Vegas in January, Poker pickings, & Casino Cruising

Reports & Blogs by flintsword about Bellagio Casino, Mandalay Bay Posted

It seems that every ten years I have to relearn the lesson: never go to Vegas in early January, but I had this gap in my business trip to the states and fell into the "why not?" mindset that has deep-sixed me in the past.

I scouted around for an 'old Vegas Hotel' on prior to leaving, looking for a deal. I ususally call up the poker rooms directly and ask them for their poker room rate (Yes, you can do this) but this trip I was swamped with work after a great vacation and decided to do it the traditional way. I finally settled on the old Vegas Tropicana, surely next in line to be fully booked by 20 or 30 tons of dynamite to clear the way for the next monster casino. I like the Sahara because it is on the monorail, but in January the outstanding pool is closed and I just wanted to change.

I fly in from (warm) San Diego to Las Vegas and when I step out of McCarran Airport, wonder where the sled dogs are. I mean, it is so COLD, surly they take you to your hotel via sleds. Just joking and I take a taxi to the Tropicana, get assigned an upgrade for my room to a tower suite by a very accomodating manager. This has happened a few times in my trips to Vegas, where you take the time to be friendly with the shift manager, or hotel manager on check in. In January, the hotels have a lot of empty rooms, and an upgrade does not necessarily mean extra expense for the hotel. I Vegas all the hotels know that happy guests is the goal.

I unpack and the room is ok. I smile and think that it *still* is firmly locked into the 1960's and absolutely guaranteed to be imploded in the coming years. No hotel internet service (sigh, management is clueless) so I buy the COX daily rate for $11.99 to keep in touch with the office, family, and of course, that last 30 minutes of Pot Limit Omaha Hi on that I know I will not find in Vegas in January. Valuables in the in-room safe, 50% of my allocated-to-Vegas poker bankroll in my pocket ($1,000), I leave to visit the casinos. Alas, I have to return to my room because force of habit had me leaving in my shirt sleeves because Vegas is usually hot. Today Vegas is damned cold and anyone walking around without a coat is gambling wih their health. I *did* see people shivering in their shirt sleeves, but I guessed this was normal, because people come to Vegas to gamble after all ... :)

I walk up one side of the strip and look at the hideous Planet Hollywood casino, better suited to Times Square. Hmmm, huge white wall, curved and covered with mirrors and huge video screens? The architect obviously did not burst any brain cells coming up with that. I pass and get into the meet of the strip, stopping at Harrahs, the Flamingo, Paris, checking out the poker rooms and getting the vibes of the places.

Did I mention Vegas was cold? Most water foutains have ice visible in the morning so it is zero degrees. Some of the poker rooms are as active as roadkill. I am amazed that in half of them, I wander in, look at a few games, pick up sheets on their tournament schedule, without a glance from both management and idle dealers. In the Flamingo I get an enthsiastic greeting, information, and assurances I can get a game for a while. I like this and change my plans, sitting down to play in a $4/$8 Limit Holdem game to pass a little time. I have very fond memories of the Flamingo Hotel poker room, back a few decades when I was there on New Year's Day and the Strip was blocked out to let Earth, Wind, and Fire play music. The game was low limit Stud Hi back then and No Limit Holdem was described as a game for "bullies with big stacks". This was - of course - before the current poker boom, where No Limit Holdem is everywhere.

Eventually evening drops in and I head for my first dinner destination in Vegas, underground in the Venetian Casino: BISTRO PINOT. I had a shockingly good French meal and once again marvel at the freshness of the bread, which has been a mystery for years. I would solve this mystery later this trip. I hoof it back to the hotel and get a good night's sleep.

Next day it is serious poker time. After an avocado and chicken sandwich at the Tropicana I head for the Bellagio. It is not crowded yet but I know from experience that it becomes a zoo and quickly. I also note that despite clear industry pressure to do so, Bellagio Management has elected to keep the room small. Despite huge crowds, line-ups, disgruntled guests, Bellagio Management has elected to avoid giving poker more room. I book into a low limit Holdem table and play for a solid ten hours, taking my $100 to $230, emerging mildly hungry and happy, slightly buzzed by what had to be a dozen capuccinos with those cool sugar sticks, and a few tomato juices with honking big olives. I grab a light meal in the Monte Carlo on the way back to the hotel after checking out the MC poker room. Lights out and another good night's sleep.

I get up early and get some exercise, then head off to check out the Mandelay Bay Poker room. Get ignored (becoming a pattern) after wandering the poker room, and elect to check out the Luxor poker room, which has always been friendly on previous trips. I am greeted and in time for the tournament I am informed. I sign up for $40 and there are about 25 people, not bad for January. The tournament is fun but play is tight. How tight? If the Titanic had rivets that tight, the iceberg would have sunk. I double up in a fe hands and fold my way to the chip lead with three people playing. I then slip into my donkey suit, call an all in with Queen Ten suited, and I am almost out the door (he had A K). Shortly thereafter I am out in 3rd with $54. I tip $5 and the dealer says "we share the tips with all the dealers". Cold shower there. All desire to spend any time at this poker room evaporated. Should I tip more? Maybe. I think about it and decide that with three dealers in rotation $10 would have been more appropriate, but the difference between $5 and $10 is not a lot so I decided the comment was inappropriate and quietly just left, my plans to play a few hours at the Luxor quashed. I would not go back.

