Few tourists come to Las Vegas with an eye on experiencing the plainer side of the gambling world. Some may end up there, if luck doesn't go there way, but few seek it out. Even so, for me it's part of the package. How can I truly appreciate the complexity of our entire poker universe if I don't see it as a whole? I decided to visit the Poker Palace, in that part of Las Vegas north of downtown. When I told my rich friends on the Strip where I was headed, they all tried to dissuade me. I heard commends like "Why'd you want to go up there?" " It's a dump." "It's not safe." Thus motivated, I sought out a different part of the Las Vegas poker community, traveling for this room review to North Las Vegas. It's a part of the city where out-of-state tourists rarely venture.
I was rewarded for my troubles – not with the discovery of some great poker room – but with a great experience nonetheless.
North Las Vegas is, in a word, depressing. Skinny stray dogs run through vacant lots. There are closed storefronts and abandoned buildings. The clientele of the casinos look, largely, down on their luck. The glitzy facades are faded and in disrepair. Even so, there are some high points. I stopped in a large mercado and was treated to an enormous selection of great Mexican groceries, as well as a very inexpensive tacqueria. I also went to two Mexican restaurants, ending up with fantastic lunches each time, each also very reasonably priced. If you're looking for a truly authentic Mexican food experience, this is the neighborhood in Las Vegas to visit.
I arrived at the Poker Palace at about 4:00 PM on a Wednesday. Given the name, I expected a place that was focused on poker. I was disappointed in that respect; poker seems more an afterthought than the central theme of the place. Though there is a nice eight-table poker room, there is painfully little live poker. When I think of all of the many outstanding poker rooms in Las Vegas, it seems a bit bizarre that the only casino actually named for our favorite game only has a cash game on Friday and Saturday night.
A tournament goes off at 6:00 PM every night but Friday, when they start at 6:30 PM. You can sign up for it beginning at 4:00 PM. They seat two tables and then take alternates. When I was there the buy-in was $15 ($5 going to the house) with $10 re-buys and a $10 add-on. The tournament is structured fairly fast, with 15-minute blinds. Players start with $1,000 in chips. Rebuys get you another $1,000. And the add-on is $2,000 in chips. The level of play was, by most, below horrible, though there were two or three regulars who seemed to know what they were doing. On the night I was there they had two tables of tournament players.
The room has eight tables, but little action except the daily tournament. The action gets better on Friday and Saturday nights, typically, which is when they have their cash game. It follows the tournament, which tends to end by 9:00 or so. The cash game always goes on Friday nights, and lasts until one or two in the morning. The Saturday game is slightly less certain, going off only about 80% of the time according to a pit boss. It lasts only until midnight at the latest. I suggest you call first if you're just interested in playing live.
When there is a game, it's no-limit. There's a single $2 blind with a $20 minimum buy-in and no maximum buy-in. The game is typically a grinding affair, with many short-stacked players, but every once in a while there will be a few high rollers in the game who pump up the typical bets. The rake is reasonable, at 10% up to a $3 maximum. If there's no flop there's no drop. There's also a high hand promotion funded with a $1 taken out of the pot at $20.
The poker table and chairs are adequate, well worn, and nothing fancy. There is tableside food and beverage service, with free drinks. There is a full-service restaurant nearby (though a few players told me to avoid it in spite of the relatively low cost) and a snack bar. I recommend that you try the excellent Mexican food next door at Riga's Tacos or at La Bonita across the street. I ate at both places. The food is cheap, served quickly, and is delicious.
When you visit you must meet Keith Bower, the poker room manager. He made my visit to this otherwise unremarkable room worthwhile, regaling me with great stories of Las Vegas poker and poker players from back in the day. I learned that Mickey Coleman owns the room, and has done so for more than thirty years. Mickey is, or was, a big-time poker player, and is still well respected by many of today's pros. Perhaps that's why this casino, even with the underutilized poker room, is called "Poker Palace." I suspect that Mickey is keeping the poker alive even though it may not be profitable. I'd return to the room if only to help him in his efforts.
2757 Las Vegas Blvd N
North Las Vegas, NV 89030
Editor's Note: Ashley Adams' long-running poker room reviews examine the venues, large and small, where our readers' favorite game is spread. Ashley's column appears each Sunday.