I drove down to Atlantic City, New Jersey from my home in Boston, Massachusetts to see how the poker scene was playing out in this East Coast gambling mecca. I left at 3:00 AM on a Saturday morning, stopped only briefly for coffee and a short nap, and arrived refreshed and ready for action at 9:00 AM.
My first stop was the Hilton – the southernmost poker room on the strip known as the boardwalk. My plan was simple. I parked on the street next to the Hilton at a meter – for about $4 in quarters. I would then play successively at each poker room, from one end of the boardwalk at the Hilton, to the other end at the Showboat. In between I would hit, in order, the Tropicana, Caesar's, the Wild West, Bally's, Resorts, and the Trump Taj Majal. If I had any time remaining during my first day I would take a jitney to the marina area of Atlantic City – about two miles or so from the boardwalk, and play at Harrahs and the Borgota, before returning back to my car at the Hilton by jitney.
I kicked things off at the Hilton, remembering that two years earlier, when I had played there, the place was just kicking off huge plans to expand and upgrade the room. The room had been rocking back then – all newly renovated and overlooking the Atlantic Ocean from the impressive casino's second floor. There were over a dozen tables in full action including limit hold'em and stud besides no-limit hold'em. The future looked bright indeed.
Alas. I was hugely disappointed to find that the upstairs room was no more – though players talked about returning to some smaller new space that was under renovation. Today, and for the past few months, they were downstairs, next to some blackjack tables. Their once proud, bursting room had been reduced to one table on this Saturday morning of Veteran's Day weekend. And though the floor person said this was a slow time, knowing players told me that there might be one or two other tables as the day progressed. My, how the mighty had fallen.
Even so, my playing experience was relaxed and pleasant. The room is a peaceful alternative to the other rooms in Atlantic City. The patrons at my table eagerly told me why they liked it here. "It's not full of hot shot kids and drunks," said one poker player. "It's more quiet than the big rooms," added another player helpfully.
And so it was.
The room has the standard rake of 10% up to a maximum of $4. There is also a bad beat jackpot of $1 taken from the pot. Aces full of jacks beaten qualifies you for it – and you have to have two aces in your hand to hit it.
There was a $1/2 no-limit game when I was there. They expected maybe another table – of $2/4 limit. They never get higher than this, said a player, though another added that they sometimes get a $2/5 no-limit game.
The comps are generous by any standard I'm familiar with. Players earn $2 an hour in the $1/2 game, $3/hour at the $2/5 game and, officially, $5/hour at the $5/10 game that, apparently, never is spread (but if it were that would that be the highest player comp I've ever seen).
The poker room spreads a monthly tournament with a $250 buy-in and there's also the annual New Jersey State Tournament. They also list daily tournaments, but I was told by regular players that they only go off on the weekends. The rest of the time the room is pretty much dead, as it was on this Saturday morning. Things pick up a little for Friday night. And Saturday night is their busy time – maybe with three or four tables going at once.
The level of play while I was there was, as advertised by the players, pretty subdued. Players tended to be loose and passive pre-flop. Then they all tightened up. One player would come out for $10 and the rest would usually fold – perhaps with a brave soul calling and then folding on the turn to a $20 bet.
In the hour or so that I played I saw maybe three rivers – usually in hands that were not bet on the turn or river. As I said, it was indeed a subdued no-limit game. I lost $15 pretty much just watching all but one hand. I raised in late position with A-J after three players had called the $2 big blind. I had folded all of my hands until then and hoped I might steal the pot. I got called by one player in early position who bet the flop for $30 when the board was Q-Q-10. I quickly folded and he showed me a queen. As I said, nice relaxed game.
The physical playing conditions were okay – surely nothing special. Wedged in next to table games wasn't annoying in the morning – with the other games still relatively quiet. But I imagine that ambient noise and passing traffic might be distracting and bothersome as the general attendance picked up later. The chairs were general-issue banquet chairs – thinly padded but not uncomfortable. The lighting was about average, surely acceptable though not nearly as nice or bright as some rooms designed for poker. The dealers were all competent, helpful, and skilled… and unobtrusive. The floor was friendly but knew less about the room than most of the players, and couldn't answer any questions about the rake, player comps, or games being spread.
All in all, I'd come back to kill some time or if I had business on this end of the boardwalk. If I lived in the area and wanted a nice place to come regularly, earn comps, and relax, I'd surely consider making this my regular room. But as a tourist, craving action, I think I'd tend to gravitate toward the bigger, more lively places down at the other end of the boardwalk.
Atlantic City Hilton Casino Resort
Boston Ave & The Boardwalk
Atlantic City, NJ 08401