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Best of Dan Podheiser

Gaming Guru

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Top 10 qualities every poker room should have

3 August 2015

I've been playing in casino poker rooms since I was 18 years old, and in the last eight years, I've been in my fair share of poker rooms across the country.

I still remember my first time playing poker at a casino, when my college roommate and I drove two hours from his Detroit-area home to visit Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, a tribal casino with an 18+ age limit. It was a magical experience. To that point, my only experiences playing poker were online, in home games with friends and in local underground games with what I'll call some "unsavory" folks.

When you play poker in a casino, you're treated to all sorts of perks, from free drinks to professional dealers and comps for your play. These are all methods casinos use to keep poker players happy — to keep them coming back and paying more rake.

But if you've played in as many poker rooms around the country as I have, you'll have surely noticed that every casino is a bit different in the way it treats and rewards its players. Some, like the Wynn Las Vegas, have it down to a science, while others provide very little in the way of comps to poker players. These casinos view poker as a cost of doing business – it's a popular game, but the real goal is to turn those players into table game or slot players, where the casino makes serious money.

I'm still searching for the perfect poker room. While I will say that my experience at the Wynn this summer during the World Series of Poker was probably the best I've ever had in a poker venue, it fell short in a few minor ways (but I'd still give it an "A+" grade).

There are certain qualities every poker room should aspire to have. The following are the top 10 on the list.

10. Frequent cocktail service

I rarely drink alcohol at the poker table – when I play, I do it to make money. Combine that with the fact that I'm a bit of a reckless drunk, and I try not to mix booze and cards.

But I love it when the rest of my table is drinking. Alcohol lowers inhibition, which creates more action for the game. So when the cocktails are flowing, my chip stack tends to be rising.

That's why it's crucial for a poker room to have frequent cocktail service. When a table goes an entire hour without seeing a cocktail waitress, that is a problem. Players who have been drinking lose their buzz and, in turn, their willingness to gamble. Waiting for a cocktail waitress can literally kill a great poker game. It's a travesty that I never want to see happen again.

9. Tableside dining

What makes poker different from every other casino game is the willingness of the players to sit for hours at one table. A few weekends ago, I played $1/2 no limit Hold'em at Foxwoods Resort Casino for more than 11 hours. Nobody plays blackjack for 11 hours and leaves with their shirt.

But what frustrates me about Foxwoods is that you are not allowed to eat at the poker table. When I'm playing poker, I rarely want to get up from the table at all. If I have to leave for 20 minutes to get something to eat, I feel like I'm missing out on the action. And if my table's extra juicy, I simply won't leave and will go hungry, which affects my play.

In Las Vegas, most casinos allow you to eat food at the table. In fact, most casinos in Vegas have several tremendous dining options that will be delivered directly to your table, and you can pay with your casino comps or with chips from your stack. It's brilliant!

Now, I understand why Foxwoods and other casinos wouldn't want players to eat at the table. Poker players are slobs, and nobody wants the chips and cards to be greasy or covered in germs.

My solution: No finger foods at the table. If you have a fork, you can stay and play. Sorry, pizza eaters.

8. TVs with every sports channel

This is standard in most poker rooms, but it needs to be said in this column. When I'm playing poker, I want to be able to watch sports. Specifically, I want to be able to watch any game I have action on, whether it's sportsbook action or something to do with my fantasy team.

So it's crucial that every poker room have at least one big-screen television that is accessible to every seat in the room. And those TVs must have every sports package available at all times. If I want to watch the Cubs game while I'm in Connecticut, it had better be available.

You have been warned, poker rooms.

7. USB outlets in the tables

The first time I encountered a USB outlet in a poker table was at the Bellagio in Las Vegas in 2014, and it was one of the most pleasant surprises of that trip. As someone who uses a lot of cell phone bandwidth during a day at the tables – playing games, browsing the Web, chatting with friends – I hate it when my phone dies six hours into a planned 12-hour session. And nobody wants to plug their phone charger into a wall somewhere far away in the poker room, having to peer over their shoulder at all times to make sure no one stole it.

The USB outlet in the table solves this problem. I don't care how much it costs for a casino to make this change to their poker tables. It will pay dividends in the long run, because you will make every player that much happier.

6. Nine-handed no limit Hold'em tables

As someone who prefers short-handed poker play in general, playing at 10-handed cash game tables can be absolutely brutal on my psyche. I'm impatient and I hate waiting.

It wouldn't seem the case on the surface, but in my experience, nine-handed tables play much faster and looser than 10-handed tables. Maybe it's because players don't feel as cramped around each other. Either way, I much prefer to play at a nine-handed table, and I wish that would become the cash game standard in casinos.

5. Clean, high-quality chips and cards

I've played poker mainly at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino during my last two years covering the World Series of Poker. The Rio's standards for chips and cards are the opposite of what I'm looking for in a casino. The chips are grimy and don't shuffle well in your fingers, and the cards are flimsy.

The Wynn's cards are pristine, but there's an issue with the green $25 chips: For some reason, they don't stack up to be the same height as other denominations.

Another favorite poker room of mine, at the Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa in Atlantic City, has terrific cards and very clean chips. But the chips are magnetic, so they stick together, making it nearly impossible to shuffle them. That's not ideal.

I've yet to come across perfection when it comes to cards and chips in a single poker room. But I'm sure it can be achieved with a little hard work.

4. Efficient dealers

I've had some great dealers in my day. I've also had some awful ones. To be clear, the qualities of a great dealer are as follows: They need to be hyper-efficient, authoritative but not dictatorial, friendly but not aloof and extremely knowledgeable about the game.

Dealers often work for tips, so you'd think it would always be in their best interest to be on their "A game" at all times. And this is why I recommend a poker room should have …

3. No pooling of dealer tips

What incentive do dealers have to work quickly, efficiently and without delay if they are not being compensated directly for their efforts? When tips are pooled, the quality of dealing in the poker room diminishes. If dealers knows that a slight downgrade in their productivity won't have the same correlating effect on their bottom line, they'll be more likely to relax and go on auto-pilot. That can't happen.

2. Knowledgeable, consistent floorpeople

Much like dealers, floorpeople need to be on top of their games at all times. Nothing tilts me more than when a floorperson does not have an immediate, 100% accurate decision on a dispute at a table. I've heard floorpeople make stuff up as they go along in spots that cost players thousands of dollars in equity. It's really quite astonishing.

The best poker rooms understand the value of a quality floor staff. It can make all the difference in the world.

1. Low rake

Call me a soulless troll, but I don't like poker room promotions. Get rid of "high hand" bonuses and bad beat jackpots. Stop taking $2 out of every pot to fill massive pools that equate to lotteries. I'm trying to grind out a (side) living here!

The most amazing part of playing at the Wynn this summer was when I learned that they only raked 10% up to a maximum of $4 at $1/3 and $2/5 cash game tables. For a poker room that pristine, with excellent service, to rake such a small amount showed that they truly cared about their customers. They knew that by getting people to play in their poker room, those players would be more likely to order food from the hotel's restaurants, stay in the hotel's rooms and shop at the hotel's stores. And it even worked on me, the Ebenezer Scrooge of the poker world!

I spent $27 on a pizza.
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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.