I remember the first time I walked into Caesars Poker room in Las Vegas. I stood back, looked across the wide expanse of felt, and said, “This is what a poker room should look like.”

Since then, my relationship with the room has been a lot like the ones I had with my ex-girlfriends. It’s sometimes so good, and sometimes so bad, that I never can decide whether I’m in love or a masochist. Either way, I keep going back for the good stuff and do my best to ignore the sanghoki bad stuff.

I was there again this past weekend and, as I sat at my second final table in as many tries, I thought, “Well, somebody really should say something about this.”

And so, I’m going to.

I don’t like reviews so much. Trusting one person to tell you where to go is how you ended up drinking Ovaltine until you were 20. So, here I’m going to try to stick to a concensus formed among a number of people I know who have played in Caesars poker room. I trust everyone who reads this will feel free to back me up or correct me in the comments. Don’t be shy. My feelings aren’t easily hurt.

THE CAESARS TOURNAMENT ROOM

Caesars is one of few places you’ll find in Las Vegas that has designated an entire room–a room much bigger than most poker rooms–solely for tournament play. Sepia toned pictures of some of your favorite poker players surround you and the seats are pretty damned comfortable. I have played several tournaments there and have managed to final table my last two. My feelings about this room are about as mixed as they come.

The Good

Depending on which tournament you play, the number of players and the amount of play you get for your dollar tends to vary. My last foray into the room saw me buying into the noon $200 tournament. On a Thursday afternoon, the tournament drew only 44 people (a far cry from what some of the $120 events later in the day draw). However, even with 44 people, there was actual poker being played. It was not a push and hope fest after the first level. In fact, it took us more than six hours to reach the final table and the winner was not declared until two hours later. Frankly, I’m not sure if I’ve found more play for such an inexpensive buy-in in any daily tournament. Even if I hadn’t ended up making a little money on the deal, I would’ve been happy about the amount of poker I got for my buy-in. Now, to be fair, the structure in the later events is a lot faster and doesn’t allow for nearly as much poker. The previous event I played was a $120 event that went off at 11pm. It drew around 145 players mid-week. We finished the final table before 5am.

Other good marks include a competent dealing staff and a rather good payout structure.

The Bad

If it hadn’t been for the Rio’s screw up with a recent World Series of Poker, we could all still cut some good deals in Harrah’s property tournaments. I don’t have this information down to the detail, but, according to a number of sources, the kind of money deals worked out during the WSOP ended up costing the U.S. government about half a million bucks in unreported winnings. As I heard the story, the IRS was none too happy with this and Harrahs ended up cutting a deal that requires them to pay out exactly the percentages listed on their payout schedules. If you ask a poker room manager at Caesars about this, he will tell you that the Nevada Gaming Commission requires Caesars to follow these rules and at no point will Caesars pay out an amount different than listed on the payout schedule.

So, no big deal? Well, not really. See, anyone who cashes out of a Caesars tournament for more than $600 is required to sign for it, generating a W2G and, thus, a record of winnings. Now, if I have poker winnings at the end of the year, I pay taxes on them. Here’s the rub. Say you’re down to the final table of a tournament at Caesars and, for whatever reason, you want to cut a deal. It doesn’t matter how much money any of the players take out of the prize pool, someone is going to have to sign for top prize.

So, let’s take a look at a tournament I played recently. At the end of it, four of us took an even chop for $2,000 a piece. One of those four players ended up having to sign for more than $4,000. I can tell you right now…it wasn’t me, nor will it ever be unless I get consideration in the deal.

And that’s what people say: Just work it out in the deal! Well, if you’ve ever worked a deal at a final table, you know that so many factors come into play that adding taxes into the mix can be the one thing that throws a deal out of whack. Trying to convince some guy from Brazil (who already has to give up a full 1/3 of his payout because of tax treaty issues with the U.S) that he has to sign for even more money than he’s going to win is damned near impossible. So, deals fall apart. Or, if they get made…well, that’s where things get even more interesting.

