POKER ROAD TRIP: Western Pa. and West Virginia

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By Christopher Cosenza

It’s a very interesting time in poker for this area of the country. One state is enjoying a boom with new rooms opening this past summer, while the other state is struggling with its newcompetition. The good news is players have a lot to choose from when it comes to poker.

PENNSYLVANIA

Meadows Casino
724-503-1200 | meadowsgaming.com

It’s safe to say if you’ve been in the poker industry for more than a quarter century you know a thing or two about regulations. Peter Lau is no exception, and he used this experience to his advantage. While the rest of the Pennsylvania poker rooms were busily trying to get their bad-beat and other jackpot-related promotions approved, Lau opted for having all of his tournament paperwork and requests in order. “I put that as my first priority,” the Meadows’ poker room manager said. “Tournaments are the main thing.” Indeed, and his room was the only Pennsylvania room approved for tournaments almost from the get-go, which gave him a huge advantage. Other rooms have since been approved to run tournaments, but the Meadows has an established schedule with regulars filling the seats. Here’s a little more information about Lau and his poker room:
TABLES: 26
GAMES-LIMITS: $2-$4 limit; $1-$2, ($50-$200 buy-in) and $2-$5 NLHE, with a $5-$10 game on weekends. An Omaha game might spread once or twice a month.
SPECIALS: There is a bad beat, but other promotions are more interesting. You can spin the wheel for prizes if you make quads or a straight flush, plus there’s Full House Frenzy on Fridays. Make a full house and you’ll get a ticket for a drawing. There’s also a money machine that looks like a phone booth. Money is blown all around you and you have to grab as much as you can (think Price is Right kitschy). “It’s kinda fun but we’re too loose,” Lau said with a laugh. “They grab everything. They’re not supposed to pin (the money) against the glass.” Also, Player Appreciation Day is Sunday with tickets given for drawings.
TOURNAMENTS: There’s a full schedule, but the Midnight Madness event is popular on Friday and Saturday (12K chips, 20-minute blinds). “It’s done by 3:30 a.m.,” Lau said.
AMENITIES: Yes, you can eat at the tables and a waitress will take your order and bring you the food. There’s also a Bravo tracking system that rewards you with a dollar an hour on your comp card. Snacks are spread out at the room’s entrance (doughnuts and fruit in the morning, sandwiches for major tournaments) and there’s a bar dedicated to the room. If you’re a high-limit player you can get a security box in the cage, though most of them are taken.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN IN POKER? “About 25-26 years,” Lau said. “I started at the Bicycle Club as a dealer and dual-rate floor. I came to the East Coast to be assistant manager at Foxwoods (in Connecticut). I helped start Foxwoods and I started Mohegan Sun (in Connecticut). And I started Wheeling (Island’s poker room). I’ve been around.”
WHAT CAN A PLAYER EXPECT FROM YOUR ROOM? “First-class service and proficient dealers,” he said. “Bravo counts hands per hour, and I post it every week. The winner gets something special. We make sure they get at least 30 hands per hour. If you’re playing a high-limit game you’re charged time. So you won’t get a slow dealer. The national average is 30 hands per hour. By pushing it, they improve week after week. So the customer will know they’ll have minimal break-in dealers. Tournaments will be run efficiently, run by the rules of the TDA and as professional as they can get. The dealers are more proficient because we monitor it. A lot of the good dealers followed us from Wheeling. We offer a product differentiation. If (the competition has) $4-$8, we have $2-$4, and that’s perfect. I don’t get into theirs and they don’t get into mine.”

Parx Casino
215-639-9000 | www.parxcasino.com

THE SKINNY: Yes, this poker room is in Philadelphia and belongs in our November issue with the rest of the Eastern Pennsylvania reviews, but the Parx Poker Room hadn’t opened by the time we went to press. The soft opening for the 24-table room came on Nov. 3, with a grand opening on Nov. 5. The room in the Parx East Building hopes to expand to 61 tables once tournaments are approved, and is run by Ari Mizrachi, a well-known and well-respected manager. Parx, which has the Bravo system and roughly 70 TVs in the room, is spreading a variety of games and limits, including $4-$8, $8-$16, $15-$30 and $30-$60 limit hold’em, $1-$2, $2-$5 and $5-$10 NLHE, $4-$8 and $8-$16 stud/8 and Omaha/8 (the O/8 game is with a half-kill). You can’t eat at the table, but you’re welcome to eat at the full-service bar that’s in the poker room.

