FAMOUS POKER VENUES AROUND THE UNITED STATESThe United States is home to many of the world's best poker venues, as well as some of the most renowned. There have been numerous historically significant poker moments within the United States' borders, which has ensured that poker players worldwide forever remember the names of the venues where these events took place.
RECORD-SETTING GAME OF POKER
BIRD CAGE THEATRE, TOMBSTONE, ARIZONA
WHY IT'S FAMOUS—The Basement of the Bird Cage Theatre in Tombstone is supposedly the location of the longest documented poker cash game in history. From 1881 to 1889, a continuous poker game allegedly took place, running 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The buy-in was $1000 upfront, and players could enter and leave whenever they pleased. Over the eight years of the game, politicians, lawmen, old west legends, professional gamblers, businesspeople and philanthropists participated.
Notable players included Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson, Diamond Jim Brady and Adolphus Busch. An accurate accounting of how many played is lost to history, but it would be assumed hundreds, if not thousands of people played in the game before the final hand was dealt in 1889.
IS IT STILL OPEN?—The poker game came to an end when most of the miners and workers, who were Tombstone's lifeblood, were laid off after groundwater seeped into the mines and flooded several buildings. The theatre itself only lasted a few more years, and finally closed in 1894.
In the 1930s the Bird Cage Theatre was reopened several times, but none of the businesses lasted long. Today, the Bird Cage Theatre operates as a museum. It also has a reputation for being haunted and has attracted the attention of ghost hunting and paranormal enthusiast TV shows looking for evidence of supernatural entities.
THE FIRST WORLD SERIES OF POKER
BINION'S HOTEL CASINO, LAS VEGAS NEVADA
WHY IT'S FAMOUS—Originally opened in 1951 as Binion's Horseshoe Casino, the venue saw many years of operation before it hosted the very first World Series of Poker (WSOP) event in 1970. The owner and namesake, Benny Binion, had been organizing poker games for years, but after seeing a similar tournament the previous year, he decided to host the first WSOP event in the hopes of creating a grander poker series. The first event saw little fanfare, or attention from the public, in the following years though, Binion, and later his son would improve on the original design and create one of the biggest and most prestigious poker series in the world.
IS IT STILL OPEN?—Binion's Horseshoe Casino still operates, but it has long since passed on from the Binion family's ownership. When Benny Binion died in 1989; the casino was left to his family, who continued running the business until 2004 when it was sold to Harrah's Entertainment. The new owners changed the name to Binion's Gambling Hall and Hotel in 2005. The World Series of Poker was moved the same year, with the ailing casino unable to accommodate the thousands of players who regularly signed up to play.
Harrah's Entertainment later sold Binion's brand to the MTR Gaming Group and they operated the hotel, while Harrah's ran the casino. This relationship continued until the casino hotel was sold to TLC Casino Enterprises in 2008 who still own and operate it to this day. Several renovations have taken place over the years, removing a lot of the original design, with the most recent being in 2019, but the casino still carries the Binion name in honor of its founder.
THE BIGGEST CARD ROOM IN THE UNITED STATES
COMMERCE CASINO, LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
WHY IT'S FAMOUS—The Commerce Casino advertises that it has the world's largest card room. Casinos often exaggerate their services to attract customers, but with over 200 tables on site, it's unlikely that many other venues in the world could match the Commerce Casino. This location is also home to the LA Poker Classic (LAPC) series, a major tournament with a World Poker Tour event as part of its schedule.
IS IT STILL OPEN?—The Commerce Casino was still operating before COVID-19; however, like many businesses across the country, it has temporarily closed its doors in the wake of lockdowns and other restrictions. As of January 2021, they have yet to reopen their doors to the public.
THE END OF AN OLD WEST LEGEND AND THE BIRTH OF THE DEAD MAN’S HAND
NUTTAL & MANN'S SALOON, DEADWOOD, SOUTH DAKOTA
WHY IT'S FAMOUS—Nuttal & Mann's Saloon was the site where Jack McCall killed the legendary folk hero of the old west—James "Wild Bill" Hickok. Years later, the story of the “Dead Man's Hand,” two pair black aces and eights was attached to the shooting.
As the story goes, Hickok, McCall, and a few others were playing poker—Five Card Draw—which eventually resulted in McCall losing every cent he had. Hickok decided to take pity on the hapless McCall, offering him money for food and some free advice, "Don't play again until you can cover your losses." This seemingly harmless gesture left McCall deeply insulted, but he left without causing any trouble.
