This past week I spent four days in Vegas on a big group trip which included my significant other and another ten of our friends. I initially booked three rooms at Venetian based on a good email / players' club offer, but switched over to Bellagio which came through a week prior to our trip with an even better offer. So, out of convenience and a desire to snag future room rate offers from the MGM Megalith, I split my poker playing time between Bellagio and Aria. Incidentally, for those of you looking to book a nice hotel for a Vegas poker trip, the Aria poker room is actually a short, easy walk from the Bellagio spa tower (the tower past the conservatory and on the southwest corner of the property) through Vdara and into the north valet entrance of Aria, making the Aria poker room nearly as accessible as the Bellagio poker room.
I had not played poker at Bellagio in over a year, and I'm honestly not sure why. Historically, I have found Bellagio to be a consistently profitable place for me to play, with some of the softest $2/$5 NLHE games in town, along with a top-notch (if occasionally snooty) staff and top shelf booze. But since Aria's poker room opened, my poker play has been predominately at Aria and Venetian, with significant cameo appearances at Mirage and Planet Hollywood. Most of the reason for dropping Bellagio from my regular poker rotation was that Bellagio really did not care about low-stakes players, treating them mostly as an annoyance. After this trip, however, Bellagio has certainly earned a promotion back into my Vegas poker lineup.
Although Bellagio still caters to the highest stakes players—even midweek during the WSOP the room was spreading multiple $25/$50 PLO games as well as limit and no-limit hold 'em and mixed games with blinds from $10/$20 up to $800/$1600—the room's management, floors, and dealers seem to have for the most part made their peace with lower stakes players, welcoming hordes of poker players looking to play $1/$3 and $2/$5 NLHE. In fact, those low stakes players now routinely fill nearly half of the Bellagio's 40 poker tables, even as Doyle Brunson continues to hold court in Bobby's Room and name pros like Erick Lindgren drop by to get into the high-stakes PLO games.
During my lengthy absence, the Bellagio poker room management had switched the $1/$2 NLHE game to a $1/$3 game, with a commensurate rise in maximum buy-in from $200 to $300. This is a rule change I applaud as it allows deeper stacked play, not to mention encourages bad players to put more money into play. However, I also discovered another, less welcome rule change the hard way.
During my first session, I was seated at a $1/$3 NLHE table just behind the button. The dealer asked me if I wanted to "post in"—i.e., post a $3 big blind to receive a hand—or wait for the big blind. Now this process of posting in is common in many (though not all) Midwestern casinos. But in my experience, no other Strip poker room requires posting in; instead, a player is simply dealt in without posting, unless the new player is in the blinds, in which case the player either posts the blinds in turn or waits and is dealt in for free (i.e, without posting) after the button passes. Still, it was only $3, so I didn't think much of the posting rule at the time.
During my next session at Bellagio, I was sent to a $1/$3 NLHE game where my seat was between the small blind and the button. Generally, poker rooms will simply deal around the new player in this spot, then on the next hand pass the button past the new player and deal in the new player. Some poker rooms, however, allow the new player to "buy the button" by posting both the small and big blinds, allowing the button to move normally on the subsequent hand with the new player keeping the button and the blinds proceeding to the left naturally, albeit with a one hand interruption.
As I was unracking my chips, the dealer asked me, "Do you want to post in?" I wanted to give off the image of a fish eager to play—made easier because it was accurate—so I flipped in a $5 chip. A player in late position raised, I folded as did the rest of the limpers, and we moved on to the next hand.
Except the dealer moved the button past me. WTF?!?
Me: "Excuse me, I bought the button."
Dealer: "No, you just posted in."
Me: "No, I put out $5 to buy the button."
Dealer: "I asked you if you wanted to post in. You never said anything about buying the button. You could've bought the button, but you didn't put out $4."
Me: "I put out $5 to buy the button. Why on earth would I want to post in in the blinds without buying the button."
Dealer: "Some players just don't want to wait to play."
Although I was mildly annoyed, I let it go as it was a small issue in the grand scheme of things. Plus, there's really no benefit in continuing to argue over this type of issue when it's clear that not only wasn't I going to "win", there really wasn't any remedy for what was a simple misunderstanding. Eh, caveat emptor. Live and learn. Fool me once ...
Anyway, over the next four days, I witnessed over a dozen new players move into a spot to the left of the button under similar circumstances—in fact, considering many players leave the table when the big blind hits them, it is rather common for new players to move into that particular spot between the small blind and button. Every single time, the dealer asked if the player wanted to "post in"; not once did a dealer ask if the player wanted to "buy the button", even though buying the button is far more advantageous for the player.
I question why Bellagio, alone among the major Vegas poker rooms, feels the need to require players to post in to games. The only rationale for posting in is that a player should have to put some money into the game before being able to play, in order to prevent a player dealt in for "free" from hitting and running after winning a big hand before paying the blinds. But this rationale is incredibly weak. How often do players sit and play only a few hands, unless they get terribly unlucky? Also, even if an occasional player pulls a hit and run in the first orbit to avoid paying the blinds, they still have to put their chips at risk if they do play a hand. Finally, if the posting in rule is on the Bellagio's books because it is perceived as necessary for some reason for the high-stakes games regularly spread in the room, we're only talking one big blind per new player, hardly enough to affect the course of play regardless of the stakes of the game.
Nonetheless, if Bellagio is going to require players to post in, then why are Bellagio's dealers not offering new players in the blinds the additional option to buy the button? Buying the button is quite common in many poker rooms, while Bellagio is unique in my experience in permitting players to post in between the button and blinds. So, offering players the option to buy the button would prevent confusion. Further, buying the button is significantly more advantageous for players, so dealers should let players know that buying the button is also an available option, rather than asking only about posting in.
Look, the Bellagio's posting in rule ultimately doesn't have any significant impact on game play. It's more a quirky rule to be aware of, rather than a reason to avoid the room. Still, it's not the type of rule that is player-friendly, and the Bellagio still has some room to improve in that regard.
ADDENDUM (30 June 2013; 1:16 CT): I just stumbled on a recent 2+2 thread that repeated rumors that David Sklansky's table jumping habits led to the Bellagio posting rule. Sklansky and Mason Malmouth both jumped into the fray to declare the rumor bogus (see HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE).