Massachusetts likes to maintain the fiction that it is opposed to gambling. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the state itself aggressively promotes lotteries and scratch tickets on billboards, in print ads, and on television and the radio. It allows churches to run bingo. And it allows a few well-situated horse and dog tracks to accept pari-mutuel wagers. But poker? Nah, that's illegal.
The state of Massachusetts prohibits poker under its antiquated and wrong-headed anti-gambling laws. Fortunately, a loophole in the law allows charities to operate poker tournaments with a raffle and bazaar license for registered non-profit organizations. Unfortunately, the Attorney General also issued an advisory clearly written by someone who didn't intend for poker to thrive that greatly restricts how this can be done. It restricts, in ways too numerous to mention, how the tournaments are to be run, who can be on the premises when they are run, and how prizes can and cannot be distributed to the winners.
It takes a clever and enterprising soul to figure out a way to operate a poker room in Boston regularly and well. This area is lucky enough to have one such individual, Doug Frisoli, who works with the owners of this combination bar and pool hall, to create an excellent poker room. That room is the Vegas Lounge.
You wouldn't know from the outside that the Vegas Lounge is a poker room. It looks like a typical suburban, somewhat upscale, bar and grill. It's located in a strip mall on the busy quasi-highway known as Route 1 right near a bunch of excellent steak, seafood, Asian, Indian, and Mexican restaurants.
When you walk inside you'll suddenly conclude that the place is really a pool hall, with dozens of matching Schmidt nine-foot pool tables all lined up and nicely illuminated in a large open room bordered by large TV screens and a well-stocked bar with stools. If I were a pool player this would be the room for me. There's even a league that fills up all the tables once a week.
But come Monday any time after 6pm until midnight, and what you, the poker player, will realize immediately is that this is a great little poker room. And it's completely legal!.
You'll see 50-100 players or so congregated around five large hold'em tables, playing either in a multi-table tournament, in satellites for the tournament, or in sit-and-goes. If you're from California, Washington, Nevada, or Atlantic City this may not mean much to you. But here in Boston, where regular legal poker is banned, this place is a major find. You don't have to look for fliers or get a last-minute email from a friend of a friend about some disorganized charity tournament. You don't have to worry that the underground game you're in will be busted or raided by a zealous constabulary. Instead, you know with certainty, that you can find a well-run, perfectly legal, friendly game every Monday night. There's even a paid police detail on the premises to protect the players and their bankrolls.
The owners of the lounge do everything they can to make poker players feel comfortable. Drinks are cheap (not free, after all – it's how the Lounge makes its money). And there's even free pizza for poker players. There's also a menu, better than typical bar food (eight types of salad, chicken dinners, home-made calzone) for reasonable prices. Nothing on the menu is over $8.00.
The tournaments, satellites, and sit-and-goes are filled with the same type of crowd that comes to a bar on trivia night, Karaoke, or pool. There are a few serious players but most are regulars and their buddies who come for the camaraderie, fun, food, and drink. It's the perfect set up for that because, since it's run for charity, the rake is very high – 50%.
The main tournament goes off at 7pm. It's professionally run with house dealers and a tournament director who unobtrusively helps keep things moving and settles all disputes. There are $30 satellites before the tournament that start at 6pm. The top two finishers get a seat in the main tournament. As players get knocked out there are $60 sit-and-goes.
The structure of the main event is simple. The buy-in is $120. The event generally lasts four hours, with blinds going up every 20 minutes. Players start with $4,000 in tournament chips. Blinds start at $25/50. There are no re-buys (they are prohibited under the Attorney General's advisory). Though no one announces this, half of one's buy-in is tax deductible, since it is going to a charity.
I talked to some of the players after they busted out. Though they were slightly miffed over not being able to play any more, none seemed angry or really upset. They all told me that there was a core group of 50 players or so who showed up every week – insuring that the tournament had enough players to be fun. The charities surely enjoyed themselves as well, with this simple and easy way of making money for their cause. And the owner of the club, with whom I spent a few minutes chatting as well, assured me that the crowd was steady, well behaved and good for business. If there's such a thing as a win-win-win in a poker game, the Vegas Lounge surely fits the bill.
The Vegas Lounge
38 Vanderbilt Avenue
Norwood, MA 02062