Whether you play poker for fun or your livelihood, real-world casinos serve it with something that online can’t duplicate: dealers who enjoy the game as much as you do.
“You want your staff to be poker players … (and) see the room through the eyes of the players,” says Bill Entenmann, director of poker operations at Parx Casino, whose poker room generates more revenue than any other in the state “People who don’t play themselves don’t understand what the customers’ needs are.”
Across Pennsylvania, casinos appeal to poker players not only with knowledgeable staffs but also with a plethora of tournaments, a broad range of table limits, and promotions such as high-hand bonuses and bad-beat jackpots.
Pennsylvania’s 10 largest casinos offer live poker, and a $600 million casino being built in South Philadelphia includes plans for a 33-table poker room. The rooms range from 48 tables at Parx to only seven at Presque Isle in Erie. All are smoke-free and publicize their offerings on the Bravo poker app.
Pittsburgh-based poker player David Eldridge, who has cashed in several WSOP tournaments and played on TV’s “Poker Night in America,” provides a checklist for a good poker room reflects what many players want:
- A decent-sized room that is separated from the smoke and noise in the rest of the casino
- Comfortable chairs
- Efficient and effective management, such as the handling of waiting lists or disputes
Beyond those, he enjoys amenities such as phone-charging ports at each seat, working wifi, good food options and the availability of tableside massages. While he usually looks for higher stakes cash games that typically would be offered at only one table, he says players at smaller stakes find more table selection at larger rooms.
Bad Beat jackpots and high-hand bonuses attract many players who enjoy $1-3 or $2-5 no-limit or $3-6 and $4-8 limit, but higher-stakes players often turn up their noses at such promotions.
Entenman said some view the extra dollar of rake taken from each pot to fund those promotions as “a lottery ticket” they’re forced to buy.
Generally, Pennsylvania poker rooms rake 10 percent of the pot up to $5, plus $1 or $2 for promotions. Hold ’Em and PLO are the most common games; the most prevalent no-limit games are 1-3 and 2-5, with limit games typically 3-6 or 4-8.
Internet gambling is on the horizon in Pennsylvania, with nine of the 13 land-based casinos applying this month for licenses to offer online poker in PA, other table games, and slot-like games. The applicants, who will pay $10 million each for the licenses, include Stadium Casinos, whose Philadelphia facility is scheduled to open in 2020.
The four casinos that did not apply for an all-in-one iGaming license have until Aug. 14 to apply for licenses for one, two, or three category-specific gaming categories. Those licenses cost $4 million each.
If Pennsylvania casinos follow New Jersey’s lead, many online promotions and tournaments will wind up bringing those players into the casino. Here’s a look at what each Pennsylvania poker room offers, ranked by number of tables.
Location: 2999 Street Road Bensalem, PA 19020
Phone: 267-525-7300 (poker room)
Promotions: High-hand bonuses, with winners also qualifying for twice-a-month cash drawings; Bad Beat jackpot; quarterly Big Stax tournaments; World Poker Tour stop.
Comp rate: $1 an hour for 1-2 no-limit; increases with higher stakes
Extras: Phone-charging port at each seat; free wifi; rake for promotions limited to $1 per pot
Trivia: New poker room opened in January as part of a $50 million project that included the addition of the XCite Center concert venue. It includes 28 large-screen TVs and a three-table high-limit room. Poker Operations Director Bill Entenman says Tuesdays tend to be the nights for high-limit games; a recent Tuesday had 10-10 No Limit Hold ’Em, 15-30 and 40-80 Limit Hold ’Em, 50-100 HOE and 10-10 PLO in addition to more than a dozen more common games, such as 1-3 and 2-5 No Limit Hold ’Em.
2017-18 gross poker revenue: $17.3 million, up by about $14,000 from 2016-17.
Location: 777 Casino Drive Pittsburgh, PA 15212
Phone: 412-566-4606 (poker room)
Promotions: High-hand bonuses; Bad Beat jackpot; regular stop for “Poker Night in America;”
Comp rate: $1 per hour
Extras: Call-ahead seating good for up to an hour; phone-charging ports at each table.
Trivia: Rivers was the site of two showdowns between some of the world’s top heads-up poker players and Artificial Intelligence units developed at Carnegie Mellon University. In the 2017 test, which involved 120,000 hands over 20 days of play, the AI crushed the four human pros, the first such victory in the world.
