, which now has Foxwoods, Mohegan and Twin River.

Twin River is not on the Bravo system, however, which is a real pain for players and could eventually lead to a big dip in foot traffic to the poker room. Like I said, some players had to wait upwards of three hours to get a seat in a game last weekend. Those same players probably won't risk having to go through that again and will instead continue to travel a bit further to Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun, where they are almost sure to have no or very little wait time.

I asked one floor person whether or not Twin River will eventually join Bravo. He said he wasn't sure, but that it's not likely to happen anytime soon.

5. The booze isn't free, but it's worth the money

There's a law in Rhode Island that says that casinos can't give away alcoholic beverages to its patrons for free. That's a bummer on several levels, but one positive outcome is that when you do order a drink, you actually get something worth drinking (and paying for).

Now, the prices are a bit high, and you're not going to see me paying $5.50 for a Coors Light anytime soon. But I played on Friday night with a lady who ordered and paid $13 for a glass of Grand Marnier, and man was that thing huge! She also confirmed to me that it was good quality Grand Marnier, and "not like that cheap, fake crap at Foxwoods."

So, there you go. You still won't find me drinking at a poker table anytime soon, unless you keep your poker room stocked with beer from Tree House Brewery. Then I just can't help myself.

4. The quality of the tables, chairs and chips wasn't bad

I'll give the tables, save for the lack of the electronic card-swipe system, a perfect 10 out of 10 score. The cards were weird, but I liked them; they were razor thin, but somehow incredibly sturdy and made mucking hand after hand for six hours straight kind of fun. By the end of the night on Friday, I was able to perfect a backhand toss of two cards at once into one single spot on the table. Folding is cool!

The chips, meanwhile, could use a nice bath, but they were overall of decent quality. Remember, table games at Twin River have only been around since June 2013, so the chips are relatively new. No problems to report here.

3. The small size gives the room an intimate feel

Maybe I'm just being cheesy, but I like a nice, cozy poker room. And though it's not the Wynn Las Vegas, I will say that I enjoyed the atmosphere at Twin River more than I enjoy playing in gigantic poker factories like Foxwoods or the Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa (though I still love the Borgata). The smaller room means more interaction with floor people and dealers, who rotated every 30 minutes between four tables in a column. If you played during a dealer's entire eight-hour shift, you spent two hours with them. It's a good way to build rapport and makes for a friendlier environment, in my opinion.

2. Many of the players seemed to all know each other from local games

"Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. And they're always glad you came."

I probably sang the theme song to "Cheers" to myself on the drive home a dozen times, because that's all I could think of when I left Twin River at the end of the night. I caught on pretty early that several of the players knew each other, but I later found out that they all played in the same underground game in Rhode Island, as well as in the Eastern Poker Tour, a charity poker game that rotates between venues in New England. Plus, I recognized about 25 regulars from Foxwoods.




I felt like somewhat of an outsider at first, but all of the locals were friendly and I got along with a few regs on both Friday and Saturday. Here's hoping I become one of them!

1. No-brainer to be my new home poker room

Until last week, the closest poker room I had access to was at Foxwoods, a solid two-hour trip from my front door. Granted, Foxwoods is a perfectly suitable casino, and I love that there's always an open game waiting for me, but the drive alone is enough to prohibit me from going there as often as I'd like. Twin River, on the other hand, is a mere 52-mile drive from my house, a trip that takes less than an hour to complete.

I will definitely play poker more often now that Twin River has a poker room. If not once a week, at least twice a month. In fact, I may never go to Foxwoods again. (Well, that's probably not true, but my intentions are pure!)

Needless to say, I'm excited about what the future holds.
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Best of Dan Podheiser
Dan Podheiser

Dan Podheiser has covered the gambling industry since 2013, but he has been an avid poker player for more than a decade, starting when he was just 14 years old. When he turned 18, he played online poker regularly on U.S.-friendly sites until Black Friday in April 2011.

Since graduating from Emerson College with a degree in journalism in 2010, Dan has worked as the sports editor for a chain of newspapers in Northwest Connecticut and served a year as an Americorps*VISTA, writing and researching grant proposals for a Boston-based charity.

Originally from South Jersey, where he still visits occasionally to see his family (and play on the state's regulated online poker sites), Dan lives in Brighton, Mass. with his wife and dog.
Dan Podheiser
Dan Podheiser has covered the gambling industry since 2013, but he has been an avid poker player for more than a decade, starting when he was just 14 years old. When he turned 18, he played online poker regularly on U.S.-friendly sites until Black Friday in April 2011.

Since graduating from Emerson College with a degree in journalism in 2010, Dan has worked as the sports editor for a chain of newspapers in Northwest Connecticut and served a year as an Americorps*VISTA, writing and researching grant proposals for a Boston-based charity.

Originally from South Jersey, where he still visits occasionally to see his family (and play on the state's regulated online poker sites), Dan lives in Brighton, Mass. with his wife and dog.