When I first heard the Westgate was re-opening their poker room, my initial reaction was — what the hell are they thinking?
Poker’s popularity has been flat for quite a while, especially here in Las Vegas where the overall table count has declined and some once-popular rooms have closed their operations entirely.
Westgate has boldly decided they’re going to defy all this pessimism and strike out on their own. Poker rooms might be closing down elsewhere, but Westgate is determined to blaze its own trail and become a success, some might say, against the odds.
Westgate, which was known for many years as the Las Vegas Hilton (and The International, before that) has experienced a rocky road with poker. The Hilton ran a thriving room back during the 1980’s and even held some big-time poker tournaments. When poker declined in popularity during the 1990’s, the room faded and closed. It remained shuttered for more than a decade.
The poker room experienced a short-lived return during the poker boom of 2004-2008, but was still never able to create a much-needed niche in what was then a thriving local poker scene. It closed down again, sometime around 2010.
About three years ago, Westgate (the new owners) made a feeble attempt to offer poker once again — but failed. To those familiar with the Las Vegas poker scene, the Westgate had become a dead space. The old alcove that housed the poker room sat dark and empty. It was all but forgotten.
Then, completely out of nowhere, Westgate announced a few months ago they were renovating the old poker room, nestled conveniently next to the gargantuan Superbook (race and sportsbook). The Westgate offers one of the biggest and most respected sports gambling operations in the world, so positioning the poker room right next to all the giant screens and a new bar that spans the entire casino floor seems like they’re taking advantage of logistics and timing where the Westgate could be on the verge of a renaissance. This sparks reason for optimism. In short, the poker room is located in a perfect spot — certain to attract casual players hanging out near the bar and sportsbook. That’s essential to gain foot traffic (new business).
I made my first visit to the Westgate poker room late on a Thursday night, arriving around 9 pm. The sportsbook was relatively quiet this evening (the sportsbook is usually lively, especially when multiple sports are happening). There was just one poker game — $1-2 No-Limit. This night was expected to be slow (mid-week, just prior to a big fight weekend — so even having one full game was a positive). The max buy-in is $200 — probably a good decision since building a client base with require a fresh crop of novice players (customarily, the max is $300 and higher in some places).
The room made a very positive first impression. I approached the front desk and was greeted immediately by the manager, who I would later identify as David Fried. David was very much hands-on and gave me the full layout of the room (he was initially unaware that I’d worked in the industry, and only recognized me later — so the time he took with me would presumably be given to anyone). This made a big impact on me. I really appreciate people who spend time with customers and try and build a clientele, and David impressed me as someone trying to cultivate new clients for the room. Bravo.
[Side Note: David, who’s name I recognized from Facebook, has also made several announcements on social media about the new room, including promoting $1-1 Pot-Limit Omaha. I really like a room that tries to build other games. Kudos]
The room has about 8 tables (I think), just about the right size since they also offer tournaments. The room is bright (slightly too bright in my opinion, but that’s a matter of taste). For those who like to watch sports while playing poker, this might be the best poker room in the city since there are giant screens located right inside the room, as well as all the excitement just steps away in the sportsbook. This is a wise strategy, to combine the experiences of poker and spectator sports — which is likely to help the Westgate build a player base.
Cocktail service was stellar, almost in-your-face. Many poker rooms are considered the stepchild of F/B service, but I saw a cocktail waitress come by about every ten minutes. That’s another big plus. Next time, I have to find out if they freepour Johnny Walker Black (not the Red, which is standard elsewhere).
Although my sample size was small (one visit), it appears that Westgate attracts mostly out-of-towners. Based on the table conversation, 7/9 players were with conventions and were staying on property or nearby. This is another positive — who wants to play with grinding rocks with no personality? Indeed, this game was lively, with plenty of conversation. Everyone was drinking a beer.
Just a few hands into my poker session, I was dealt pocket aces. I moved all-in, and lost. Boom. There went one buy-in down the shitter. To my surprise, I learned there’s an “aces cracked” promotion. Any player that moves all-in and loses with pocket aces gets $50. This was kinda like getting kicked in the groin and then receiving a kiss. But hey, I’ll take fifty bucks whenever I can get it. Comforting salve applied to the bad beat.
One other attribute of the Westgate is the close proximity to parking. The prime parking spot is on the back lot, which is used by sportsbook patrons. I’ve made hundreds of in-and-out visits from this lot to the counters in the book. So, this makes the poker room no more than a one-minute walk from parking. Contrast this convenience with the madhouses of Strip properties and PAID parking, and this is another big plus for Westgate.
I give Westgate poker high marks. Building a loyal clientele will surely take some work. There are certain to be down times. However, given casino management’s willingness to go against the tide of perception as to poker’s future in Las Vegas, I have to admire the effort.
Congratulations to Westgate’s new poker room and their staff. I wish them much success.
Note: I forgot to snap a photo, so I took this one from CardsChat.com