The following day, Hickok returned to the poker table. At this point in his life, Hickock had grown very paranoid that one of his many enemies would shoot him in the back, so he always tried to take a seat with the back to the wall, so he could see everyone who approached the table. Unfortunately for him, the seat was taken, and the player sitting in it refused to move, so Hickock was forced to sit elsewhere.
Later the same day, Jack McCall returned to Nuttal & Mann's Saloon as well. Nobody quite knows what went through his mind, whether he had been planning to kill Hickock the whole time, or if he had been stewing on the insult from the previous day, McCall flew into a rage. He stormed over to the poker table and shot the legendary gunfighter in the back of the head, killing him instantly. McCall was initially found not guilty of murder, but a month later, after he was heard bragging about killing Hickock and getting away with it, he was arrested, returned to court, found guilty, and hanged.
Years later, the tale of the “Dead Man’s Hand” was attached to the story; there is no way to verify the claim though; everybody involved is long dead. According to legend, after the shooting, when somebody checked Hickock's cards, it was two pair, black aces and eights. The concept of a “Dead Man’s Hand” has been around since the early days of poker, but the current format is widely attributed to Hickock and his last poker game at Nuttal & Mann's Saloon.
IS IT STILL OPEN?—The original building housing Nuttal & Mann's Saloon burned down in 1879, it was never reopened as a casino. In 1898, a new business built its premises on the site, and it was later transformed into a beer hall and inn. Eventually, the building was abandoned, and vacant until 2013, when it was bought and made into "Wild Bill's Trading Post" selling antiques and souvenirs to tourists.
THE ENTERTAINMENT CAPITAL OF THE WORLD
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA
WHY IT'S FAMOUS—Located in Nevada, one of the only states in America to allow gaming in all its forms, Las Vegas has long been synonymous with gambling and entertainment. When gambling was outlawed throughout most of the country in 1910, Vegas became one of the few places people could legally indulge in games of chance. Over the next few decades, Las Vegas evolved from a town of speakeasies and illicit gambling dens frequented by ranchers and rail workers, to a full-fledged city with over 100 legitimate casinos.
IS IT STILL OPEN?—Las Vegas is still one of the world's largest gambling destinations, with over 49.5 million people visiting in 2019, according to the Las Vegas Visitors and Convention Authority. COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns did force many businesses in the city to close temporarily, some have reopened, albeit with strict laws on patron numbers and social distancing. This will likely cause Las Vegas to have the least profitable year in its history, but the city will still survive regardless.
FLOATING CASINOS ON THE WATERWAYS
RIVERBOAT CASINOS (VARIOUS LOCATIONS BUT MOSTLY THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER)
WHY IT'S FAMOUS—Riverboats, and later riverboat casinos played a large part in helping spread poker across the United States through the riverfront towns and port stops along the waterways. Paddlewheel riverboats were used to transport passengers and freight, and the crews and passengers often played games of chance to pass the time. When they disembarked, they sought out other places to play, and games of chance like poker spread through the country like wildfire.
Riverboat gambling became very popular in the 1850s, but it remained a casual activity rather than a commercial business. Despite many officials trying to outlaw gambling in all its forms, the river was a border between the states, considered a no man’s land without clear authority or laws against gambling.
IS IT STILL OPEN?—Riverboat casinos are still very in operation but are solely for entertainment and gambling purposes now, rather than passage and freight transport between towns. The railroads scaled back the use of riverboats when superior transport methods and roadways were constructed, allowing freight across the land rather than water. As a consequence, riverboat gambling mostly died out. It wasn't until the early 1900s that riverboats were revived, but as giant floating casinos. The first purpose-built riverboat casino launched in the waters of Lake Michigan, but many more would follow.
There were still dozens of riverboat casinos operating in the United States up until 2019, taking tourists and punters up and down the waterways in a throwback to the days of old. COVID-19 has hit the industry hard though, with many forced to suspend activities until further notice. However, once the restrictions and lockdowns are eased, it is assumed riverboat casinos will once again travel the rivers and waterways.
FAMOUSLY EXCLUSIVE POKER GAMES AND VENUES IN THE UNITED STATESMost casinos around the United States allow players to buy in any game they choose, provided they have the cash. However, there are also plenty of invite-only games with a clientele made up of mostly the rich and famous. Many of these games don't take place in a casino, but that doesn't diminish the prestige or the large sums of money that changes hands.
