Q&A with Las Vegas Michael

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With the World Series of Poker Main Event beginning this month, we thought who better to educate our readers on the ins and outs of Sin City poker than Ante Up’s Las Vegas ambassador? Michael Hamai’s main gig, however, continues to be the reigning Vegas poker expert at AllVegasPoker.com, the pre-eminent source of Vegas poker news. He chatted with Ante Up about AVP, being a local in Vegas during the WSOP and the historic Sahara’s closing.

We’ve been visiting Las Vegas for many years now, and the one site we never forget to check before hopping on a plane is AllVegasPoker.Com. Tell us about the site. AllVegasPoker.com was founded in 2004 and it has always been a way for the casual Las Vegas poker player or even the serious player to find out exactly what’s going on in the rooms, what to play and what they’re looking for. Las Vegas has 58 poker rooms and almost every one is on AVP. We have pictures of every room, a complete tournament database … we provide the structures, the times, what they can expect as far as cash games and even the traffic levels in the room. We cover everything from cocktail service to comps.

What’s it like being a Vegas local during the World Series? It’s really still a great time for the locals for the simple reason that during the rest of the poker year … the games are steady, but a lot of times it’s the same players with a rotating group of tourists.

During the World Series it’s like poker on acid. (laughs) Every single room is just packed with players. And many people may think, “Oh, they’re all World Series, serious players.” Believe me, there’s a reason all the pros are playing at the Rio, because the money is soft, the games are soft and it’s just a great situation.

Even the small dinky locals rooms are affected by the World Series because most poker players are cheap, as we all know, and stay off Strip, and it makes poker rooms great even five miles off the Strip. It really has a ripple effect throughout the entire city. … It’s really just a great time to find all the action you’ve ever wanted.

The Sahara, which had great little daily tournaments, is closed now. Who picked up that business? The Sahara tournament was unique. They ran it at 11 a.m., 7 p.m. and 11 p.m.; it was a $45 buy-in with a single $20 rebuy. The rake was horrendous. They were raking up to 33 percent off the initial buy-in. But what people didn’t take into account was they didn’t rake anything off the rebuy, and like 98 percent of the people took the rebuy, so that decreased the rake to more manageable mid 20 percent levels, which is reasonable for a $65 tournament. Their 7 p.m. (at its peak) would get over 170 players, which if you think about it, that’s paying $3K for first place on a $65 tournament. …

With the Saraha closing, the first casino to jump on that market was the Stratosphere, right across the street, which makes sense. It’s diagonal from where the old Sahara is. The poker room manager at Stratosphere is actually the former Sahara manager. So they transitioned some of the staff over there … and decided to do it the easy way and mirror (the Sahara tournament). They literally mirrored the Sahara’s old structure verbatim (8,000 chips, 20-minute levels).

Other than it just being Vegas, of course, are there things that are unique about Vegas poker? The proximity of action. There are 58 rooms all within a 20- to 30-mile radius. There’s 10 rooms all next door to each side the Strip. The Strip alone has 800 poker tables. … If you don’t like one room you’re gonna walk about an eighth of a mile and be in another room.

What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the Vegas poker scene since you’ve been covering it? The single biggest change obviously is the poker boom. … In 2005 alone I believe 30 poker rooms opened in Las Vegas. Prior to 2003 there was at tops 20 rooms that were spreading poker in Las Vegas. … The fact that we went from 20 rooms to 58 in basically seven years is kinda crazy.