Rivers Casino
412-231-7777 | theriverscasino.com

When you’re poker room is quite literally a 9-iron from Heinz Field, you just know you’re going to be busy on game day. Throw into the mix the downtown Pittsburgh business crowd and you have the recipe for some great poker play. And that’s what day-shift manager Sam Rudman will tell you if you ask him what the room is like.
“We have great action,” he said. “But our room is quiet with soft lighting as well.”
Rudman is already legendary in his new room, not standing for any abuse or angle-shooting from his players.
“We make you welcome,” he said. “We have fair and equitable rulings.”
Indeed, and if you see Sam, ask him about the time he resembled a big-league umpire as he was throwing out a belligerent player.
The room was recently approved for tournaments, which are run twice a day (noon and 7:30 p.m.) and there are special events on weekends. Here’s the skinny on the River Casino’s spacious poker room:
TABLES: 24
GAMES/LIMITS: $4-$8 limit, $1-3, $2-5, $5-$10, $10-$20 NLHE, $1-3 PLO every night, $4-$8 Omaha with a full kill.
SPECIALS: The bad beat is aces full of jacks, but they also have high hands that are paid twice a day.
AMENITIES: There is a players card, the Bravo system, which is great for tracking players, and you can eat at the tables with 24-hour tableside food service.
WHAT CAN A PLAYER EXPECT FROM YOUR ROOM: “We have a young, eager staff (80 dealers) and you can expect a warm atmosphere,” Rudman said. “We want our players to know we will be looking our for them when they are here. And did I say we have a lot of action?”

WEST VIRGINIA

Mountaineer River
304-387-8458 | www.mountaineerpoker.com

With Pennsylvania now cutting into the West Virginia poker market, it’s only natural to wonder what poker rooms such as Mountaineer River will do to survive. Manager Richard Byrne welcomes the challenge.
“With the competition it’s kind of interesting and everyone is going to have to make adjustments,” he said. “That challenge for me, I really enjoy. But, we’re not going anywhere. I’m determined that the room is going to stay alive.”
Byrne, who has been with Mountaineer from the beginning, recently took over the poker room and helped move it from the trackside stadium over into the main casino. “It’s more exciting over here,” Byrne said.
TABLES: 24
GAMES-LIMITS: $1-$2, $2-$5, $2-$4, $3-$6, sometimes $3-$6 Omaha and O/8 with a full kill on weekends.
SPECIALS: “Our bad beat (aces full of kings) is a little different than usual,” Byrne said. “We try to share the money. If it hits we chop it in half; 50 percent goes to the table that hit (50 percent of that goes to the “winner,” 25 to the “loser” and the rest to the table) while the rest will be split among the players in the room, up to $500 per person. The surplus goes back to the main table.
“I thought it would be interesting to give everyone who puts a dollar into the pot a chance.” The room also has run a Beat the Boss promotion in the past, and freerolls and high hands are always on the docket.
TOURNAMENTS: Twice daily (12:15 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.) with varying buy-ins and starting stacks, plus there’s a 2 p.m. $65 event on Sundays (5K chips, 15-minute blinds).
SIGNATURE EVENT: The Autumn Classic just finished in November, but Byrne says he is looking to do a seasonal series (four events) that culminates in an ultimate championship at the end of the year. Stay tuned.
AMENITIES: Tableside dining is available, but you have to get the food. “Big Al’s Deli is right up the poker room stairs and around the corner,” Byrne said. There is a Bravo system and the players card has varying comp levels.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN IN POKER? “I started in Atlantic City and worked for five and a half years at the Tropicana, so that’s about nine complete years.”
WHAT CAN A PLAYER EXPECT FROM YOUR ROOM? “I think they’ll experience a friendly staff and a nice comfortable social environment to play. I think poker is your best value recreationally in a casino and I try to promote that. I want the experience to be comfortable and enjoyable. I think that’s what we provide really.
“We have a warm, friendly staff, and the players themselves, it’s not like Atlantic City. The people here are of a different temperament. I think it’s more enjoyable when people come here and they can find other people are like themselves when they play.”

