Poker Road Trip: Delaware and Eastern Pa.

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When a state approves poker for its citizens we always like to think of it as a victory for all poker players. So when a pair of states is granted the right to pitch cards it makes us twice as thrilled. Two milestones highlighted this past summer: Pennsylvania and Delaware began spreading live poker, and consequently, Ante Up expanded into these states. What better way to celebrate these great accomplishments than to visit the new poker rooms on an Ante Up Road Trip? Most of the rooms were awaiting approval for tournaments when we visited, but you can check our Where to Play pages for the most up-to-date information.

Delaware

Delaware Park
(302) 355-1050 | delawarepark.com

As a tournament director at the Venetian in Las Vegas, Anthony Chester saw first-hand how a successful poker room looked, felt and operated. He knew if he got his chance to open a room he’d try to replicate that experience, and with Delaware Park he has. From the oak décor and marble drink rests on the tables, to the five oversized leather chairs (and their wooden carved armrests) in the waiting area, Chester handpicked every item and detail of this elegant poker room. And when it came to buy-ins and limits, he mimicked the Venetian, setting up what he calls a “true Las Vegas-style poker room.” Here’s the skinny on Delaware Park:
TABLES: 20, plus a 25-table tournament room
POPULAR GAMES AND LIMITS: $1-$2, $2-$5, $5-$10 NLHE; $3-$6 (occasionally $6-$12) limit and a $3-$6 or $6-$12 H.O.R.S.E. game. “Every once in a while they’ll throw that deuce-to-seven in there,” Chester said with a smile. “All week we had a $3-$6 mix of pineapple and crazy pineapple.”
PROMOTIONS: “Well, it’s not specifically a bad-beat dollar,” Chester said. “We take a dollar out of every pot when the pot reaches $20, and it’s a promotional dollar. It goes to fund two different bad beats, the mega beat, which is for the entire room, and then we have a mini beat for the table only. … We also have a monthly $15K freeroll, 40 hours of play in a month will qualify you for the freeroll.” Also, top 10 in hours earned gets $100. And be on the lookout for a $150K bi-annual freeroll.
STAFF: Nearly 200.
AMENITIES: About 20 flatscreen TVs circle the main room, including four dedicated to promotions and waitlists. The Bravo system is installed at every table to help take care of players using their Delaware Park Players Card. There’s also a poker room menu so you can eat at the table. The Bravo system can alert a waitress if you need a beverage or food.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN IN POKER: “Since 2000,” Chester said. “I started out dealing poker at the World Series. My first hand of poker dealt was $30-$60 Omaha/8. I got thrown immediately to the wolves. But I’ve been in gaming for 16 years. I started in blackjack and craps. The back gave out on me so I had to go to the box and sit down. Ironically I had to give up the standing job and ended up with another standing job.”
WHAT CAN A PLAYER EXPECT FROM YOU ROOM? “Complete customer service. We use game attendants and chip-runners. So you’re going to be greeted by someone who is just like a hostess in a restaurant; they’re the hostess to the poker room. You’re going to be greeted by a board attendant who’s going to take your name and make you a players card if you don’t have one. … The way we do things is a true Las Vegas-style poker room.”

