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Check Out Aria's New Poker Room

Established Rooms Brace For Upcoming CityCenter Poker Room


At midnight on Dec. 17, Aria’s doors officially opened to the public. Las Vegas’ newest casino — and the centerpiece of the multi-billion dollar CityCenter — is the home of a brand new poker room.

The historic grand opening for Aria — a 4,004-room hotel-casino in a 67-acre complex — provides a timely opportunity for Card Player to look back on the recent history of poker rooms in the city and analyze the live poker scene in today’s market.

The New Kid on the Block

Much like its sister property Bellagio, the new poker room at Aria will cater to both low-limit grinders and high-stakes gamblers alike. There are no immediate plans to move the “Big Game” over to CityCenter from Bobby’s Room, but Aria is prepared just in case, with a one-table room secluded from the rest of the floor that offers direct access to the poker room cashier cage, which offers 480 safety deposit boxes.

In all, the casino will boast a total of 24 tables, 18 of which will be on the main floor. Besides the isolated high-rollers room, an additional five tables will be in an elevated high-limit room near the cage. Aria is hoping that its daily 11 a.m. tournaments, the room’s proximity to self-parking, and a state-of-the-art player rating system will draw in crowds. The room also features 15 high-definition screens.

Ups and Downs

There’s no guarantee that a new poker room will be successful in Las Vegas, a city with such a proliferation of rooms. The M Resort, which opened last March, was blessed with the beautiful problem of needing to find space for two additional tables, thanks to its increase in traffic. But others, such as Aliante Station, which opened last November, were forced to reduce their tables by a third due to declining interest.

The economic downturn has had some effect on the poker industry as a whole. While the summer’s World Series of Poker did its part to boost numbers, it’s the slower times that have some casinos limiting or shutting down their poker rooms altogether.

In the last 18 months, poker rooms at the Hilton, Paris, and Tropicana all have shut down their poker rooms entirely. Others, such as Hooters and Bill’s Gambling Hall, are only open during certain hours of the day.

Some casinos are also reducing the amount of space allotted to poker, preferring instead to fill the real estate with slot machines and pit games. Some poker-room managers report less interest in poker from casino executives and were forced to remove a table or two, if for no other reason than to make the room appear more populated.

The action in downtown Las Vegas has seen a modest increase in traffic, according to poker room employees at the properties, with Binion’s leading the way in terms of the sheer square footage the poker room occupies. At the Golden Nugget, the casino recently tore down the Keno Lounge in order to make room for three additional tables. During its popular summer tournament series, a total of 60 tables are placed in the convention center to capitalize on the WSOP traffic.

Past Poker Mecca

In the mid-90’s, the Mirage was the behemoth of the poker world, but the casino recently decided to pull five tables from their room, reducing the overall number to 20. The extra floor space was filled by a few couches, granting waiting players an area to relax before a seat opens up.

Chris Coffin, the Mirage poker room manager, explained that the former home of the Big Game has undergone a change in its target demographic.

“Everyone knows the Mirage, from your long-time player to a guy who just watched Rounders for the first time,” he said. “But I don’t see us returning to the status we had in the days before Bellagio opened. There’s a lot of competition among the high-end rooms, and we’re happy targeting the everyday players who are loyal to the room. We have no problem competing, because we don’t mind catering to the low-limit players.”

Coffin believes that even Strip properties must fight hard to win each customer’s loyalty, and he has done his part by adding those perks usually reserved for the off-Strip, local-friendly casinos.

“The players are vocal about what they want,” he said. “My No. 1 complaint was from players who would make big hands like quads, straight flushes, and royals and have nothing to show for it other than the pot. That’s why we added high-hand jackpots. We also added more low buy-in tournaments and have them running seven days a week.”

It appears that the Gold Coast is also thinking along those lines after recently announcing a plan to link their bad-beat jackpot with that of The Orleans, offering a bigger incentive for regular players to return. It’s a move that has been done for years at the various Station casinos throughout the valley, as places such as Red Rock, Palace Station, and Green Valley Ranch all contribute to the same $150,000 jackpot fund.

Deep Stacked Success Story

The biggest rooms in Las Vegas are still running strong. Caesars still dazzles visitors with its decorated tournament room, the Wynn has its niche with high-end luxurious gaming, and even the MGM pulls in quite a bit of action with its centrally-located, open-floorplan room. But the new big man on campus is the Venetian. By offering its affordable Deep Stack Extravaganza tournament series four times a year, the spacious room remains action-packed seemingly year round.

Poker sometimes takes a back seat to other, more profitable games that a casino can offer, but Kathy Raymond, director of poker room operations, explained why the Venetian has embraced the room.

“Poker is looked at in a much broader scope than just poker revenue,” she said. “It is seen as a very strong marketing tool for the entire property. The exposure and excitement that poker, and in particular the Deep Stack Extravaganza series, brings to the Venetian extends far beyond the walls of the poker room itself.”

Looking Forward

While it is far too early to tell what impact Aria’s new poker room might have on other Strip properties, the property does add 24 tables to a city that already has a wealth of them.

The amount of real estate a casino allots for poker is often a good indicator of just how well the industry is doing. In the past 12 months, some rooms have shriveled or closed completely, while others are removing slot machines and adding tables to accommodate the increasing number of customers.

The prognosis is mixed, but there is enough expansion in the works to feel upbeat about the poker landscape and its future, despite an economy that is bouncing back slower than originally anticipated.

A look at some of the hard numbers:

Strip Properties No. Of Cash Tables
Bally’s 10
Bellagio 39
Bill’s Gambling Hall 3
Caesars Palace 29
Circus Circus 8
Excalibur 12
Flamingo 11
Harrah’s 12
Imperial Palace 6
Luxor 8
Mandalay Bay 10
MGM Grand 22
Mirage 20
Monte Carlo 8
O’Sheas 7
Paris Closed
Planet Hollywood 12
Riviera 7
Sahara 16
Stratosphere 8
Treasure Island 8
Tropicana Closed
Venetian 50
Wynn 26
Near Strip Properties No. Of Cash Tables
Hard Rock 18
Hilton Closed
Hooters 3
Tuscany 6
Palace Station 9
Palms 10
Rio 15
Gold Coast 6
Orleans 35
Downtown Properties No. Of Cash Tables
Binion’s 10
Fitzgeralds 6
Golden Nugget 13
Plaza 4
El Cortez 3
Off-Strip Properties No. Of Cash Tables
Arizona Charlie’s 3
Red Rock 20
Suncoast 10
Boulder Station 12
Eastside Cannery 4
Sam’s Town 11
Aliante Station 8
Santa Fe Station 14
Texas Station 8
Silverton 6
South Point 11
M Resort 14
Green Valley Ranch 22
Cannery 12
Club Fortune 3
Joker’s Wild 4