Hollywood at Charles Town
800-795-7001 | www.ctowntables.com

Charles Town still is new to the poker scene, opening in July. Tournaments aren’t available yet, but should be spread by the start of the new year. The temporary 27-table poker room located on the second floor recently expanded to 24 hours. The permanent room is still under construction but should be completed by the end of January and likely will add three more tables. Also, promotions, including comps and a bad beat, should be offered by the end of this year or by January. Here’s what manager Randy Kiefer had to say about his still-evolving poker room.
GAMES-LIMITS: “Far and away $1-$2 NLHE is our most popular,” Kiefer said. “We have 27 games when we’re full-spread, which is often, and about half are $1-$2 no-limit. … $2-$5 is probably next. We also offer a $3-$6 and $6-$12 limit, which we usually have daily, it just depends on who shows up. We spread PLO and O/8 usually every other day.”
SPECIALS: The room is still settling in and is so busy with cash games that promotions are still being finalized. You can count on bad beats and the like to be part of the mix soon, but for now the room is packed with cash games.
AMENITIES: You can eat at the table, but it’s hot dogs and whatever you bring up from the food court. They also have the Bravo system for player tracking. “It’s a great system,” Kiefer said. “Dealers don’t have to shout that a seat is open. It shows our supervisors on the screen when a seat is available. We don’t have that noise going on in our room.”
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN IN POKER? “I started out dealing in St. Louis as a poker dealer back in ’98. I worked in Vegas for a few years; I worked Southern California for a few years. I went back and helped open up a room in St. Louis in ’04. Then I opened up and ran the poker room at the Showboat in ’05. So I have about 13 years in, all over the country, in all different kinds of markets.”
WHAT CAN A PLAYER EXPECT FROM YOUR ROOM? “I think one of the biggest differences is the consistency between shifts, as well as the support we lend our team, from supervisors to dealers. I set it up so that when people come to play poker they can have a good time. (Some rooms) allow stuff that’s totally unacceptable and it just creates a negative environment and a bad place to play. … Well, we don’t have that. … Whether your a new player or an experienced player, you’re not going to have people calling you out, criticizing your play or giving the dealers a hard time. I never allowed that, and I never will. I don’t care if my room is slammed or just two tables going, I won’t allow it. I’ve worked all over the country and played all over the country, and from a player’s standpoint, there’s nothing that gets me fired up more than a player being a jerk to the dealer or to another player and the floor comes over and defends the player.”

The Greenbrier
304-536-7806 | www.greenbrier.com

THE SKINNY: The Greenbrier just recently added poker tables, though these games are limited to guests of the Greenbrier only.

