By Jason Lake
When you think about live poker in the United States, you probably think about Las Vegas. That's the branding power of the World Series of Poker at work. Of course there are tons of places you can play poker in Vegas, and if you're just starting out, there are enough low-stakes games to keep your bankroll growing. Best of all, residents don't have to pay income tax.
However, there are other options for Americans who want to play some live poker. Atlantic City is still open for business, but we're looking at five other destinations where you can grind out a living, or just put in some hands while you're passing through. Here they are in alphabetical order.
Table games were legalized in Maryland casinos in 2012, and the largest casino in the state, Maryland Live!, is just 20 minutes south of Baltimore. Depending on your taste, you might find the strip-mall vibe a little much, but the casino has 52 poker tables, and there are enough well-heeled recreational players in the area to keep the small-stakes games nice and soft. More casinos are on their way, too.
For even softer games, consider the Denver region, including the tiny mining town of Black Hawk. Casinos started popping up here in 1991; the Ameristar remains the largest according to my research, with 22 poker tables and some very loose players. The only caveat is the $100 spread limit, which makes playing anything above $1/$2 NLHE a bit tricky.
Here's another town that came to poker a little late. Florida first legalized poker in 1989, but only for penny-ante games. It wasn't until 2007 that NLHE was brought in, again with a $100 cap. That cap was lifted in 2010, and now there are 32 poker rooms in the state. Fort Lauderdale is in close proximity to the Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood and the Palm Beach Kennel Club.
As prominent as Las Vegas is for poker players, you'll find far more tables and a much wider variety of games in LA. Everything from small-stakes limit hold 'em to nosebleed mixed games can be found, especially when the World Poker Tour comes through town. Income taxes are reasonable, but expenses are still high in Los Angeles; you can mitigate some of those costs by staying in Temple City or Altadena.
How laid back is Portland? You don't even have to pay rake – although you're expected to tip the dealers generously as a result. The small-stakes games at Ace of Spades are recommended, as are the tournaments at Encore. Note that these are “social gaming clubs” as opposed to casinos. It’s definitely more of a bar/lounge situation, so if you're looking for some poker after 2 AM, you'll have to get into someone's home game. Yes, there are people in Portland who stay up past 2.