As a low-stakes poker player who enjoys a nice cup of free casino coffee, you can often find me at one of the best-valued tournaments in Las Vegas, the 10 AM daily tournament at South Point Hotel-Casino. Although I love the Coronado’s $6.45 steak special and the ability to watch movies in-between daily tournaments at the movie theater, this poker adventure does not take place at South Point. Far away from South Point’s residence in the deep south of Las Vegas, another venue can be found right in the heart of North Las Vegas. Head north past Fremont Street and the soon-to-be-remodeled Silver Nugget, and eventually, you will stumble upon the host of the cheapest poker tournament in Las Vegas: The Poker Palace.
In the summer of 2022, I moved to Las Vegas after being in the poker industry for nearly a year. A content editor for Jonathan Little’s PokerCoaching.com as well as a newly appointed live reporter for the World Series of Poker Circuit, I made my way to Las Vegas not only to further my career but also to play as much poker as possible, and play I did! Competing in my first WSOP, I fired a number of $400-$600 events as well as a wide variety of low-stakes tournaments around the city. Whether it was Paris, Bally’s (now Horseshoe), The Orleans, or the Golden Nugget, the summer of 2022 entailed consistent donations to the low-stakes poker community. It did not matter if it was the Colussus or the $35 daily at Westgate, Paul B was in LV and he was ready to punt!
Even with the losses we sustained in the summer of 2022, life was still pretty good. I was working in the poker industry, living in Las Vegas, and despite my recently depleted bankroll, I was hell-bent on getting to the felt whenever possible. After a long week of work in August of 2022, it was Friday night and I was ready to give myself a night out. While other 20-somethings may have made their way to Omnia or XS, I made my way to PokerAtlas.com. As I perused what was running that evening in Las Vegas, I could see I had a number of options. The 10 PM nightly at South Point? Nope, that’s at least $50 worth of Ubers. A $1,100 tournament at The Wynn? Maybe next week!
Oh hello, what do we have here?
Amidst all of the cheap nightlys around town and mixed game tournaments at The Orleans, I saw it: a $20 NLH tournament in North Las Vegas. As soon as I saw “$20”, I knew what my plans were for the evening.
A Palace Like No Other
Prior to my first visit to the Poker Palace, I was completely unfamiliar with the establishment. Before the Poker Palace came to be, the original property where it stands was built in 1951, and operated as Bunny’s Bar. A popular watering hole amongst servicemen stationed at nearby Nellis Air Force Base, Bunny’s Bar and the surrounding land was purchased by Marvin E. Coleman and Laura Coleman in 1974. Later in 1974, the Colemans would open the newly-built Poker Palace to the public, with a fresh casino that included one blackjack table, eight slot machines, and two pool tables. Nearly 50 years later, the Poker Palace offers six blackjack tables, over 280 various slot machines, a large bingo hall, a small sportsbook, and of course a 7-table poker room. For folks looking to dine/drink instead of gamble, you will find not only some of the cheapest (and stiffest) drinks in all of Las Vegas at the bar, but you can also enjoy a reasonably priced T-bone at Maddy’s Paddys Cafe.
With their offerings, the Poker Palace may sound like the usual small, “locals” casino, but you would be mistaken. When I first gazed upon the outside of the establishment, I knew I had stumbled upon something truly unique.
In case you can’t quite make out the sign on the right side of the building, let me offer you a closer look.
Although I had no plans of inquiring about Poker Palace’s “Match Your Paycheck” promotion, such an advertisement immediately intrigued me as to what awaited inside. Truth be told, I was not disappointed. Behold, the entrance to where the royalty of North Las Vegas gamble:
The Interior of the Poker Palace
After stepping into the main entrance of the Poker Palace, I was immediately greeted by a very large security desk occupied by, you guessed it, a security guard. Behind the security guard desk was the main lobby of the Poker Palace, primarily comprised of slot machines. Behind all of the slot machines stood a long bar filled with customers. Much like the bar, the entirety of the Poker Palace appeared to not have had an “update” in quite some time. Before making my way to the poker room to enter the tournament, I looked around and did some exploring.
I made my way through the right side of the building, taking in the Poker Palace Race and Sportsbook as I maneuvered through the establishment. Around the sportsbook were an array of framed pictures and paintings depicting famous racehorses of old. The likes of Seattle Slew and Seabiscuit could be seen along with the yellow tint of the aged photos.
Passing some paramedics who were attending to a slot player (this would be the first of two occurrences where I would see EMTs that evening), I found my way into Poker Palace’s Bingo Hall.
