By Christopher Cosenza
It’s easy for the avid poker player to think of the underground rooms in Rounders when “New York” and “poker” is mentioned in the same breath. Even the famed Mayfair Club that produced some of poker’s finest players (Dan Harrington, Eric Seidel) would fit the bill. But, truth be told, there’s no legal poker in the city. In fact, in the entire state there are only three legal poker rooms, two within the Seneca Casinos chain, and one at Turning Stone Resort in Verona, which is nestled in the Mohawk Valley.
Seneca has a handful of properties in New York, but just Salamanca and Niagara Falls host poker rooms.
It’s autumn there and the colorful leaves are hanging in there like a calling station, so we thought what better time than now to visit these properties.
Melinda Clark, named manager in 2007, runs the Salamanca room, which has 12 tables (though it can add more for tournaments). The usual fare is spread here: hold’em, Omaha/8 and stud, and, of course, NLHE is most popular.
As for tournaments, the Hillside Challenge and Deep Stacks are considered Salamanca’s signature events. The First Tuesday of the Month tournament series pits each monthly winner in a championship event at the end of the year.
In September and October the room hosted nine Deep Stack tournaments with the winners moving on to the Seneca November Nine, which will be Nov. 7, in honor of the WSOP’s November Nine.
The poker room, which has tableside dining, free soup, and free lunch on Monday and Tuesday, is open till 3 a.m. Sunday-Thursday and 24 hours Friday-Saturday.
“Our poker room staff is the heart of our room,” Clark said. “We are driven to provide quality service and the best poker experience on this side of the coast.”
The Niagara poker room, open 24 hours, is larger with 23 tables, and $2-$5 NLHE is boss. Poker has been here for a decade with John Wood at the helm for a little more than eight years.
It hosts four seasonal tournament series, including the Niagara Open in late April.
“Our customer service is world-class,” Wood said. “A professional, courteous staff with first-class events throughout the year.”
For more on the Seneca poker scene, go to senecapoker.com. S
Of the three New York poker rooms, Turning Stone may be the most widely known since it has had some TV exposure with its Empire State Hold’em Championships held annually in August. Also, the Heartland Poker Tour recently attached its name to this event, which Randy Pfeifer won in August, pocketing $158K.
“The Empire State Hold’em Championships is a great event,” said director of poker operations Jason DiBenedetto, who’s been with Turning Stone since 1994 (poker opened in 1999).
The 32-table, 24-hour room spreads mostly no-limit hold’em, with $1-$2 ($50-$300 min-max) being most popular, but a daily $2-$5 game also gets going. “A smattering of $2-$4 limit runs, too,” DiBenedetto said. “We get some decent limit, $20-$40 or $30-$60 on Fridays and Saturdays.”
The room gives away $100 at 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. every day to a random cash-game seat. As for tournaments turn to our Where to Play pages in the back of the magazine for New York schedule, but don’t forget the Super Stack Hold’em Series that runs Nov. 25-Dec. 4. Buy-ins range from $230 to $560.
So what makes Turning Stone different?
“I think it’s the resort,” DiBenedetto said. “I know poker players want to play poker, however our room is also nicely equipped with 12 flatscreen TVs, and four of those are 65 inches. We have NFL Ticket every Sunday, plus drink specials and free food on Sundays. Our golf course is beautiful and the restaurants are phenomenal plus three entertainment venues. … We have a friendly courteous staff (of about 100). I always get complimented on the caliber of our dealers and I often get pulled aside and told that they really appreciate our dealers.”