2017-18 gross poker revenue: $6.6 million, down from $6.7 million
Location: 777 Harrah’s Blvd. Chester, PA 19013
Phone: (800) 480-8020, Option 3
Promotions: High hand bonus, typically paid every hour or half hour; Bad Beat Jackpot, quarterly Diamond Delight tournaments that include cash prizes plus entry into WSOP Main Event and Millionaire Maker tournaments or Diamond level players club membership for a year.
Comp rate: $1 to $3 per hour, depending on game and blind structure
Extras: Mississippi Straddle allowed on all Hold ’Em and Omaha games; “run it twice” option allowed on time-raked no-limit and PLO games.
Trivia: Only World Series of Poker-affiliated room in the state
2017-18 gross poker revenue: $4.77 million, down from $5.3 million
Location: 1001 N. Delaware Ave. Philadelphia, PA 19125
Phone: 215-717-3883 (poker room)
Promotions: High-hand bonus, can qualify by playing one hole card.
Comp rate: $1 to $2 an hour, depending on game
Extras: In-seat text-to-order food service available
Trivia: Regular stop for “Poker Night in America”
2017-18 gross poker revenue: $7.9 million, up from $7.7 million.
Location: 77 Sands Blvd. Bethlehem, PA 18015
Phone: (877) 726-3777
Promotions: Bad Beat jackpot
Extras: Phone-charging ports at each seat; complimentary beverage service; massage service available.
Trivia: The Sands, currently owned by Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corp., is being sold for $1.3 billion to Wind Creek Hospitality, an affiliate of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians of Alabama. The sale is expected to be final by early 2019.
2017-18 gross poker revenue: $10.5 million, down from $11.1 million
Mohegan Sun Pocono
Location: 1280 Highway 315 Wilkes-Barre, PA 18702
Phone: (888) 946-4672
Promotions: Bad Beat Jackpot for both cash games and tournament play; progressive royal flush jackpot for each suit grows by $25 per day; daily tournaments.
Trivia: Mohegan Sun was the first legal casino in Pennsylvania, opening in November 2006. The casino and its 400-acre site are owned by Mohegan Tribe of Indians of Connecticut.
2017-18 gross poker revenue: $2.3 million, down from $2.7 million
Hollywood at Penn National
Location: 777 Hollywood Blvd. Grantville, PA 17028
Phone: (717) 469-2211 Opt. 9
Promotions: High-hand bonuses; Bad Beat jackpot; cash rewards for 50 or more hours played per month.
Comp rate: “Rake Back” offers cash for hours played per month, starting with $50 for 50 to 74 hours and maxing at $150 for at least 150 hours.
Extras: Phone charging ports available at each table
2017-18 gross poker revenue: $3.6 million, down from $4.3 million
Location: 210 Racetrack Road Washington, PA 15301
Phone: 724-503-1700 (poker room)
Promotions: Bad Beat jackpot, with minimum qualifying hand reduced as jackpot grows;
Comp rate: $1 per hour
Tidbits: Regular stop for Heartland Poker Tour
Extras: Poker room overlooks harness-racing track
2017-18 gross poker revenue: $2.2 million, up from $1.8 million
Mt. Airy Casino Resort
Location: 312 Woodland Rd. Mount Pocono, PA 18344
Phone: (877) 682-4791
Promotions: High-hand bonus
Comp rate: $1 per hour
Trivia: Mt. Airy’s non-casino offerings include an 18-hole lakefront golf course and a 16,000-square-foot spa, salon and exercise facility.
2017-18 gross poker revenue: $1.24 million, up by about $55,000
Online Poker Partner: PokerStars PA
Presque Isle Downs
Location: 8199 Perry Highway Erie, PA 16509
Phone: (814) 866-8379 (poker room)
Promotions: High-hand bonuses; Bad Beat jackpot; players with seven visits per month are entered in a drawing for a $75 dinner for two at casino’s LBV Steak and Pasta restaurant.
Comp rate: $10 food voucher after three hours of play
Trivia: Room opens at 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, at noon Monday through Friday; it remains open as long as there is substantial play.
2017-18 gross poker revenue: $947,293, down from $981,057.