The Ironman of Poker (IMOP) returned this year to the Venetian, now home base for three out of five IMOPs. Although IMOP events are held up and down the Strip, the bulk of IMOP cash game play tends to be at the home base, partly because of the convenience, and partly because of the need to rack up enough hours to qualify for the deeply discounted poker room rate.
So, why the Venetian? There are several reasons, including:
* Poker room quality—The Venetian is, if not the nicest-looking poker room in Vegas, at least in the conversation with Wynn, Bellagio, and Aria. Actually, I'd throw Hard Rock into mix, though it is not particularly convenient. There is plenty of room between tables (unlike Bellagio), and the chairs are comfy. Moreover, playing poker at the Venetian gives a sense of being part of the glamor of the Vegas experience, rather than being stuck in a dumpy back room somewhere.
* Location—The Venetian poker room is prominently located by the main casino floor and sportsbook, as well as being just inside a main entrance from the Strip, and right by a set of escalators coming from the Venetian Canal Shops and Tao nightclub. Definitely a good spot to attract casual players passing by.
* Number of tables & players—The Venetian poker room has 39 tables in the main room, and what is appearing to be a semi-permanent tournment area by the room entrance with another dozen or so tables. On a weekend evening, nearly every room in the place will be full, ensuring plenty of good games to choose from. But there is always plenty of bad/drunk competition, essentially 24/7/365.
* Quality of opposition—Although the competition at the Venetian has certainly toughened up since the room opened, and is nowhere near the donkfest one might find in some of the small rooms, there are still plenty of bad players who want to try playing in such a fancy room. Also, the drunk rich club kids coming down after partying at Tao, or rich Cali-kids looking to play some poker before going out certainly add to fish fry.
* Tournaments—The Venetian runs well-structured daily NLHE tournaments and seasonal Deep Stack Extravaganzas that offer tourney players a great value.
* Comps—What can you say? Standard $1/hour for 1/2 NLHE, $1.50/hour for 2/5 NLHE and PLO. But rather than being restricted to a sandwich shop or café, the comps can be used at the Grand Lux Café which offers a tasty menu sure to have something for everyone. Not a bad reward for playing cards!
* Room discount—We got Rialto View Suites, which usually cost $299-$499 / night, for just under $100 / night, including taxes and fees. These rooms are big and fancy, and add some fun and glitz to the experience. But, at the discounted rate, they cost less than a Holiday Inn-level hotel in many of the towns I visit for business.
* Beverage service—Paying poker in such a nice room is fun, but for the Ironmen, the Venetian's offering of premium drinks (Red Bull-Grey Goose is the unofficial drink of IMOP) to its poker players is a major draw.
* Customer Service—The Venetian poker room management has made an effort to be friendly and welcoming to low-level players, rather than taking a snooty attitude as might be found in other "elite" rooms. This is rather important to the Ironmen, given our rather loud, boisterous hijinks at the tables. Also, management welcoming of low-level players only swells the Venetian's herds of donkeys.
Speaking of customer service, when I checked in, I was informed that the rooms for the others in my party were not yet available. However, the three of us team "captains" had booked separately. It's quite the marvel of computer programming to identify that the three of us always book rooms at the same time, during the same month, every year. As long as they haven't figured out our inclination to drink high-end liquor ...
I also had a package with our pledge "awards" shipped to the Venetian. Little did I realize that the Venetian's package center closed at 6:00, so when I went to pick up the package at 6:10, I was told I would need to wait until the next day. When I explained that I needed the package that night, a front desk worker explained the situation to a manager, who then contacted security to arrange to get the package. Now that's customer service!
Now, the Venetian isn't perfect; for starters, I'd get rid of the cloying floral perfume that assaults the nose (a serious annoyance for me as I have highly sensitive sinuses). Also, it's not the place for cheap table games. But overall, it's really hard to think of a better place for the Ironmen to call home.
ADDENDUM (3 March 2010): I believe the Venetian's success has a lot to do with a great marketing concept that started before the casino opened. To dedicate such a large area of prime casino floor space to poker without any customer base took a lot of courage. Also, management early on made a critical decision to cater to 1/2 NLHE players, who really weren't getting much attention from the heavyweights of the day: Mirage was fixated on its bigger LHE games, Bellagio had the Big Game and bigger stakes games, and Wynn was chasing much the same crowd. The Venetian offered a glamorous room and a welcoming smile to the little people, who comprise a pretty large percentage of poker players. Now the rooms which once snubbed these bread and butter customers are reluctantly retooling their marketing to try to compete with the Venetian for the 1/2 NLHE niche, while the Venetian packs in their normal crowd while still expanding into bigger games. Based on results, Venetian has had what is quite possibly the best poker room marketing campaign of all time.