POKER ROAD TRIP: Atlantic Coast

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By Scott Long

When you think of poker in The South, you think of Mississippi. Louisiana. Florida.
But there’s poker to be played elsewhere, especially if you’re on a road trip … and isn’t that what this feature is all about? In Georgia and South Carolina, poker is played on the high seas, while you don’t need sea legs to enjoy poker in North Carolina.

Harrah’s Cherokee

LOCATION: Cherokee, N.C.
WEBSITE: www.harrahscherokee.com
PHONE: (828) 497-8284
MANAGER: Ronald Hager
TABLES: 10
POPULAR GAMES/LIMITS: $1-$2 no-limit is the most popular, but a $3-$6 limit is usually going. On weekends, expect a $2-$5 no-limit game and an interest list for pot-limit Omaha. Omaha high and high/low, stud and razz also offered.

PokerPro tables (electronic tables without dealers) are gaining in popularity around the country. They’re a requirement at Harrah’s Cherokee, where the state’s gaming compact doesn’t allow card games using actual cards, but table games supervisor Ronald Hager said his players prefer them and hope the casino doesn’t change them if they’re allowed to in the future.

“Faster play, no mistakes and no tipping are the main (advantages), but showdown odds, ability to view previous hands and session statistics are often mentioned,” Hager said. “As an operator, the ability to offer a wide variety of games literally at the touch of a button and no dealer mistakes makes running a poker room much smoother and profitable.”

The room will begin multitable tournaments this month, and plans to tie in World Series of Poker events next year, with a goal of bringing a circuit event to the property next year. But in the meantime, Hager said, look for a big tournament to be scheduled by late this year or early next year.

The casino is halfway through a $600 million expansion. A state-of-the-art 3,000-seat entertainment showroom opens this month, and a new 535-room hotel tower opens at the end of this year, with multiple restaurants opening next year. And music to poker players ears is the poker room will move upstairs in 2012 with room to expand to 20 tables.
And while poker players look for fish at the table, Harrah’s offers plenty of them away from the table.

“There are not many poker rooms where you can fish for trout while you are taking a break from playing poker,” Hager said.

SunCruz Aquasino

LOCATION: Myrtle Beach, S.C.
WEBSITE: www.suncruzaquasino.com
PHONE: (843) 280-2933
MANAGER: Dan Malka
TABLES: 8
POPULAR GAMES/LIMITS: $2-$5 no-limit is most popular, but $5-$10 limit, $1-$3 no-limit and $5-$10 no-limit also are played. $110 tournaments on Monday evening and Friday morning cruises and $60 tournaments on other cruises.

It’s no surprise when Dan Malka made the move from the now-defunct SunCruz Port Canaveral ship in Florida to the new, thriving SunCruz Aquasino in Myrtle Beach that he brought his signature event with him: the World Offshore No-Limit Hold’em Championship.

That great event resumes Aug. 29 with a $500 buy-in (plus $50 entry fee) that’s limited to 100 players. Malka expects a sellout by Aug. 14, in part because $55+$5 satellites award one seat for every 10 players. The tournament is expected to be repeated once every season, with plans to grow to 200 entrants with TV coverage like it had in Florida.

Malka beams with pride over the tournament’s new home.

“Our new poker room on the third deck is beautiful and unique in that the room encompasses a sportsbook, full-service bar, eight spacious hold’em tables, eight flat-screen HD TVs and leather and glass lounge areas on the perimeter; surrounded by windows allowing you an ocean view from your chair!” he said.

And Malka beams with pride over his new home.

“The best thing about our ship is its location,” he said. “Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, baby! I’ve always heard it was a golfer’s paradise. But I discovered the city planners must have researched the best of all American vacation destinations and decided to bring them all here.”

This SunCruz Aquasino also features a full-service casino, entertainment area with a band, bar, outdoor grill and a restaurant with catered food.

“Sun Cruz Aquasino owner Robert Weisberg’s management team addressed our greatest challenge for casino ships — time restraints — by employing the fastest, friendliest staff of professional employees you will find anywhere,” Malka said.

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Two casino day-cruise ships in Georgia offer poker:

Diamond Casino Savannah

LOCATION: Savannah, Ga.
WEBSITE: diamondcasinosavannah.com
PHONE NUMBER: (912) 897-3005
POKER: Texas Hold’em (Friday night cruise and both Saturday cruises)

Emerald Princess II
LOCATION: Brunswick, Ga.
WEBSITE: emeraldprincesscasino.com
PHONE NUMBER: (800) 842-0115
POKER: $2-$2 no-limit, $2-$5 no-limit, stud, $65 nightly tournaments and a $125 tournament on Saturday nights.