Outfitted with what appeared to be the original “number board” and an array of signs best described as “old school”, the Poker Palace Bingo Hall had everything you needed to host a serious bingo game, without all the pomp and circumstance. I was greeted by an attendant who informed me the next bingo game would not be occurring for another two hours. That was just fine with me, as I had a poker tournament to enter. Exiting the bingo hall, I retraced my steps as I made my way back to the Race and Sportsbook, located right next to the Poker Palace Poker Room. Arriving at my destination, I took in the arena where I would be doing battle that evening.
The Poker Palace Poker Room
Visiting the Poker Palace Poker Room for the first time, I was greeted by seven tables, each of which was surrounded by nine chairs (plus a slightly nicer-looking one for the dealers, of course). Although the poker tables appeared cheap, the felt appeared to be in fine shape throughout all the tables. Along with a whiteboard on the wall listing the cash game promotions, a pile of Christmas decorations could be seen in the back left corner. This past year, I have visited the Poker Palace on a number of occasions, and on every visit, I see that the pile of Christmas decorations has yet to be disturbed.
With more than half an hour remaining until the $20 tournament was set to begin, the lone occupant of the poker room was a slender, elderly Asian gentleman with an athletic stopwatch dangling from his neck. Assuming this was the poker room supervisor, I approached the man and inquired about entry into the tournament.
“Twenty dollars,” the poker room supervisor said. “If you want another 1,000 in chips, that will be another $10. It’s more than half an hour before tournament, so you can buy another add-on as well for $10.”
Not wanting to miss out on any add-ons, I gave the poker room supervisor $40 in exchange for two white chips marked 1,000.
“Where do you want to sit?” asked the poker room supervisor.
“Pick your seat.”
The poker room supervisor motioned towards the poker table we were standing by. Spread across the felt was an assortment of cards marked with table and seat numbers. With my favorite number being 7, I naturally picked seat 7 at table 7. This would serve as the first time I ever got to pick my seat in a poker tournament.
With a half hour to kill before the tournament, I placed my two white chips and seat assignment card in my pocket as I made my way to Maddy’s Paddys Cafe. To be honest, the steak I had was quite good and reasonably priced at just $12.50.
The Action Begins
Following my reasonably priced dinner, I made my way back to the poker room and found my seat. After handing my seat card to the dealer, I was provided my chips and added my add-ons to the stack.
As I do at the beginning of every poker tournament, I asked the dealer what the starting stack was to confirm I had all the necessary chips. After confirming my chip stack contained the correct amount with my add-ons, I quickly realized the first “unique” aspect of this tournament. With a 4,000 starting stack and my 2,000 worth of add-ons, it appeared that the majority of the players were starting the poker tournament with only 60 big blinds, and the players who elected to buy no add-ons only had 40. Though I figured prior to taking my seat that this would be a truly unique tournament, this realization only furthered that observation. Fortunately for me, 40-60 big blinds is when I’m the most dangerous.
As the tournament began, I could tell at least half of the players at my table were regulars as they chatted amongst themselves and with the dealer. I sat back in silent wonder, as I witnessed some incredibly splashy, yet weirdly tight tournament poker. After a few hands, I finally saw some action as I raised from the cutoff with pocket fives and got a call from the big blind.
The flop came K-6-4 rainbow, the big blind checked and I bet one-third of the pot. The big blind called. The turn was a 3. Following another check from the big blind, I sized up with a three-quarters pot bet with my turned open-ender. My opponent thought for a few moments, before folding A-K offsuit face-up.
“You clearly have a set,” he told me.
Despite winning that hand with the worst, after missing a few flops I was down to only 3,000 in chips in the middle of Level 2. With the incredibly short starting stacks players were provided, I found myself down to 15 big blinds only 20 minutes into the tournament.
“Give the dealer $5,” one of my tablemates told me.
I looked at him puzzled.
“If you drop below 4k, you can add on whenever you want for five dollars.”
“Five dollars for 1,000,” the dealer explained to me.
That was the moment I discovered the second unique aspect of the Poker Palace $20 tournament.
Although I did in fact give the dealer $5 for additional chips, as a PokerCoaching.com employee I knew I should ask some follow-up questions:
- How much of this goes to the prize pool?
- How much of each add-on goes to the house?
- Oh, also, how much of the entry is raked?
“You’re asking a lot of questions, kid,” a grizzled regular informed me.
I grew much more quiet.