Dover Downs
(302) 674-4600 | doverdowns.com

Frank Foti is the king of setting up poker rooms, and with Crown Royal as title sponsor of the Dover Downs poker room, is it any wonder? Foti has built poker rooms from the ground up all over Atlantic City for the past 10 years and has been in the casino industry for three decades. This unassuming manager has put together a very relaxed poker room dedicated to the wants and needs of its poker players. As Foti put it, Dover Downs is a “real gambling-style poker room where there’s not a carnival-like atmosphere. There are some places that do that, and some places it works and some places it doesn’t. We just want to take it one step at a time and it’s been working because we’ve been growing every week.”
TABLES: 18; STAFF: 50
POPULAR GAMES AND LIMITS: $1-$2, $2-$5, $5-$10 NLHE. “We’ve had some requests for stud games. If we have enough players I’ll spread pinochle,” Foti said with a laugh.
PROMOTIONS: The bad beat is aces full of jacks, one of the easiest to hit in the area. “What I’m trying to do is keep this to as close to a real poker room as possible,” Foti said.
AMENITIES: “We have a full menu and full wait service,” Foti said. “Players can use the betting machine in the room to bet on races, etc., and we have football parlay cards.” Also, a players comp card is available and pays 50 cents an hour. Shuffle machines are installed in 12 of the 18 tables and there are 11 TVs.
WHAT CAN A PLAYER EXPECT FROM YOUR ROOM? “This is kind of like they took a Las Vegas or Atlantic City hotel and dropped it right here. It’s a classy place to come to. I’ll never let it turn into a dive joint. If somebody utters the wrong word here they’re out. We had a Scrabble tournament here (on property) and two of the players came in cursing, from Scrabble! I said to the one guy, “How many points do you get for that word?” … It’s a relaxed place to come. It’s a fun place to come. That’s how I am. We just have fun. We’re open-collar, we’re rounded-collar. No shirt and tie, that’s really stuffy. They can expect a lot of fun, to be treated with a lot of respect. I want the room to be a house game that everybody can come to.”
OF NOTE: The Crown Royal Poker Room offers reduced specials on Crown Royal products, plus players can win Crown Royal gear if they hit a royal flush. And what about the Crown Royal throne in the lobby? “That’s mine,” Foti said, laughing. “If it swiveled it’d be in my office.”

Harrington Raceway
(888) 887-5687 | harringtonraceway.com

When you’re the first to open a poker room in your state there are pros and cons: You get first crack at players itching to play live poker, but you also have to set the standard, which isn’t easy. Harrington Raceway was the first to open a poker room in Delaware after the legislation passed and its goal was to be the friendly room. In talking with the staff they said they pride themselves in getting to know their players and it’s a rare occurrence when they don’t know players by name.
TABLES: 10
POPULAR GAMES AND LIMITS: $1-$2 NLHE ($2-$5 and $5-$10 on weekends). We were told nobody is interested in limit poker there.
PROMOTIONS: The bad beat is aces full of kings ($62K as of press time). During football season (Sundays and Mondays) two cash game tables are randomly selected and the pot is splashed once with $100. Also, Monday-Thursday (6-10 a.m.) the room pays high hands.
STAFF: The poker room and table games share dealers.
AMENITIES: A waitress will bring you food and you can eat at the table. Try the crab cakes from Murphy’s. There are 10 TVs and pagers will alert you if your seat is ready. Also, there is talk of comps, but be sure to ask the brush when you arrive.
OF NOTE: Tournaments began in late September, running every Tuesday and Thursday ($60 buy-in, 3,000 chips), but seating is limited to 45 players. Call ahead for times. The room plans to offer larger buy-ins and bigger stacks in the future. Also, Harrington has a large ballroom and the staff says it wants to plan a larger tournament series down the road.

Eastern Pennsylvania

Harrah’s Chester
(800) 480-8020 | harrahschester.com

If you’ve read Ante Up Road Trips in the past you’ll notice a theme whenever a Harrah’s property is reviewed: the World Series of Poker. It’s hard to ignore, and Harrah’s Chester is no different. Just outside Philadelphia, this Harrah’s room is the only WSOP-branded property in the area, so that means plenty of players will flock there for WSOP satellites and events. Being so close to A.C. you may wonder how those properties feel about having another one so close, but manager Chris Loscalso says it’s a synergy that works well.
“We have a great working relationship with our sister properties in A.C. and I think we share a lot of their best practices,” he said. “We think there’s enough people in the market that there’s plenty of poker to go around.”
TABLES: 25
POPULAR GAMES AND LIMITS: $1-$2, $2-$5 NLHE. “But occasionally we’ll get limit games ranging from $2-$4 to $20-$40,” Loscalso said. “And a stud game has been known to break out.”
PROMOTIONS: Bad beat is quad deuces.
STAFF: 150
AMENITIES: You can eat at the tables (a waitress will deliver the food) and there’s tableside beverage service. Total Rewards cards are being used but specifics aren’t nailed down just yet.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN IN POKER? “I started in poker in 2006 and this is the second poker room I’ve helped run,” Loscalso said, who started in the casino business in 2003 as a dealer. “When people say ‘You don’t remember when,’ I actually do. I’ve never forgotten where I’ve started.”
OF NOTE: Actress/poker player Shannon Elizabeth visited the room recently and Harrah’s randomly picked six people playing live games and gave the $300 to play with against her. “She did relatively well,” Loscalso said with a smile.