4. WILLIE NELSON'S POKER GAME
Country music legend Willie Nelson's home poker games are strictly invite-only and mostly take place at his house. Regular players include Hollywood actors Owen and Luke Wilson, Matthew McConaughey, and Woody Harrelson, along with famous musicians and sports stars. The buy in and a lot of other details are not public information, but several celebrities who have played in the game regularly have leaked small bits of information to the media over the years.
The ruleset isn't like anything you'd find at a casino with a modified set of house rules, and the room is a cloud of smoke from all the marijuana being smoked. Kindly old Willie Nelson is rumored to be a true poker shark with an aggressive style that has seen him forge a reputation for ruthlessness at the table.
Musician Jack Johnson even wrote a song about his own experience with losing all his money at the game titled: Willie Got Me Stoned and Stole All My Money. The game is currently ongoing and takes place at least once a week, and while the stakes might not be very high, the game is still one of the most exclusive and famous games in the United States.
3. SILICON VALLEY POKER GAME
Silicon Valley is home to some of the wealthiest people in the United States and also has the distinct honor of having one of the highest concentrations of billionaires in the country. Very little is known about how the elite of the technology hotspot started playing a regular poker game, but the competition is supposed to be fierce and the invite list very small.
The Silicon Valley home poker games came to the public’s attention mostly through professional poker player Phil Hellmuth, who scored an invite due to his friendship with former Facebook VP Chamath Palihapitiya. Hellmuth is considered one of the world's best poker players, with many accolades to his name, but even he struggled to hold onto his cash after playing in the game. He once revealed in an interview that he regularly lost money for the first three years of participating in the Silicon Valley poker game.
The rest of the guest list is made up of tech moguls and the occasional sports star. The stakes are also a mystery but considering most of the players would have tens of millions in disposable income; you could assume the buy-in and blinds would be significantly higher than a standard game at your local casino. The game's current status isn't public information.
2. LARRY FLYNT’S POKER GAME
Larry Flynt is known for many things, his company Larry Flynt Publications which mostly publishes pornography, his many legal troubles, and surviving an attempt on his life by a serial killer which left him paralyzed. One of his lesser-known accomplishments is hosting one of the biggest Seven-Card Stud Games in the world, with blinds regularly sitting at $4,000/$8,000 or higher.
Larry's game was hosted at his home, or his Hustler Casino in LA which he built in the early 2000s and named after Hustler magazine, one of his company's magazines. Invites were strictly limited and had notable players such as Phil Hellmuth, Ted Forrest, Gabe Kaplan, David Oppenheim, and Phil Ivey.
The rules were standard, but Flynt added a few stipulations that all players had to adhere to. Anyone who was late had to pay a $500 fee to buy a meal for everyone at the table. The temperature was also kept very low, so Flynt could be comfortable and offset some of the pain from his crippling injuries, forcing some players to rug up in cold weather gear.
Some of the participants have reported losing millions, and even the founder and operator of the game, Larry, has joked in the media that he has personally helped fund several big-name poker pros lifestyles through his massive poker losses. The current state of Larry Flynt's home game isn't known to the public.
1. BOBBY’S ROOM
Located inside the Bellagio Casino in Las Vegas, Bobby's Room is one of the most exclusive poker rooms in the United States. Named after poker player and casino executive Bobby Baldwin, the room is the exclusive domain of high stakes poker.
The average buy-in is usually around $200,000 to 300,000, but players can scrape in with the minimum buy in, which sits at around $20,000. The room was designed to ensure maximum privacy and has guards stationed outside to ensure only a select few, usually the rich or famous, are allowed inside. Nearly every top tier professional poker player has played in this venue at some point, with names like Doyle Brunson, Phil Ivey and Eli Elezra among past regular players.
Bobby's Room also hosted the 'Big Game' a poker event that features no-limit, and pot-limit Hold‘em, along with a variety of other poker variants that rotate every eight to ten hands. Wagers can reach well into the hundreds of thousands, and games with blinds at $4,000/$8,000 are often listed. In 2020, Bobby's Room was renamed the 'Legends Room', due to COVID-19 restrictions, it hasn't seen much poker played yet.
This is a general reference article to renowned poker venues around the US from the past until current times. It is for information and entertainment only. It is not related to, nor a reflection of, Global Poker, its products, content, or its games.