Since the days that players like Doyle Brunson and Puggy Pierson gathered at Binion’s Horseshoe in Las Vegas, that city has been the hub for poker in the United States and a poker destination for other players worldwide.
In the 1970s and 1980s, poker players dreamed of playing at the Horseshoe and playing the little-known World Series of Poker there. In the decades that followed, casinos across Sin City began opening small poker rooms for players who wanted to raise and fold their nights away. Bellagio became known as the premier place for poker in the early 2000s, especially when players like Brunson joined Phil Ivey, Daniel Negreanu, and other big names to play the highest stakes live poker games in town.
The poker boom brought other poker rooms to the forefront due to many offerings of tournament series. The WSOP moved to the Rio, other Harrahs-then-Caesars properties like Caesars and Plant Hollywood began offering complimentary series, and Aria opened one of the most player-friendly rooms on the Las Vegas Strip. At one point, nearly every casino offered poker, and some even spread games like Pot Limit Omaha and Stud in addition to Hold’em.
While the past few years have seen some Las Vegas poker rooms close, the big ones – Bellagio and Aria – remain full on most weekends and during tourist season. The Rio still draws tens of thousands for the WSOP in the summer months, and most players still consider Vegas to be the home of live poker.
Macau on the Rise, Mostly
Though gambling has been legal in Macau since the mid-1800s, it wasn’t until 2001 that major casino operators were welcomed to the territory. Within just a few years, massive resorts were built by Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts, and others joined the fray in the past decade as well.
Even so, poker wasn’t introduced to those casinos until 2007, at which time electronic tables were available and the PokerStars-sponsored Asia Pacific Poker Tour brought the live poker tournament scene to Macau. Several months later, Grand Lisboa Casino offered live poker cash games, and later in 2008, PokerStars opened PokerStars Live in the City of Dreams as the first branded room in Macau. PokerStars Live since moved to Grand Lisboa.
Tournaments are now available, courtesy of the APPT and other events like the Macau Millions, at various times throughout the year. At those times, the cash games heat up, and players have a number of poker options. However, during most times of the year, only a handful of casinos offer poker and typically only Hold’em. Only high rollers like Phil Ivey and Tom Dwan are able to gather for private high-stakes games, at which times any games are spread at any stakes. The highest games are rumored to be $25K/$50K and $50K/$100K.
Las Vegas Remains the Poker Hub
With so few poker room options and the added financial burden of travel to and hotel accommodations in Macau, most poker players around the world opt for Las Vegas for an all-encompassing poker trip. Not only do they have numerous options for hotel rooms at various prices, they can also accumulate comps by playing poker.
And the poker options in Vegas are many, despite recent closings of some rooms. The Golden Nugget and Binions are the ones in the downtown area, but casinos off the Strip like the Orleans offer quite a few cash game and tournament options as well.
The Strip still offers the most poker variations. Bellagio and Aria have the most cash game options and daily tournaments, but other casinos are open to players as well, such as Caesars, Planet Hollywood, Mandalay Bay, and South Point. Other smaller rooms are available up and down the strip as well.
When poker players think of Macau, they think of PokerStars Live tournaments and high-stakes games, but more poker fans and players think of Vegas for real poker vacations, tournament options, and cash games, as well as high-stakes action in Bobby’s Room at the Bellagio and Ivey’s Room at Aria.
There is still something for everyone in Las Vegas.