The all-new 'Poker Lounge' at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada recently opened its doors to the public and we stopped by to see what the hype was all about. When word of the concept of a 'poker lounge' came out, many were skeptical and thought the idea was destined for failure. I assure you, seeing the room firsthand will quell your fears. The space has been designed to preserve a lounge feel without sacrificing much in the way of poker. A mixture of just the right amount of lighting, dark blue hues on both the carpet and table felts and dark wood accents all around the walls and furniture make for a cozy setting.
The room itself is located just off the main casino floor and is easily accessible from the parking garage. If you're a coffee drinker, you'll be pleased to know that there's a Starbucks conveniently located on the route to the lounge from the garage. If you're not, there's also a considerably large convenience store right next door with what seemed like dozens of different beverage options.
When we arrived at the lounge we were greeted by a friendly floorman, dressed in the Hard Rock's version of business attire. The young man wore a snazzy, ocean-blue collared shirt untucked over a pair of designer jeans and his bleach blonde hair stood spiked atop his head. Upon further review, it became evident that all of the floor people were also dressed down, if you will, which proved to lighten the atmosphere a bit. If nothing else, it was a welcomed change of scenery from the 'suits' you typically encounter in a Vegas poker room. The dealers did however dress in uniform, with matching black collared shirts and pants.
While there was no wait to join the $1-$2 game on this particular Friday afternoon, should we have had to wait for a game, a lounge area complete with a full service bar and about 20 big, leather chairs sits adjacent to the front desk and looked very inviting. When we sat down to play, four of the room's 18 tables were in use – two spreading $1-$2 and two dealing $2-$5 NL. The min/max buyin for each game was $100/$300 and $200/$2,000 respectively.
The game played much like your typical $1-$2 no limit hold'em cash game, with one major exception: The Rock Straddle. Those of you who have dabbled in the cash games at the World Series of Poker in recent years are probably familiar with the Mississippi Straddle. The Rock Straddle is similar in that the play is made from the button, but other than that they've got little in common. A Rock Straddle goes a little something like this:
A player on the button wishing to straddle must indicate as much to the dealer by tossing $4, or double the big blind depending on the game, in front of the dealer button before the start of a hand. Once the straddle has been acknowledged, the pre-flop action begins with the player under-the-gun, just as it would during a normal hand. When the action makes it way around the table to the button he is skipped and it is then the small blind's turn to act. Once both blinds have taken their turns, play then reverts to the button, who has the last action pre-flop. Moreover, should a player raise before the action even gets to the button, he would still be skipped and receive the ultimate last action after everyone else made their plays. The only situation in which the button would not be skipped is if there were a raise and a re-raise in front of him.
The concept is a unique one and the players seemed to be interested, if not downright receptive to the straddle, with players 'Rock Straddling' practically every other hand. While No Limit Hold'em dominated the day, several customers inquired about the possibility of starting up a mixed game and the floor indicated that they would spread any game if enough interest was generated.
The clientele seemed younger than that you'd typically find in a Vegas poker room, with an average estimated age of about 30. The players were a conglomeration of local grinders there to check out the new room and young tourists there for an extended weekend and hungry to gamble. My neighbor at the table polled everyone's state of residency and found that it was an exact 50/50 split between local Nevadans and tourists hailing from Chicago, New York, Texas and California.
As the afternoon grew older, new tables were started around us and the room picked up. Cocktail service was prompt throughout the day, perhaps mostly due to the fact that the beverage well for the room is actually in the room, meaning servers don't have to walk across the casino to go and get your drinks. We also ordered a bite to eat from the reasonably priced Poker Lounge menu. The Chicken-Pita Quesadilla is a steal at $12 and arrived at the table in no time at all. Some of the other menu items were Shrimp on Ice, Cheeseburger Sliders and Mr. Lucky's Wood Fired Pizza, with an average price tag of around $11.00.
For the sports fan, flat screen LCD televisions are strategically mounted throughout the room and we were told the room will soon have its own race and sports ticket booth. There's also an in-room restroom right by the cage.
As for noise, the room is generally quiet, though music from inside the casino carried into the room's first few tables. The good news is, once you venture into the heart of the room it gets drowned out by the clatter of chips and poker players. The room also carries a no-smoking policy ,though there were a couple of times I felt my nostrils being invaded by secondhand smoke coming from passerby's in the hallway.
For locals, the room touts a dollar per hour comp rate with no cap on how much you can earn in a day. The rake is a very standard 10% up to $4 and they also drop $1 for the High Hand Jackpot (quads and straight flushes qualify; must use both hole cards). The room plans to hold tournaments daily Monday through Friday at 11:00 a.m., 3:00 p.m., 7:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. and at 12:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, though we were told the higher buy-in events have been slow to take off. The $65 dailies, however, have been an early success, drawing an average of about 40 players per. Plans for a Poker League are also in the works, and applications for four-person teams are currently being accepted.
Overall, I found the room to be filled with comfortable chairs, a very spacious layout for a poker room, and a friendly staff.