The regular to my left laughed and brought me up to speed on the essence of the $20 Poker Palace tournament:
“Listen, most of us had a long week. This tournament is $20 and the drinks are strong. Grab yourself a cocktail and enjoy yourself.”
Always open to advice, I did as my tablemate said and ordered the first of many vodka lemonades. After my first sip, I was thankful I hadn’t ordered a double.
I Need A Hero
“It’s 11 PM, do you know where your children are?”
If you’re my Mom, one of your sons is in California and has likely been asleep for an hour after responsibly taking melatonin. Your other son, I’m sorry to say, is drunk off his ass in a dingy casino in Northern Las Vegas.
Despite failing to cash in the cheapest poker tournament in Las Vegas I was in a good mood, having had an incredibly fun night out. Taking the advice of my fellow poker players, I kicked back, enjoyed myself, and experienced the Poker Palace like a true regular. Now, it was time for me to hail an Uber, and responsibly make my way home. As I exited the Poker Palace poker room, I pulled out my phone and opened the Uber app. Just as I was about to request a ride, a message appeared on my screen.
“We can’t reach our network right now. Please check your connection.”
Confused, I immediately closed the app and re-opened it, but the error message remained.
“Well that’s not good.” I thought to myself.
Taking a seat at the sportsbook, I attempted every other troubleshooting method I could think of in my inebriated state. I alternated airplane mode on and off, I checked to see if the Lyft app was working, I even turned my entire phone off and back on. Regardless of what I did, I not only couldn’t access the Uber app, but I couldn’t access the internet either. That’s when I realized that, for some reason, I was currently unable to use any cellular data. Whether it was because my brother forgot to pay the monthly cell phone bill or I simply needed to upgrade my ancient iPhone, the reason did not matter. All I knew was I was going to need WiFi and soon.
I approached a group of Poker Palace blackjack dealers who were talking amongst themselves at an empty table.
“Hi there, do you guys have free WiFi?”
They laughed at me.
I made my way over to the bar and asked if they had a number for a cab company. Although they did have a number, they informed me it would likely take them at least two hours to pick me up.
Although I’m not usually one to panic, that emotion was beginning to trickle into my consciousness. At that moment I could not refute the facts. It was late, I was drunk, and I was trapped in the Poker Palace.
I returned to the sportsbook and found a seat yet again. It was not lost on me that my lack of responsibility got me into this situation, but that did not change the fact I had to figure out how the hell I was going to get home. Just when I thought I would be sleeping in the confines of the Poker Palace Bingo Hall, it hit me: Bagger.
When I moved to Las Vegas in the summer of 2022, I really didn’t know anyone other than a few associates within the poker industry. All that changed, however, when one day I was scrolling through Snapchat and saw that one of my old buddies from college was in Las Vegas. Seeing an image of The Strat on my buddy Bagger’s Snapchat Story, I sent him a message. It turned out that Bagger and his family weren’t in town on vacation, but had moved to Las Vegas almost at the exact same time as I did! Not only was it great having a fellow Boise State Bronco in town, but it was even better having a friend nearby who was always willing to lend a helping hand. When it comes to people who are always willing to help you out at a moment’s notice, my buddy Bagger fits the profile perfectly.
So that’s who I called.
I’m not going to lie: even though I was inebriated, I felt bad calling Bagger so late at night. He has a wife and young daughters, making late-night calls from degenerate friends less than optimal. Regardless, I was deep within the recesses of North Las Vegas late at night and was quickly running out of options. I pulled up Bagger’s number and made the call. After one ring, my guardian angel answered.
“Pauly B! What’s up, brother?”
“Bagger, buddy, how’s it going man?”
“It’s going good man! Just trying to get the A/C unit in the f***ing Tercel to work. What are you doing?”
After apologizing that I was calling so late at night and confirming I had not woken his wife and kids, I explained my situation to Bagger. Being the amazing friend he is, he assured me he could pick me up and would be leaving shortly.
“No problem my man, happy to get you home safe. I’ll leave here in a couple of minutes and come swoop ya.”
“Bagger, dude, thank you so much I owe you one. Real quick though, be sure you park and come inside first. You’ve gotta see this place.”
About 20 minutes of loitering in the Poker Palace pits later, Bagger entered the building and greeted me. I thanked him and watched him look around the establishment. After silently assessing the Poker Palace, Bagger turned and looked at me.
“Dude, this place looks awesome.”
Author’s Note: A special thank you not only to Bagger, but also to fellow PokerCoaching.com staff member Kieran Woods for accompanying me to the Poker Palace this past summer as I worked on this article. The rake may have been high, but the memories were priceless.