Massachusetts first legalized casinos all the way back in 2011. Poker in New England started to feel the effects of the new law in May 2018 with the opening of the MGM Springfield. However, it was the opening of Encore Boston Harbor this summer that really revolutionized New England poker. Encore took the New England poker cash scene by storm over the summer, and is now impacting New England tournament numbers as well. Speculation has run rampant over the past few years about how the new Massachusetts sites would impact existing poker rooms in New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. Some expected a poker room apocalypse. Others believed the impact would be minimal, as few players would hassle with Boston traffic or make the long haul to Springfield. As interested parties, we thought we would review recent changes in the New England poker scene.
This summer, when playing in a World Series of Poker Daily Deepstack event, we got a chance to experience the Rio poker room. While the WSOP is certainly not the time to get a perfect read on the day-to-day operations of the Rio poker room, it did give us some sense of the atmosphere. To round out our review, we did a bit of research to determine the flow of cash and tournament action.
The Rio is about a mile west of the Strip on Flamingo Road. It is part of a small constellation of casinos in the immediate area. The Flamingo is slightly west of the Rio, as is the Palms. The Gold Coast lies right across South Valley View Boulevard. So there are a couple of options within easy walking distance if you want to check out other casinos. The Strip is also theoretically walkable in 20-25 minutes, but beware, it’s a lot longer than it looks.
Parking is free at the Rio. A garage and multiple outdoor lots lie around back near the Conference Center (where most of the WSOP events are held).
Planet Hollywood sits on the Las Vegas Strip surrounded by a variety of notable poker venues. To the north on the East side lies the Venetian, while to the north on the West side is Caesars Palace. Across the street are the Bellagio and Aria. Planet Hollywood is right in the midst of the Strip action. In June we got a chance to drop in for the Goliath poker series Tag Team Switch tournament. While we did not have the full Planet Hollywood poker room experience, we were able to assess the casino overall.
Planet Hollywood sits on the strip right next to Paris and across from the Aria. It is relatively close to McCarran airport as well. Planet Hollywood initially opened as the Aladdin, and fully renovated in 2000. But when the Aladdin fell on hard times in 2007, it was purchased by the Planet Hollywood Corporation (in conjunction with Starwood Hotels & Resorts) and renamed Planet Hollywood. Today the Planet Hollywood casino is one of the many Las Vegas properties (including the Rio, the Linq, The Flamingo, and Paris) owned by Caesar’s Entertainment Corporation.
Planet Hollywood’s central location is ideal as a base to walk to most of the other Strip casinos. Walk north and in about 20-30 minutes you can reach the top of the Strip (Wynn, Palazzo, and Venetian). Go south and you can reach the Luxor and Mandalay Bay. Also, as of this writing, Planet Hollywood’s self-parking remains blessedly free. Free parking is a dying breed on the Strip.
While the Strip draws the vast majority of poker players in Las Vegas, there are several poker rooms off the Strip. One of our favorites is the Orleans, which we have visited multiple times. The Golden Nugget poker room provides another option right in the center of Downtown Vegas. Offering smaller, more intimate atmosphere than many poker rooms on the Strip, the Golden Nugget presents a nice respite from the wild action along Fremont Street.
The Golden Nugget resides in Old Vegas, sited downtown between the famed Fremont Street and East Carson Avenue. It’s right across from Binion’s, the original home of the World Series of Poker. For those who have not been, Fremont Street is a scene. The locale features street performers, a zip line, vendors selling all manner of wares, and people in all sorts of costumes (some minimal). Perhaps not necessarily where you would take your 8-year-old, but a fascinating melting pot of Vegas decadence that is worth at least one visit.
The Golden Nugget’s parking is not free for the public, but if you play in the casino they will validate your ticket. We got our ticket validated at the tournament registration desk and our parking was indeed free.
UPDATE: As of June 2020, Seabrook has rebranded itself once again as “The Brook” now that they have finished their next round of renovations. They have also absorbed many of the staff from the recently closed Hampton Falls Poker Room. It is rumored that once tournaments return to The Brook, they will incorporate some of Hampton Falls’ most popular structures as well. We will update our review once the current health crisis has passed.
The old Seabrook Park poker room needed a facelift like no other poker room in New England. Seabrook’s glory days had passed long ago, and the physical plant was crumbling down. From a roof that leaked even when it wasn’t raining, to chairs that felt like torture devices, Seabrook poker had seen better days. Earlier this year, new ownership came in and immediately announced plans to renovate the building. Unlike most construction projects in New England, their “immediately” actually meant “now”, and their initial timeline lasted weeks, not years.
The renovation is still ongoing, with the next wave scheduled for August 2019. Tournament poker will ultimately move to the other half of the building, next to the racing simulcast. However, the first wave is complete, and boy, what a difference. Out of the ashes, the Greyhound Casino & Tavern at Seabrook Park has risen. We have banished our old review of Seabrook Park poker to the archives, now irrelevant. We will update the current review once Phase Two renovations are complete.