Here’s the bad news about visiting Las Vegas. You can’t play poker online at PokerStars while you’re there. But here’s the very, very good news about visiting Las Vegas. You can play poker tournaments in literally dozens of other places, face to face, against other real people, in the city that is poker’s undisputed home.
Whether you’re a strict Texas hold’em kind of player, or if you like to mix it up with Omaha or Stud; whether you like to play limit, no limit, tournaments or cash games, this is the best place in the world for all of it.
There are more than 50 casinos in and around Las Vegas, many of which have poker rooms that host tournaments seven days a week. There are also television studios to host the superstars of the game in broadcast tournaments. And, of course, there’s the annual World Series of Poker (WSOP), which has been played in Las Vegas every year since the 1970s. Here’s the pick of the places to play poker tournaments in Las Vegas.
THE BIGGEST GAME IN TOWN
The World Series of Poker (WSOP) – Bally’s and Paris
The world’s elite poker players, alongside thousands of plucky amateurs, descend on Las Vegas every year for the World Series of Poker (WSOP), which remains the game’s best known and best attended live event. And it’s more than just one event: the series usually has more than 80 tournaments spread across a period of around eight weeks.
For the past 17 years (i.e., nearly all of the post-Moneymaker era), the WSOP made its home at the Rio All Suites Casino & Hotel. But it’s all change for 2022. The big news announced towards the end of the 2021 WSOP was a shift in venue, and a move on to the Las Vegas Strip. The neighbouring Paris and Bally’s Casinos will host the tournament series this year, promising even more space, a higher profile, and an infinitely preferable location, right at the heart of where most action happens in Las Vegas.
It’s obviously too early to offer any inside tips. No one has yet seen what the WSOP will be like at Paris and Bally’s. But we can assume much of what is best loved will remain the same: huge fields, a variety of buy-ins and games, and some massive prizes. It’s scheduled to run from May 31 through July 19 this year, so save the dates.
RUB SHOULDERS WITH THE HIGH ROLLERS
The PokerGO studio – Aria Casino
A number of venues have hosted televised poker games from Las Vegas down the years, including off-strip properties such as South Point and the Palms, plus major tour stop at the Bellagio and the Venetian, among others. However in recent years, the Aria Casino has become the best-known property for televised tournaments thanks to the Poker Go Studios on the premises, the only purpose-built poker studio in the city.
Typically, the events that appear on Poker Go are the highest buy-ins around: the High U.S. Poker Open, the Super High Roller Bowl, and the Aria High Roller events, for example. It means you’ll need a minimum of about $10K to sit down, and you’ll need to be at the very top of your game. But poker is nothing if not aspirational, and if you want to aim for the very top, you might want to aim to play here at least once in your career. It’ll put you in the very elite.
The Aria does host other tournaments too, in its modern and very well appointed tournament room, in the main casino. At time of writing, there’s a tournament at 1pm every day of the week, with a $140 buy-in Sunday through Thursday, and a $240 buy-in on Friday and Saturday.
SOME LUXURY ON THE STRIP
Wynn/Encore, Venetian, Caesar’s Palace, Bellagio
Four of the Strip’s busiest poker rooms happen to be in four of its most luxurious casinos, all bunched near one another (by Vegas standards) between Flamingo Road and Desert Inn Road. You’ll find high-stakes cash action at all hours of the day, plus a rotation of popular tournaments, at each of Wynn/Encore, The Venetian, Caesars Palace and The Bellagio. Each will give you a sample of typical Vegas action, where the table complexion will be part pro players, part recreational tourists, part monied businessman, and part some indeterminate waif who just happens to know the rules of poker. The proportional representation will change depending on stakes.
Timings for tournaments occasionally change, particularly if there are major series on, so it’s always worth checking out an up-to-date tournament poker app or website (such as Bravo Poker or Poker Atlas to discover what’s happening the week you’re in town. But you will likely be able to find a no limit hold’em tournament with an entry fee of about $200 happening every day of the week.
Other Strip properties with poker rooms include MGM Grand, Resorts World and Mandalay Bay, which recently reopened after a year-long closure. (Note: poker rooms have been closing with alarming frequency in Las Vegas in recent years, in large part owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s always worth checking that a property’s poker room is indeed open before travelling.)
MIX IT UP
The Orleans daily mixed games tournaments
While tourists in Las Vegas tend to stick to the Strip, locals often cast their gaze slightly wider looking for the best poker action, and the fix it firmly on The Orleans. This casino, on West Tropicana Avenue, has one of the biggest and best poker rooms in Las Vegas, particularly if you want to play something other than hold’em.
At time of writing, the weekly rotation at The Orleans includes a $125 buy-in HORSE tournament and a $125 buy-in limit Omaha/Stud 8 tournament, alongside regular hold’em events. The poker room, with more than 30 tables, is almost always busy and there are a wide variety of cash games spread throughout the week.
It may not have the glamour of the huge Strip properties, but The Orleans is an excellent poker venue, much respected by those most in the know.
DOWNTOWN, BACK WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
The Horseshoe and Golden Nugget
The World Series of Poker (WSOP) originated in 1970 at what was then known as the Horseshoe Casino, owned by Benny Binion, on Fremont Street, in downtown Las Vegas. The jamboree returned every year to the same property, which became Binion’s Horseshoe and then just Binion’s, until it outgrew the place in 2004 and relocated to the Rio. A poker room remained at the casino, hosting cash games and tournaments, until it was shuttered by the pandemic. It still may reopen, so there’s still a chance for you to play poker where it all began in Las Vegas.
Even if poker doesn’t return to Binion’s, you can sample some downtown action at the Golden Nugget, just across Fremont Street. The Nugget is equally steeped in poker history and is still going strong, with cash games and tournaments running through the week. Although many people flock to Downtown hoping to sample some of the rugged Vegas of yesteryear, the area has smartened itself up considerably over the past decade, and the Nugget poker room is a prime example of that. It’s clean, comfortable and very well appointed. Sorry about that.