Wheeling Island Casino
304-232-5050 | www.wheelingisland.com

When poker players hear “Wheeling Island” they usually think of 2009 World Series of Poker Main Event runner-up Darvin Moon, and that’s just fine with Doug Price, the acting manager for the Jim Beam Poker Room.
“He is an awesome guy,” said Price, who has been running the room since February when Peter Lau left to open the Meadows in Pennsylvania. “(Darvin) never asks for anything. He is more than willing to come and help us. We’re pretty tight. He’s so down to earth. He doesn’t want the notoriety. He’d rather be the Joe Sixpack guy and come here and play with his buddies. Great guy.” And a great draw, which is something Wheeling needs these days given the Pennsylvania squeeze. The room has removed eight tables, but Price says things are starting to return to normal.
“The players are coming back,” he said. “They just wanted to check out something new, but they are coming back. Also, a lot of our dealers went to the Meadows, so for 90 days those dealers couldn’t play here. But that period is over and they’re coming back.” Here’s the skinny on the 12-table poker room:
GAMES-LIMITS: $1-$2 NLHE ($2-$5 on weekends) and $2-$4 limit.
SPECIALS: There’s a bad beat and they recently had a $50K freeroll. You can spin the wheel daily if you get quads or a straight flush. There’s also something called 70 for 50, which means if you buy in for $50 and play for three hours you’ll an extra $20. And some of the past promotions give you an indication of how creative Price and his staff can get. Pick of the Litter involved a random cash player picking a starting hand and how many opponents he wanted to face, and if he beat them he won what was posted. If he lost he still won 10 percent. They also ran Beat the Boss, which pitted nine players against a supervisor who played with real cash chips. You kept what you won from him.
SIGNATURE EVENT: Price says the WSOP qualifiers, which begin this month, are big in his room, and usually run every other Sunday. They also attract Mr. Moon, so if you’re looking to meet the big logger here’s your chance.
AMENITIES: Danishes and muffins are spread in the morning with chips and pretzels put out in the evening, but there is tableside dining with waitresses taking your order. Price recommends the chili and the chicken-bacon-ranch sandwich from the Breezeway.
The poker tables have automatic shufflers and the Bravo system, which gives players 25 cents an hour. “They recently just started status level for poker players,” Price said. “If you meet a certain level you get $50 a month, and it’s good for six months.” Comps can be used anywhere on property, but can’t be exchanged for cash.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN IN POKER? Since October 2007 when poker started at Wheeling.
WHAT CAN A PLAYER EXPECT FROM YOUR ROOM? “On a daily basis you’ll have 75 percent regulars, so it’s real laid back,” he said. “A lot of people know each other. Everybody jokes around a lot and it’s a real laid-back room.”

Mardi Gras Casino at Tri-State
800-224-9683 | www.tristateracetrack.com

The Big Easy Poker Room is well-established, with a full schedule of sit-and-go and multitable tournaments and promotions, including bad beats in hold’em ($45K), Omaha ($9,400) and stud ($2,600). Norman Clerc, who is the poker room manager, also helped get Wheeling Island’s poker room running before moving to Mardi Gras.
There are no tournaments Friday or Saturday, but Sundays host the bigger events, including the Big Easy Big Stack Bounty ($290) and the $10K Mardi Gras event on Dec. 26 (noon, $150)
TABLES: 24
GAMES-LIMITS: “In West Virginia, at least down here, $1-$2 no-limit hold’em is the most popular game,” Clerc said. “On the weekends we’ll add other games. We’ll get a $2-$5 NLHE game and they’ve been playing $5-$10 NL Omaha. In fact they’ve been calling in early to make sure they can get a seat.”
Also, $2-$4 limit is spread.
HOURS: The room opens at 11 a.m. and closes at 3 a.m. during the week, but is always open on the weekends.
SPECIALS: “Generally right now we’re working on giving bad-beat money back to the players. Last month if you played 50 hours or more you were in a drawing for $500, and we gave away $3K (six drawings).”
SIGNATURE EVENT: They’ve given away tickets to players with the most hours for seats into their big end-of-the-month Borgata satellite tournament.
The tournament costs $150 to buy in directly (you can call to reserve your seat), but you can earn your seat through play and other tournament promotions. The winner of the Dec. 26 event gets a seat and travel money ($4K package) for the Borgata’s Winter Open Main Event in January.
AMENITIES: “We have a massage therapist come in on the weekends, most of the time it’s in the evening,” Clerc said. “Plus $1 hot dogs and $1 drafts. We do allow our customers to get a full menu from our restaurants in the house. … Our beverage servers will be more than happy to go over and get them their meal for them.”
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN IN POKER AND HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN MANAGER? “I started in Niagara Falls, N.Y. with Seneca New York, and that was in 2002. … Wheeling (Island) called and I went and started in the poker room there as a supervisor, but for only about nine months. And then when they opened (here in) Charleston I came down and started as a pit manager. So I’ve been here for about two years.”
WHAT MAKES YOUR POKER ROOM DIFFERENT FROM THE OTHERS? “Mostly it’s the people. We have a very good rapport with our players here. We know our players. Most of the people who have started out here are still here. … which makes it very nice. The players come in, they know the dealers, they feel very comfortable in here. … Plus, the next nearest poker room is very far away, so we get a lot of local business.”