Poker Road Trip: Arizona (Phoenix proper)

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By Christopher Cosenza

You may think no-limit poker is ubiquitous, but in Arizona it’s merely a mirage. State laws, like in a few stubborn areas around the country, make it illegal to deal true no-limit in the Grand Canyon State. But that hasn’t stopped the creative managers and staffs of these fine desert poker rooms from turning the situation into a poker oasis.

Arizona poker rooms are allowed to have spread-limit cash games, up to a max $500 bet (most have $2-$100, $5-$250 and $10-$500 spreads). For most players (combined with NLHE tournaments) that’s plenty to satisfy their fix, so it’s easy to see why the betting caps have had little effect on the tremendous growth of poker here.

Ante Up recently hit the road to visit the cardrooms of Phoenix proper, where we found beautiful locations and some of the finest poker facilities in the country. Remember to check our Where to Play pages in the back of the magazine for up-to-date tournament schedules and promotions.

Casino Arizona at Talking Stick | 480-850-7777

talkingstickresort.com | @casinoarizona
Once you see the massive 47-table cardroom in Casino Arizona at Talking Stick, it’s so hard to imagine a little more than two years ago the tables were in tents. Along the way the poker room had some incarnations before settling on its current site and design. And now this room is the pinnacle of Arizona poker, hosting its state championship (which met its million-dollar guarantee the past two years) and the ladies state championship. But perhaps the volume of business is what makes Talking Stick stand out most.

“There’s always a game,” said manager Kent Odekirk, who has been in poker almost 14 years and is affectionately known as Ode. “We have, since Oct. 1, given away $1,372,469 to players from promotions we offer, and $889,926 of that was in bad-beat jackpots.”

Talking Stick, open 24 hours, also has a bit of history as the first non-smoking poker room in the state (others have since followed suit). The game variety, especially the limit action, is second-to-none and attracts some of the most popular players in the area. With tableside dining, a full tournament schedule and the biggest cash games in the state, Talking Stick is as elite as any poker room in America.

Ft. McDowell Casino | 480-837-1424

fortmcdowellcasino.com | @fortmcdowell
When you think of Ft. McDowell Casino’s poker room these days, two things may spring to mind: great promotions and free food. The only thing poker players like more than money is a free meal, and you’ll get fed three times a day in the FMC poker room.

If that’s not enough to keep your butt in the seat then how about its promotions? From extremely generous comps, bad-beat jackpots and prize wheels for quads, to Aces Cracked and parlay cards during football season, FMC makes it hard to keep up with the Joneses. What generates all of these specials and more? A $3 jackpot drop, but don’t get the wrong idea. FMC only takes a $3 rake, meaning it gives the players more money back while taking the same overall amount as its competitors.

Michael Byrne runs the room, doing everything in his power to restore it to its former glory when FMC was THE place to play poker in Arizona. Hard times and competition took a toll, but a new glass-walled-off location and the staff’s dedication to keeping players happy is paying off for Byrne, who actually dealt the first legal hand of blackjack in Arizona history on April 1, 1992.

Plenty of TVs ring the room, and you may notice little signs below some of them indicating radio stations. This is a relatively new trend in poker rooms that allows players to know which station is carrying the corresponding sporting event so they can listen in and not disturb other players.

Though FMC doesn’t have a huge tournament schedule (some small guarantees and cheap-buy-in dailies), it does host the Fields For Kids charity event, which Byrne considers to be his signature series. Last year’s tournament (in November) saw such pros as Chad Brown, Kenna James and Layne Flack come out for a good cause.
Byrne is old school, working alongside the likes of Doyle Brunson and the Binions back in the day, so he’s seen poker at its best and worst. If you ever get a chance to chat with him be sure to ask for a story; you won’t be disappointed.

Harrah’s Ak-Chin | 480-802-5138

harrahsakchin.com | @harrahs_akchin
We’ve said it in the past, but it bears repeating: Any conversation about a Caesars Entertainment poker room begins and ends with the World Series and all of the benefits that go along with it. Harrah’s Ak-Chin is no different. As the only CE casino in Arizona, Ak-Chin has the WSOP satellite market cornered. Its 10-table poker room, which opens at 9 a.m. during the week and 7 a.m. on weekends, is similar to most Harrah’s properties as WSOP logos and images are spread liberally throughout the room’s decor, giving you that official WSOP experience.

