I traveled to Las Vegas in December 2004, and noted that there was little good information about what poker rooms were available in Las Vegas, where a good place to play would be, etc. So I compiled such a list while I was in Vegas.
My experience in Vegas was limited to the Strip only. I visited downtown once, but never saw a poker room outside of Binion's Horseshoe.
The following hotels I confirmed had a poker room: Aladdin's Castle, Bally's, Bellagio, Circus Circus, Excalibur, Flamingo, Harrah's, Imperial Palace, Luxor, Mandalay Bay, Mirage, Monte Carlo, Paris, Sahara, Stardust. I confirmed that the following do not have a poker room: Caesars Palace, MGM Grand, New York New York, Treasure Island, Riviera, Venetian. If I didn't list it, it means I did not go in that casino to see.
I will now list the details of the poker rooms in the order in which I liked them (best first). Note that I am mostly concerned with low limit Texas Hold 'Em, because that is what I like to play the most. I also note anything I remember about games like seven card stud and Omaha. I figure if you are playing higher limits (or serious no limit) poker, you probably know where to go on the strip.
- Monte Carlo. No smoking. Separate room. The lowest limit is a $2-4 Hold 'Em game. The casino does a 10% rake (on 2-4, a $3 max) with a 5% jackpot rake ($1 max on 2-4). They also host higher limit games, including $4-8 and no limit, and $1-5 seven card stud. The jackpot includes the standard bad beat jackpots (aces full beaten by a better hand using both hole cards), and progressive high hand jackpots (any four of a kind of better with $20 in the pot using both of your hole cards gets a jackpot, usually several hundred dollars or more). The reason I like them is that their rake is reasonable, smaller limits are eligible for the jackpots, and it is no smoking. The cocktail waitresses came by quite frequently. Most of their tables have automatic shufflers, with most tables also having a lowered section on the edge for easier placement of chips, and cup holders. The dealers were lively and very nice. Competition consisted mostly of tourists, with a few regulars.
- Stardust. Smoking room. Rather quiet. About 10 tables, and not too many games going. $3-6 is their lowest game, with a 5% rake. This was the only casino I saw with a 5% rake. The competition was mostly locals who had more chips than brains, although there were several tourists, and everyone was a lot of fun. The dealers were very nice. They also had cupholders and a lowered edge table. I didn't see anything but Texas Hold 'Em.
- Excalibur. No smoking. Free food from 5pm (usually hot dogs and/or hamburgers). They have about 20+ games going at almost all times. They have the only unstructured limit betting I saw at a casino: for a $1-3 Hold 'Em game, there was a single $1 blind, and every player could raise by $1, $2, or $3 during any betting rounds. It was nice because your money could last a bit longer. They also had $2-6 in a similar fashion, in addition to 7-stud and no limit hold 'em. Completely full of tourists. They have bad beat jackpots and high hand jackpots, but the $1-3 tables are not eligible.
- Aladdin's Castle. No smoking. Lowest game was $2-4 hold 'em. 10% rake ($4 max on $2-4). Also spread $4-8 hold 'em and no limit. Very new room (only a few months), so they don't have jackpots (yet). Staff was very nice and accommodating. Competition was light, mostly tourists, and everyone was very friendly. Their tournaments seemed to be very nice to play in... $30-40 buy-in, with everyone receiving 1500 in tournament chips, and blinds starting at around 25-50.
- Mirage. No smoking. It was a bit crowded. 31 tables, 11 $3-6 Texas Hold 'Em. 10% rake. Also spread Omaha Hi-Lo, 7-stud, no limit, etc. Frequent tournaments ($130 buy in). Competition was a little stiffer than in other casinos, but still a few tourists. Tables were okay. Not a lot of fun in the atmosphere, and the dealers were far from the liveliest I had seen in Vegas.
- Circus Circus. Smoking. Lowest game is $3-6 hold 'em. 10% rake. Seemed to be a lot of locals, but it is a bit run down.
- Luxor. Non-smoking. $2-4 is the smallest game, with $4-8 and no limit also available. Their tournaments are not run that well: 250-300 starting chips with blinds starting at 10-15 and rising fast. Luck seemed to rule with little skill making it through.
- Bellagio. $4-8 is their smallest game. They have a separate high stakes room. Competition looked pretty tough, so I didn't sit.
- Sahara. Smoking room. $2-4 limit is the smallest game. They have bi-weekly tournaments. Room is a bit run down and usually quite smoky. Mostly locals playing, who aren't that good. There are better places to go to than here.
- Bally's $2-4 and $3-6 and above offered on no limit, with 10% rake. The room was simply a part of the casino, barely distinguished from any other part.
- Mandalay Bay. $4-8 smallest. I did not actually play here.
- Flamingo. Smoking room. $2-4 limit with 10% rake. I did not actually play here.
The following three I did not get to see, but I saw that they did have a poker room: Harrah's, Imperial Palace, and Paris.
A few tips on things to note when looking for a good poker room in Vegas. If you are playing no limit, most good poker rooms will have rolls of coins (usually quarters, sometimes 50 cent pieces), so that they can take the rake out more fairly. This is usually a sign of a good poker room and better dealers. Also, the house rules are slightly different from place to place. For instance, some casinos have only three raises per round of betting, some have four. Also, some have different rules on what happens when you fold your hand, but at the last minute decide that you want them back (some will allow this under certain conditions). Just be prepared for these differences. Most of their non-standard rules will be posted in the room somewhere. Also, for many of these poker rooms, it is not uncommon to have to wait for 5 or 10 minutes to play the low limit games, especially during the late afternoon when a lot of people come in.