Back at the Bellagio another long session and at the chatty table a player convinces me to ask for a comp, so I ask the poker manager, Pete, and I get $15. He looked busy and the room was filled with waiting lists everywhere, so when I asked out of curiousity how exactly do the comps work at the Bellagio, I do not fault the fact that I don't get an answer. It is possible he did not hear me. It is mid-week and in the evening, so busy like a poker factory.

Fun table and once again I take in a small profit.

The next day I visit the Mirage and morn the fact that the incredible restaurant RENOIR is no longer there. I have great memories of heading there with good friends after a long day of poker during the WSOP many years ago. Still lush, the poker room that was the first big poker room on the strip, pre-poker boom, has a lot of action and is very comfortable, in a jungle sort of way.

Back at Bellagio, get on the list for Omaha HiLo $4/$8 and wait for the table to form in a Holdem game. I take a break while the room is not busy to ask the question from yesterday. Instead of a clear answer in a friendly tone, I get a matter-of-fact answer laced with enough that "you are wasting my time" attitude to melt soft metals. I thank him for the information and consider giving him back his damned $15 comp. I resolve not to ask for one when I qualify in about 5 hours more. Instead, I banish the incident from my mind and settle into a cool game that gave me hours of entertainment. It is so rare to get an Omaha game anywhere, I usually play it online with British players and German online poker specialists. I have a good game, it is later in the evening, and I decide to hit the Bellagio Restaurant Michael Mina. This famous chef was on my list for some time and I was keen to check out the tasting menu. It was outstanding and the premium wine pairing was great.

Recommendation: Start with a glass of champagne with the tuna tasting, then order the Sea Bass on the menu, have the Sommelier give you the premium wine pairing with it. Avoid the desert, it is cracked (I mean ... root bee float?).

The next day I decide to go back to limit holdem and get a great table at the Bellagio. On my left is Jeff, who has the misfortune of regularly getting his hands cracked by my better kickers. When my quads take out his full house in a big pot, I mention that lunch is on me and that makes him feel better. A few hours later we head for the Cafe Bellagio where I had (I swear) the BIGGEST chicken sandwich I have had in a while. It was delicious. I was in the Cafe Bellagio earlier for breakfast spending my $15 comp for my recipe for the hangover from Michael Mina last night: Egg white omelette with asperagus, which was insanely good and cured my hangover pretty quick.

I go to the Venetian and play the rest of the day and vacation there due to outstanding service, friendly staff, and a better Omaha HiLo game than the Bellagio. Also, the whole comp issue at the Bellagio came to a head when I asked at the Venetian how the comps worked there. What a difference! I got a complete explanation, with breaks when people came up to the desk for games or questions. They got me a sign in card in 30 seconds flat, and even invited me to consider staying at the Venetian next trip.The poker room is HUGE and they have food service at the table. That is right. You want a sandwich, you can buy one for $12 or so and you get it delivered with a little table right to your table.

I also see this small advert on the casino wall in the Venetian for the Thomas Keller BOUCHON (French word of restaurant refering to the Lyon restaurants) but it is impossible to find! I ask around and eventually get sent to the lobby, where I see a sign, take an elevator to the VENETIA Tower, step out into another lobby with vaulted ceilings and carpet thick enough to require waders, and then head for the restaurant.

It is like stepping out into the Bistro du Louvre in Paris. A classic and faithful recreation of a classic french bistro, right down to the brass rails for the hats and coats. I order a serious evening meal and a great bottle of wine and I have to say the food was interstellar. The bread was (again) incredibly fresh, which is when I learned that the Venetian has it's own fresh bakery, making bagette, croisants, and pastries daily. The mystery of the fresh bread is solved and this tip has been outstanding.

This trip was a blast but January is a down time for the city of Vegas. A good rest. Hope this short trip review was helpful.

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  1. Nice read, thanks!

    Not surpising about the attention the rooms gave you, amazing that some people in a customer service business just don't give a damn!


    Not to start a flame war here but JUST DAMN!!! :scream:

    I would've taken the $5 right back and said, "have a nice day!" He's LUCKY you tipped that!

    You made a net profit of $14 and tipped 33% of that net win, what the hell does he expect?!?!?!

  2. That's exactly what I was thinking SB. He tipped $5 out of $14 profit and gets hassled about it! :imp:

    Nice trip report.

  3. great report!!!

    I'll have to check Thomas Keller BOUCHON, after reading the menu you posted in another!!!

    You never did explain why the bread is so good at the V

  4. @minton

    @flintsword :sunglasses:

    I agree about the great writeup. I'm gonna have to look for that restaurant at the V if I have a good session...

  5. @Buffarino

    @flintsword [/quote]

    okay so I need to learn to read.......

  6. nice read
    fun trip

    January is my fav time to visit vegas