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Poker Room Review: Tropicana Casino and Resort, Atlantic City, NJ

Poker Room Review: Tropicana Casino and Resort, Atlantic City, NJ 0001

I visited the Tropicana Casino and Resort during Veteran's Day weekend of 2007. It was the second stop on a marathon poker-playing trip in Atlantic City when I had planned to walk from casino to casino on the boardwalk, trying out each poker room in turn.

It was a beautiful, cloudy, windswept November morning as I walked down the boardwalk from the Hilton to the Tropicana – a five- to ten-minute stroll depending on one's pace. It was refreshing to breathe in the salt air and take in the sights – helping me relax before my playing session. It's one of the things I like best about playing in Atlantic City. It's easy and invigorating to get the easy change of scene that comes from hopping from room to room.

The Tropicana, known as the "Trop" to those who play in Atlantic City, was one of the first places (along with the Taj Majal and Resorts) to open a poker room when poker was legalized in New Jersey in the mid-1990s. The Trop's poker room itself is set away from the casino floor – with two sections. They used to use one for smoking and one for non-smoking. But now they are all non-smoking – as stud games tend to congregate at the end of the larger room, while the smaller room tends to get the middle-limit games. There really is no high-limit action here.

The place was not what the players would describe as busy when I entered mid-morning on Saturday of the Veteran's Day weekend. There were only eight tables going (out of 40 or so). There were five 'flavors' of poker games being spread: $4/8 limit hold'em, $2/4 limit hold'em, $1/2 no-limit hold'em, $2/5 no-limit hold'em, and $3/6 stud. This was the standard compliment. The only games missing were the $5/10 no-limit game that they sometimes get later on Saturday and a $5/10 limit stud game that usually goes as the day progresses. When I asked the floor if they ever get bigger limit or no-limit games the floor told me, "Nah, these are generally all retired folks playing little games". I think he was mistaken about his demographics. But I'm sure he knew what stakes he spread. Later calls to the room never turned up anything bigger than $4/8 limit or $2/5 no-limit.

Unlike other poker rooms in the area, players at the Trop buy their chips at the table for the most part (though one can buy them at the cashier too if he prefers). The five dealers I saw while I was there were all extremely competent – quick, efficient, informative when asked questions, but not chatty or intrusive to the game. They'd announce action, keep their eye on the game, keep play moving, and answer any questions. In this they were the best dealers I encountered during my time in Atlantic City. They kept their own tips, as opposed to pooling them. It showed.

I played some $1/2 no-limit – the only game that had an empty seat when I arrived. There is a cap on the buy-in – no less than $60 and no more than $300. That's pretty much the standard in public poker rooms these days – though a few places cap the buy-in at $200 or even $100. The days of midget stacks seems to have passed – fortunately.

Players are raked at the standard amount of 10% with a $4 maximum. Unlike many other rooms in Atlantic City, there is no bad-beat jackpot. I prefer that. I don't like having money taken out of the pot for what amounts to a lottery. And when a player wins the money, it doesn't stay on the table. It often doesn't even return to the poker economy – as players take their enormous jackpot winnings (in excess of $100,000 sometimes) and spend it on things other than poker – like paying their bills or buying non-poker merchandise. (Geez, people, where's your sense of priorities?) The one advantage to a bad-beat jackpot is that it tends to draw players to a room. But from what I've seen, players who come just for the jackpot tend to be rocks – giving very little action as they just try to stick around long enough to be present when the jackpot hits. They may keep an otherwise weak game alive – but they surely don't contribute much to the bottom line of the serious player.

As in nearly all of the Atlantic City casinos, there is tableside waitress service, drinks are free (though only a real freeloader doesn't tip at least a dollar per drink), and food can be delivered to the poker table – though it isn't free. There are discounted poker rates in the hotel for players – though no one quite knew what they were. "You get about 20% off of whatever they feel like telling you the regular rate is," one wag offered, not-so-helpfully.