Hollywood Penn National
(717) 469-2291 | hcpn.com

It’s always a good sign when the staff at your local poker room is thinking of expanding the playing area. It’s even more encouraging when a room that’s only just in its infancy is considering it because that means business is good.
The folks at Hollywood Penn National (minutes from Hershey/Harrisburg) have put together a fine looking poker room, very spacious and rich in décor. But the first-floor room is so busy that expansion to the second floor is being explored, and you just know that expansion will be as successful and aesthetically pleasing as the first effort. Until that move, however, here’s what you have to look forward to at HPN:
TABLES: 14
POPULAR GAMES AND LIMITS: $1-$2 and $2-$5 NLHE (though $3-$6 limit and $4-$8 Omaha/8 were running when Ante Up visited).
PROMOTIONS: “We are moving toward having ‘special game’ nights, where we would ‘guarantee’ an available table of a type of game (PLO, LHE, etc.) on certain nights of the week,” manager Marc Bilodeau said.
STAFF: The poker room and tables games share dealers and staff.
AMENITIES: Tableside dining and a poker room menu are offered. “Hot dogs are a great choice,” said table games manager Anthony Ciallella. A Bravo system aids in seating, but comps aren’t offered for poker just yet. There are 11 TVs, a self-service wagering terminal and a large-screen LCD monitor strictly devoted to horse racing.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN IN POKER? “This is my 22nd year in gaming,” Bilodeau said, “and I’ve been directly involved with poker for the past 10 years.”
WHAT MAKES YOUR ROOM DIFFERENT? “Our Central Pennsylvania players are friendly, polite and very laid back and this makes for a great experience in our poker room,” Bilodeau said. “Our courteous staff easily handles the rare major incident we might have during a day.”
WHAT CAN A PLAYER EXPECT FROM YOUR ROOM? “We know all any player wants is a fair game and customer service that exceeds expectations,” Bilodeau said, “and that’s what we are proud to offer at Hollywood Casino.”
OF NOTE: The brush stand at the entrance handles seating and chips as well.

Mohegan Sun Pocono Downs
(570) 831-2100 | mohegansunpocono.com

Art Blanda, the young and energetic manager at MSPD, runs a clean, professional room, no doubt a result of his years of experience working in the Connecticut poker rooms. And when you combine that with Mohegan’s modern, spacious layout and experienced staff, you can’t lose.

“When you come here it’s a poker room,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about people bumping into you, no noise.”

Blanda was an integral member with the relatively new Mohegan Sun poker room in Uncasville, Conn., and that really helped when he assembled the pieces for his new room, which is divided into three areas. As you walk up to the brush stand you can see the somewhat secluded high-limit area to the right. The $1-$2 no-limit tables are buzzing behind the brush and to the left. And if you have to wait to play the brush will text you when your table is ready so you’re free to roam around the casino.
TABLES: 18
POPULAR GAMES AND LIMITS: $1-$2, $2-$5, $5-$10 NLHE; $2-$4 limit and a $15-$30 H.O.S.E. game has been running pretty regularly at night.
PROMOTIONS: Bad beat and/or high hand jackpots are coming soon, pending state approval.
STAFF: Nearly 75 members.
AMENITIES: There are 12 flatscreen TVs, some as big as 65 inches, that can broadcast anything. There’s a tote in the room to bet any race and simulcast. The side tables arrived Oct. 1 so tableside dining and waitress service is now 24 hours. Comp cards exist on three levels (Regular, Elite and Sagamore) as players earn 50 cents an hour in $1-$2 NLHE and limit games, but $1 an hour if you play higher.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN IN POKER? “I started in the (Mohegan) poker room in Connecticut two years ago as a dual rate dealer/floor person,” Blanda said. “I’ve been in the business almost 15 years.”
WHAT CAN A PLAYER EXPECT FROM YOUR ROOM? “You can see the atmosphere is a nice poker setting,” Blanda said. “It’s quiet, out of the way (bottom floor). You’re not going to have much noise and you’re going to get great service. Our floor staff is fantastic. … We can spread almost any limit you can think of. We’re very flexible. If you want to play heads-up with someone we’ll take care of it.”
OF NOTE: “Our dealers went through a 13-week class instead of a four-week class,” Blanda said, “so they came out much quicker and much more efficient.” Also, sit-and-go tournaments began Oct. 1 and multitable tournaments were set to launch Nov. 1. “The large starting chip stack amounts and the 20- to 25-minute levels should be very enticing to even the experienced tournament player,” Blanda said.