In the last tournament I played, we had been playing for nearly seven hours and were down to seven players. Only five were going to get paid. We decided it would be nice if the bottom two players got a little something for all thier effort. So, we made a little save for sixth and seventh place that guaranteed we all got a little profit on the deal. That’s all well and good. However, after six and seventh place busted, they (and that includes me…) had to wait around for the entire tournament to finish before the could get paid. Because sixth and seventh place weren’t listed on the payout sheet, Caesars wouldn’t bring the money out. Plus, there was no way any of the rest of the players would go ahead and buy out sixth and seventh place, because none of them knew whether they were going to have to sign for bottom money or top money. Yeah, back to the taxes.

So, if you’re going to play in Caesars tournaments, be aware that your ability to make a fair deal is going to be a lot harder than somewhere that is not a Harrah’s property.

Side note: I need to include this, because it ruined my last experience. Something was going on with the speaker system in the tournament room. For for two hours, it sounded like there was a power drill over our heads, sometimes loud enough to keep the players from hearing each other. Despite our repeated requests for Doug, the manager on duty, to call someone about it, he refused and said there was nothing he could do. Although there were about ten open tables in the main poker room, Doug also refused to move us to the other room. In short, Doug was rather unhelpful at every turn. I do not find him representative of the staff there, but he did help ruin many players’ experience that day out of a sheer unwillingness to be accomodating to his customers. I’m going to hope he was just having a bad day.

The Ugly

If there is one thing that will probably keep smart players from flocking to Caesars tournament room for the $100-$200 buy-in tournaments, it’s the juice. It’s about as disgusting as any place I have played. For instance, in the $200 event that goes off at noon, $35 goes to the house. If memory serves correctly, I believe the $120 events that go off later in the day charge $25-$30 juice. I’m not even sure why I bothered, except for the fact that I came out of the last two tournaments feeling happy and with more money in my pocket. Not as much money, however, as if the room didn’t fleece me on the juice.

Think about that for a second. We’ll say the juice on the last $120 I played was $25 (even though I think it was $30). At 145 players, Caesars made $3,625 in juice. I don’t know how that breaks down going to the staff and dealers, but it’s still pretty damned sick. I believe in the staff and dealers getting their tokes, but when the juice on a $120 is that big, convincing folks to tip any more is going to be hard.

I no like-a da juice.

THE CAESARS POKER CASH GAME ROOM

With all of the above said, I adore the Caesars cash room. I reserve my cash play in Vegas for a few places and Caesars is one of them. For the small to mid level player, there isn’t much better place to play. The $1/$3 NL game is capped at a perfect $500. With that much money in play, the game plays a little bigger and allows for much better action than other $1/$2 NL games in town.

Even better, the $2/$5 and $5/$10 NL games are uncapped. I’ve never played the $5/$10 game but an uncapped $2/$5 NL game is a thing of beauty. It’s the only $2/$5 game I’ve ever played that had $40,000 on the table at one time.

Caesars also runs several low-limit limit hold’em games and will spread other games on request. Management recently introduced a high hand jackpot. The day I was there, it was paying between $60 and $400 for quads up to royal flushes.

The room is well-run, has a good floor staff, and a competent dealer staff. Unlike other poker rooms, this one is cut off from the main casino by a thich set of walls and has the feeling of a private room, despite its enormous size. It’s quiet and comfortable, despite being on the other side of the wall from Pure and the Caesars sports book.

If I had one complaint about Caesars room when compared to other rooms, it’s that their staff of servers is slower than any place I’ve been. Waiting for food and drink there is like waiting for a premium hand. I’ve heard a variety of excuses for this and don’t know which to believe. Some people say it’s because it’s a union shop. Other folks say the waitresses have to travel too far to get their orders filled. Regardless, it’s the one thing I would correct about the service at Caesars.

***

So, that’s that. Correct me if you like. Back me up if you life. Fill in the holes where you like. Bottom line, if you can stand slow service and some of the worst tourney juice I’ve ever seen, I’d recommend Caesars poker room. Just be sure you lock me up a seat.

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