The Trop runs regular poker tournaments during the week at 10:15 AM and 7:15 PM, with only the evening ones running on Saturday and Sunday. The Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday PM tournies are $100 — $15 of which is the entry fee, $85 of which goes to the prize pool. Though a 15% seems high, especially when live games are raked at 10% — it's actually a little better than the 20% or higher that I've seen at most small tournaments in other casinos. Players get $10,000 in chips – with blinds starting at $25/50 and going up every 20 minutes. That gives the player about as much play as I've seen. The AM tourney is half the buy-in for half the stack. There are also $85 tourneys on Mondays and Thursdays and a $120 tourney on Tuesday and Friday night.

I had one especially memorable hand while I played at the $1/2 no-limit table. I was dealt K-10 suited in the cutoff. An early, overly aggressive player raised to $10. Two players called him; I guess they had typed him as overly aggressive, too. Normally, I toss K-10 into the muck with a raised pot. But the combination of my position, the number of callers in front of me, the type of player I read the raiser to be, and the fact that my cards were suited caused me to call. The button and the big blind also called.

The flop was the near-miraculous A-10-10 (suits didn't matter). The early-position raiser bet $30. No one called in front of me. I raised to $90. The player after me called. The first bettor folded after a very long pause, saying "I'm folding a monster". The turn was a queen. I did not think that the button would have played K-J for $90. I put him on an ace – maybe A-Q. I went all in for my remaining $200 or so. The button called me. The river was an unhelpful deuce. My opponent turned over 10-9. He was stronger than I thought but not strong enough to win; I stacked him because my king kicker played. Sweet!

Shortly thereafter I noticed that a seat had opened up in the $3/6 limit stud game. I left my no-limit hold'em game up a couple of hundred, and sat down to play some stud. Every player in the stud game had gray hair — those that had any hair, that is. Though I had just recently turned 50, I estimated that I was the youngest player by at least 30 years.

The structure was deadly. There was no ante, just a $1 forced bet from the low card, and then $3/6 limit. Or maybe it was just the combination of the structure and the style of play of the stud players that caused the game to be so dreadfully boring. I don't write this just as an outsider. The players themselves were carping about how the Trop never should have switched the regular stud game from $1-5 spread-limit to $3/6. On the other hand, I imagine that when the game was $1-5 spread-limit the players carped about changing it to $3/6. It's just the nature of being a regular poker player. We like to complain!

In any event, I played for about an hour. I must have seen fifteen hands that went the same way. The low card brought it in for $1. A player raised to $3. Everyone folded. Or, a little less frequently, but still common, a player brought it in for the dollar. Six players called. The dealer dealt fourth street. One player bet $3 and everyone folded.

As bad as the game seemed for the players, it must have been torture to be a dealer. I can't imagine that they make much in tips in a game where the average pot is $1!

All of the players agreed that the $5/10 game, which wasn't going when I was there but which they said would almost surely go off later on Saturday, was much better. It has a $.50 ante with a $2 forced bet.

Somehow, I managed to win $7.00 during my hour or so at this table. I had one contested hand – at least until fifth street when my two opponents folded– and I picked up a few forced bets and some loose calls on third street – who folded when I raised to $3. I'd like to say that the experience was pleasant — because the players were all so sweet – but I really was itching to leave.

The Trop is a smaller and more subdued version of the Trump Taj Majal, known familiarly as "The Taj" – a popular and busy room that attracts some of the young players that fill up so many poker games today. Even at full bore – on Saturday night, when I've visited in the past – The Trop is a pleasant place without the loud raucousness of the Taj. I always enjoyed playing $5/10 and $10/20 stud here at the Trop – and I'm sure I'd enjoy playing $1/2 no-limit, $2/5 no-limit and $5/10 limit stud here in the future. But sweet though those retirees were at the $3/6 no-ante game – I'd have to pass on that game during my next visit to the room.

Tropicana Casino and Resort
Brighton and the Boardwalk
Atlantic City NJ, 08401

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