But if you’re talking promotions you can’t beat the Total Rewards, which allows you to use your comps at any CE property in the country. The staff at Ak-Chin was courteous and in a fun, light-hearted mood during our visit, wearing NFL jerseys for Monday night football. Other promotions include splashed pots and high hands that let you spin the prize wheel for a chance at $25-$200.

The most common cash game here is $3-$6 limit hold’em, but they’ll spread just about anything upon request, including pineapple/8 and crazy pineapple/8, which runs occasionally and are eligible for the 6-4 cracked promotion (call for details).

There’s some variety when it comes to tournaments, including a weekly $25 Omaha/8 tournament. Most NLHE events are $40 and begin with 3K chips (fields are limited to 40-50 players so get there early). Harrah’s Ak-Chin has all of the amenities you’ve come to expect from CE properties and is worth the somewhat lengthy trip from downtown Phoenix.

Vee Quiva Casino | 520-796-7777

wingilariver.com | @veequivacasino
The sister property to Wild Horse Pass, Vee Quiva is known for having some of the best low-limit hold’em games in the Valley. Generally you’ll find $2-$4 up to $8-$16 and, of course, spread hold’em, but Omaha and the occasional stud game breaks out as well.

The 14-table room has seven 50-inch plasma TVs, a tableside menu, modest morning (11 a.m.) and evening (7:30) tournaments and a host of fun promotions to keep you in the room. Bad beats (aces full of 10s beaten by quads in hold’em), royal flushes ($500), Aces Cracked ($100) and splashed pots are just some of the offerings poker room manager Mark Perry has set up. A side note: Perry’s wife, Deborah, runs the poker room at Wild Horse Pass and together they are quite a duo.

One of the more unique giveaways we saw at Vee Quiva included Match Your Stack, which pays three random cash-game players up to $100 every hour from 4-8 p.m. on Thursdays.

If you’re looking for affordable tournaments and lots of ways to win promotional cash and prizes it’s hard to go wrong with either of the Perrys’ poker rooms.

Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino | 520-796-7777

wingilariver.com | @wildhorsepass
As the second-largest poker room in Arizona, Wild Horse Pass has a lot to offer to keep its 25 state-of-the-art tables jumping. With about 30 TVs (eight large screens), a fine tableside menu (try Ling and Louie’s Asian cuisine), automatic shufflers and marble racetracks around the felts, WHP has plenty of amenities to make you feel right at home in the Valley.

Typical games offered regularly are $2-$100 spread-limit hold’em (the biggest is $5-$250), $4-$8 Omaha (most with a kill), and stud is dealt upon request.

Most of the daily NLHE tournaments are in the $50 range and tend to fill 10 tables. During our visit the room was in the midst of $25K freeroll promotion in which the first 200 players with 120 hours of playing time would qualify. The poker room has paid more than $3.4 million in promotions, which include a bad-beat jackpot (aces full of 10s beaten by quads) that starts at $7,500, Aces Cracked, high hands and hot-seat drawings.

Be sure to check out the WHP website and sign up for your free players club card so you can qualify for bonus bucks and more.

Elsewhere in Arizona

Bucky’s | 928-771-6779
Buckyscasino.com | @prescottresort
This 24-7 poker room is on the third floor of the casino, has six tables and has promotions such as Aces Cracked and high hands. Bucky’s is part of the Yavapai chain and is in Prescott.

Casino Del Sol | 800-344-9435
casinodelsol.com | @cdsresort
The Tucson poker room, which has 14 tables, pays $1 per hour in comps, and the casino just opened a beautiful new resort in November. Numerous poker leagues call this room home, and there’s even the occasional guarantee tournament. A nice touch: CDS once added $500 to a ladies event prize pool and handed out roses to those who busted.

Cliff Castle Casino | 928-567-7952
cliffcastlecasinohotel.com | @cliffcastle
Just of Exit 289 on I-17 (north of Phoenix), Club 52 is a casual poker room away from the slot floor. The Yavapai-Apache Nation owns the casino and Rachel Jackson is the table games manager. The poker room host tournaments and has a bad-beat jackpot and high-hand promotions.

Desert Diamond | 520-342-1810
ddcaz.com | @diamondcasinos
Desert Diamond, which has 19 tables, is in Tucson and offers one-on-one instruction if you’re a little rusty. There’s a bad-beat jackpot in hold’em ($17,600 at press time) and Omaha ($8,900). Also, players in a live game receive a 50 percent discount on food.