Hard Rock to lift poker to new level

Aug 5, 2008 7:05 PM

By Joe Awada | There are some new, different and exciting things happening out at the Hard Rock hotel/casino, which later this month opens its first ever poker room.

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They’re actually calling it a Poker Lounge, but it’s more like a cross between a poker room and a nightclub.

And, in keeping with the tradition of the Hard Rock, it’s going to be laid back, innovative and trend setting – all choreographed to the molar-rattling energy that’s made the Hard Rock famous.

I got the full story from Poker Lounge manager Houston Waldie when GamingToday managing editor David Stratton and I stopped by the Hard Rock last week for an early peak.

We met with Houston and some of his "Bad Boys of Poker," a few of his top dealers, many of whom I’ve known for many years.

These fellows – Jimmy Miller and Steve Braverman, to name a couple – bring 80 years of poker experience to what will be the Hard Rock’s first venture into the poker world.

The word from Houston and his friends is at once encouraging and exciting as they will be offering many "firsts" for a poker operation.

For instance, the 7,500-square-foot poker lounge will start with 18 tables (expandable to 25) and will feature five roped-off, high-limit tables.

The lounge will have its own bar with tables, comfy chairs and couches, five high-end slot/video poker machines and its own bathrooms.

The room will also have its own cashier and safety deposit boxes for the players.

 There will also be a dedicated host staff, massage therapists, bottle service at the tables, a race and sports writer and a kiosk for placing bets. Players will be entitled to a full comp system, with extra goodies like concert tickets, backstage passes, cabanas at the adult pool and other benefits.

 "Customer service is key to our operation, but you have to have a staff that is experienced, enthusiastic and knowledgeable," Houston said. "It’s not all about the drop, it’s about the experience."

 Houston added that the Poker Lounge is about trying different things.

 "We’re not just trying to bring in players from other rooms," he said, "but develop a new group of poker players."

 To do that, the Poker Lounge will feature activities and events that venture "outside the box."

They include organizing a poker league, made up of teams in three divisions: the casino division, employee division and open division.

"We already have teams from car dealerships, radio stations and gentlemen’s clubs," Houston said. "Many of the team members are new to poker, but they’ll get their chance in open competition."

The Poker Lounge will also make their high-end tables available for bachelor parties, bachelorette parties and divorce parties. "We already have two dozen divorce parties lined up."

There will also be celebrity poker tournaments, such as a Motley Crue event set for later this year.

As far as the poker games themselves, virtually anything goes.

"We’ll offer any game, any limit, any time," Houston said. "We’ll also feature daily poker tournaments, with higher buy-in tourneys on the weekend – all of which will have single-table satellites for those who want to get in cheaply."

The poker menu will also feature all the mixed games, progressive high hands, kill buttons on no limit games and a "Hard Rock straddle," available on the button or under the gun.

Another interesting game is the ROE (round of each) game, which will include alternating rounds of No Limit Hold’em and pot limit Omaha.

Houston said the Hard Rock’s new Poker Lounge, which cost about $12 million, has been planned for nearly two years by the resort’s new owners, Morgans Hotel Group and DLJ Merchant Banking Partners.

The Poker Lounge is part of a $1.2 billion renovation, which also includes a new tower and parking garage, a re-vamped pool area, new concert venue and a doubling of the casino floor, making it the third largest casino on the Strip.

"It’s unusual to give a blank check to a poker operation, but the new owners want to be on the cutting edge," Houston said.

It looks like they’re well on their way to achieving that goal.