Mount Airy
(570) 243-5184 | mtairycasino.com

As you stroll from the parking lot and look out at the rolling green hills and wooded surroundings you can’t help but think of the Catskills and the opening scenes from Dirty Dancing. And that’s pretty much the clientele Mount Airy has, casual players looking to enjoy a game of poker and not look across the table at some serious, sunglasses-wearing pro who will berate you if you make a bad play. On this night Thomas Hanno was one of the floor personnel in charge and he answered Ante Up’s questions as we sat in the room’s bronze leather chairs.
TABLES: 11
POPULAR GAMES AND LIMITS: $1-$2, $2-$5 NLHE; $2-$4 and $3-$6 limit.
PROMOTIONS: The bad beat is aces full of kings and high hands may be coming soon.
STAFF: Most of the poker room staff is shared with table games.
AMENITIES: There’s no eating at the tables (the room is fairly small so adding side tables likely would make this unmanageable). There is a casino players card that serves as the poker players card and earns 40 cents an hour.
WHAT CAN A PLAYER EXPECT FROM THIS ROOM? “We go after the casual poker player,” Hanno said. “You’re not going to come in here and be intimidated by professional players. This is more of a casual weekend gambler. They just want to be able to play.”
OF NOTE: The staff is hoping to move this smallish poker room into the much larger conference center.

Sands Casino Bethlehem
(877) SANDS-77 | sandsbethworks.com

Do you like energy in your poker? Do you feel like you’re not playing unless you’re in the main casino and can hear all of the music and atmosphere? Then the Sands poker room is for you. Well, it’s not exactly a poker room, it’s the area of the casino where poker is played, which is just fine with its players. About 50 percent of the clientele comes from Lehigh Valley (college students, Allentown, Bethlehem) and the other half is from north Jersey (New Brunswick, Bergen County).

This room breeds action, which is why just about every table was full when Ante Up arrived on a Wednesday night. Players without tables sat in the chic central seating area.
Or, if they wanted to roam the casino the brush could text them through the Bravo system.
Expansion is on the horizon for the Sands poker room, especially once tournaments get approved and the casino’s hotel is completed in the spring. Poker room manager David Urie said he has big plans for a tournament series once the pieces of the puzzle fall into place. Until then you’ll just have to be satisfied with a very fun, energetic poker experience at the cash game tables.
TABLES: 12
POPULAR GAMES AND LIMITS: $1-$2, $2-$5 NLHE.
PROMOTIONS: The bad beat is quad deuces and is a one-table winner.
STAFF: There are dedicated floors and dual rates, but staff is shared among table games.
AMENITIES: The Bravo system is installed and you’ll earn 50 cents an hour. Also, you can eat at the table as a waitress will take your order. There is a poker menu with 20 items but you can also order from the full menu.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN IN POKER? “About six years,” Urie said. “I started as a dealer at the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. I’ve been in the casino business 11 years.”
WHAT CAN A PLAYER EXPECT FROM YOUR ROOM? “The beautiful part about this room is we have a lot of professional (staff) here who’ve been in the business a long time,” he said. “Our poker supervisors all have 10 years’ experience in the field. If you come here you can expect quality service, people who know what they’re doing. You’re not going to have inconsistencies, which as a player that always drives me crazy.
“Being this is a different kind of room, you have energy and vigor here. You have the music, but not too loud, and it kind of keeps you up and excited.”
OF NOTE: Tournaments won’t begin until 2011, likely between January and March, when the room expands to about twice its current size.