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Top-10 things to do in Atlantic City

16 August 2010

I was in Atlantic City last weekend with five friends for a bachelor party. It was just my second visit; during the first I had only spent a few hours there. We had a good time entertaining Todd (the man of honor and a regular in the Casino City Home Game), and despite some rather grim reports about the performance of the Atlantic City casinos in recent months, the places we visited were packed with people.

Based on my own experience in Atlantic City, here are my top-10 things to do while visiting "America's Playground."

10. Weasel your way out of a $5 parking fee
After a pretty brutal night at the tables at the Borgata, we decided to head to the Harrah's Resort. As we got into the car, we discussed how ridiculous it was that we'd have to pay a $5 fee for the parking garage, despite the fact that we'd already been, well, quite generous to the casino. After handing the parking attendant the fiver, Dave bemoaned our luck to the attendant.

"Do we really have to pay for parking even though we just lost a lot of money?" he asked.

"Yes, unfortunately you do," said the attendant.

"What if we lost $10,000?" he asked. If any of our wives (including Todd's future wife) ever reads this, it is important to note that this was a rhetorical question.

"Yes, I'm sorry," she responded.

"What if we lost your annual salary?" Dave prodded one last time. Once again, for the sake of clarity, this was most certainly a rhetorical question.

"You guys are breaking my heart," she said, handing back the money. We celebrated like crazy as the gate opened, allowing us to escape with an extra $5 in our pockets. While it had been a rough night at the tables, we left the Borgata feeling like winners.

9. Play a poker tournament
I've played in poker tournaments in Las Vegas, at Foxwoods and now, in Atlantic City. One major difference in the tournament I played (and in others I saw advertised) in Atlantic City was the structure. Most tournaments start with $10,000 chips, and while they skip the $25-$50 blind level, instead starting at $50-$100, the blinds progress at a reasonable rate, with increases of more than 50 percent rare. Compare this to most small-stakes tournaments in Las Vegas, where the blinds double at virtually every level. The tournament we played — a $70 no limit Hold'em event at Harrah's — also never introduced antes, which gave small stacks even more flexibility. There was time to make moves, giving the most-skilled players a greater advantage than they would have in most small-stakes poker tournaments in other venues.

8. Catch "The Water Show"
If you're looking for a free, fun show, check out "The Water Show" at the end of the Pier Shops at Caesars. Every hour, on the hour, at the Boardwalk level at the ocean end of the building, spectators are privy to a dazzling illuminated water show. I'll admit I personally missed this one, but one of our group saw it through the panoramic window at Level 3 of the Pier Shops before joining us at dinner.

7. Play Beer Pong at the Wild Wild West
Of the casinos we visited in Atlantic City, the Wild Wild West was a pleasant surprise and my personal favorite. Of course part of the reason is they have Beer Pong tables, officially licensed by BPONG, the organizers of the "World Series of Beer Pong." For $15 for the first pitcher (three Miller Lites; other beers may be more expensive) and $8 for each additional pitcher, players are given two ping-pong balls, 22 cups, a bottle of water for washing the balls, and a table to play on. The well-lit, clean area has room for about a dozen tables and is adjacent to a mechanical bull and a stage where four enthusiastic cowgirls known as "The Vixens" danced their hearts out to country-and-western music while we played. It was the perfect scene for a bachelor party, and I will definitely be back the next time I make a trip to AC.

6. Walk the Boardwalk
There's plenty to do outside the casinos in Atlantic City as well. The boardwalk has scores of street vendors offering classic summer favorites. You can take a ride on a surrey cart, or you can just wander and do some people-watching. Trust me — there are plenty of characters in Atlantic City.

5. Get casino player cards
This really goes for almost any casino you visit, but in order to get comp offers, you'll need a casino player's card. A few of us signed up for cards at Harrah's and received coupon books for a number of great deals in Atlantic City, including $10 in free slot play. I parlayed that $10 into a whopping $5.25 in winnings, but you can't complain about getting something for nothing!

4. Play mini-golf
While walking the boardwalk, you've got to stop and take a shot at one of the mini-golf courses. It's a fun, cheap activity that brings out the competitive fire in everyone, from the most avid player who hits the links every weekend, to the ones who have never picked up a putter. Congratulations go to Todd, who handed all of us a solid beat-down in our round. How long do I have to wait before I tell him that we let him win because it was his weekend?

3. Play in the $1/$1 NL game at Bally's
Bally's has one of the most unique structures for a No Limit Hold'em game that I've ever seen. The two blinds are both set at $1, but players looking to limp in must "call" a minimum of $2. Play proceeds as normal for the rest of the game, with the minimum bet set at $2. This is a great introduction to No Limit Hold'em for poker players with small bankrolls, as the small minimum buy-in ($40) is an accessible price, and the $1 you save when you fold your big blind pre-flop (as opposed to the more standard $1/$2 game) can add up quite a bit over time. It's also a good game for experienced players, because the skill level at the table varies quite a bit.

2. Barter with a cab driver
The first two nights of the trip, we actually stayed about 15 minutes away in Margate City, thanks to the generosity of the in-laws of one of the other guys in the group. After going 0-for-4 in the midnight poker tournament, we were about to jump into a cab when the driver stopped us.

"Where are you going?"

"Margate City," I said.

"How much do you want to pay?"

"How much do I want to pay? I'd like to pay $2. How much does it cost?"

"Find someone else," he said.

Okay, I didn't want to ride with an obnoxious cab driver anyway. The four of us had the obnoxious quota covered, thank you very much. (Need evidence? Chris, another regular in the Casino City Home Game, stood next to that cab for three minutes telling every other person looking for a ride not to go with him.)

After being denied by two other cabbies, we finally came to terms with an agreeable gentleman who was nice enough to have his own personal drag race with the white truck in the other lane at each of the 47 stop lights we hit on the way back.

My esteemed colleague Dan Igo notes that as long as you stay within the Atlantic City limits, the maximum fare is $13, so it's really quite affordable to travel by cab, especially if you are traveling with a group.

1. Eat at the Old Homestead Steakhouse
The Borgata is home to a number of fine dining options, and we visited the Old Homestead Steakhouse. Todd and two others are originally from Texas, after all. The Borgata Web site accurately describes the restaurant like this: "Specializing in the 4 food groups: beef, beef, beef and beef."

Vegetarians need not apply; most main courses on the menu consist of more than a pound of beef (note that many of the steaks are bone-in). I devoured the Sweet and Smokey Dry Rubbed 22-ounce Kansas City Strip Steak, and the table shared delicious sides of steamed spinach, garlic mashed potatoes, and onion rings, all complemented by bottles of Pinot Noir and Chianti. While Chris was disappointed in his 34-ounce Gotham Rib Steak, everyone else walked away fully satiated. Your heart might not thank you, but your stomach will.
Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.

Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.