In the past several years, many states have passed gaming legislation. This has led to an unprecedented expansion of casino operations all over the United States. As a result, live poker players and gamblers alike are presented with an abundance of options to choose from. In spite of this growing list of casinos to choose from, I believe that spending the majority of our time in one casino should result in higher lifetime earnings.
Why Choose a Home Casino?
Poker is a game of information. Simply put, if we make better assumptions about the information available, or if we have an information advantage, we should make decisions with a positive expected value. If we spend the majority of our time in one casino we benefit in three key ways.
First, we will know the regulars. This offers a few benefits. We will be better at separating seasoned players from inexperienced ones. This in itself can lead to massive profit by being able to game select better. We will be in a better position to avoid or defend ourselves from solid players, whilst simultaneously targeting and hunting weaker players.
Secondly, we will become familiar with casino staff. This is a tremendously underrated advantage. By being friendly with casino personnel we can gain access to information few other casino patrons have, such as what table has a good game, who is losing or winning, or another player's play style. From time to time, I have had dealers disclose hand histories to me in conversations away from the table. They will also occasionally give us a bit of slack and preferential treatment if we are a friendly and likeable regular. I recall a showdown where I tabled my winning hand but had a card slip off the table accidentally. Normally this would kill my hand, but the dealer remained silent and let me pick my card up off the floor to win the pot. I’ve also been given some amnesty on a few occasions where betting/raising confusion has occurred and the floor has been called. Had I been a random guy off the street, there is no certainty I would have received such favorable dispositions.
Lastly, we probably know the rules and idiosyncrasies of our poker room better than other players. This is mostly self-explanatory. When a player makes a violation of a rule that is harmful to us and nobody enforces it, we are able to bring it to the dealer’s attention. Conversely, when a player violates a rule that benefits us, we can simply let it slide. This might be something such as a betting line or significant action rule.
The number of games a room spreads at our stake level is perhaps the single most important factor we should consider. More games at a certain level will tend to have the lowest pro-to-fish ratio and offer more games to select from. We should be able to understand that a room that only spreads one or two games at our desired level can be frequently frustrating. Games may break and never be replaced. If both games are tough we are forced between playing lower, higher, heading home, or traveling to another casino.
Rake and structure are also worth considering. This is somewhat rare, but sometimes a casino will offer a significantly better rake structure or buy-in cap. Sometimes this is all we need to maximize our earning potential. For instance, there is a casino that is approximately 45 minutes away from me, much farther than the other two casinos I frequent. In addition, the casino spreads very few games. During peak times they may have 3-4 games of 1/2 and never more than 2 games of 2/5. In spite of all of this, I try my best to make it out there during Friday nights. Why? The rake at 2/5 is $5 per half hour, the cap is $1000, it is 9 handed, and the players are atrocious (likely because professionals and serious regulars see the bravo and turn their noses up). I need not explain further why despite its glaring disadvantages, this casino offers the most profitable 2/5 game on Friday night.
We also need to be looking holistically at our profitability. The casino which offers the highest hourly rate is not necessarily the most profitable one to play at. We should be considering distance and traveling time. A casino that offers us an extra dollar an hour but requires more travel time, gas expenditure, perhaps even tolls (!) is probably not our optimal location. Comp structure or promotions may also swing us one way or the other. There was a time where Horseshoe Baltimore was offering 3-4 comp dollars per hour depending stakes on played. It was also significantly closer to me when I was living in Baltimore City, so I decided to play there instead of MD Live! despite the larger game selection.
Where should you play?
We should be taking a scientific approach to evaluating our poker options and schedules. Spending a significant amount of time in one casino clearly has tangible benefits. We need to be looking at profitability from a holistic perspective. A business that focuses only on the net sales at the end of the day but ignores other factors such as labor, lease, and other overhead is doomed to be suboptimal or even fail. Here is some homework: Estimate your hourly rate at each casino nearby and multiply it by the number of hours you expect to play, or in other words, your expected net profit. Add any other money or value you make by playing there. This could be comp dollars, EV of a promotion that is running or maybe they even have a soda fountain somewhere so you can avoid tipping a waitress. After that subtract all of your costs such as gas, tolls, travel time. Do this for each day you plan to play. The answers may surprise you.