“THE” Casino

August 3, 2008

In a recent article, I talked all about feeling cool at the card table.        

  And getting that one right hand, the one where you can put an arrogant player in his place where he belongs, is right up there with feeling as cool as can be.

            But I got another one for you that stands in a class all its own.

            Seeing, walking into and playing poker in Binion’s Horseshoe Casino in downtown Vegas off Fremont Street.

            I’ve had the opportunity to see Binion’s twice (although I’ve been to Vegas 4 times in my life now), and actually sat down to play only once.

            And it’s now been a good nine years since I’ve been to the place, so I am going off some rather old memories, but most of what I experienced remains pretty vivid.

            From the outside, the place really doesn’t look like much.  I remember fewer lights and fanfare than other hotels, even the “old school” ones holding down Fremont Street during the day. 

            Much different from The Strip, Fremont Street (at least nine years ago) still offered you casinos you could walk into and find $2 Blackjack right near the front.  The carpets are a little dirtier, the air is a little smokier…but for that taste of the gritty Vegas so many tourists don’t get to see (and don’t want to see), there’s no better place than downtown.

            On a quick side note, if you do ever make it downtown, I can’t recommend Hugo’s Cellar highly enough.  One hell of a steak.  Of course, the last time I was in Vegas a couple years ago, I couldn’t find the place anymore.   So either I didn’t remember where the hell it was (in a basement somewhere, as you may have guessed), or it’s no longer there.  Not a huge deal, as I’m sure it’s not hard to find a good steak joint in Vegas.

            So, moving on.  Got my picture taken outside…just to have that “I was at Binions” moment captured on film forever. 

            I certainly don’t claim to be a great, great poker player.  But I love the game and I love learning about the history.  And man is this place ever chalk full of poker history.

            Once inside, I remember vague images of the place looking like a 1970’s hotel.  And not the nice lobby part, but the barren hallways between convention rooms.  Different shades of burgundy littered the landscape.  No fancy lights coming up from underneath the bar, no dancing girls, just people getting down to business.

            On the walls in the poker room, you see oak (some kind of wood anyway) framed pictures of old and new poker greats.  The Hollywood Walk of Fame for the poker greats if you will.  I spent nearly an hour looking over them all, studying each face.  I almost felt like I would’ve been in a museum had there been more-detailed write-ups on each champion’s history.

            Well, after taking the atmosphere in, I did finally pull out about $50 and found a table of $1-$5 seven-card stud, which is the only poker game I’ve ever played in a casino believe it or not.

            All I remember is trying to bluff a hand with a pair of tens, and eventually losing to the gentlemen to my right.  Out the cash, I nodded silently and took my leave. 

            Can’t remember much more about the cards.  To be honest, I was too involved in enjoying the experience to really care about winning or losing.  Not the perfect recipe for winning poker, I know, but I couldn’t help it.

            Being there, though?  And talking about it again now?  That I will never forget.