Last weekend Mrs. MAJ and I decided to have some grown up time and to spend a night at Casino Rama, a big casino resort north of Toronto. This was both cheap and yet expensive.
The weekend was cheap in that almost all of the stay, meals, and a nice hour in the spa were a wedding gift from Mrs. MAJ’s parents. Thanks, Rita and Brock! It was expensive in that the poker did not go well. We got our asses kicked.
Casino Rama is quite a nice property, and if you have the time and the means, go there. (PROTIP: Book your room before they announce the evening’s entertainment; it gets more expensive once a show is booked.) The resort is quite nice, done in a Muskoka Cottage Country Meets Aboriginal Culture style – it’s a native-owned report, and so is tasteful in that regard. The rooms are comfortable, the beds comfy, the restaurants good, and the pool and spa are lovely. The casino is, mostly, very nice, if you like casinos, which I do and Mrs. MAJ doesn’t (she hates slot machines and even being near them.)
The poker room kinda sucks. It’s in the back, in a separate area, which is fine, but it’s poorly run. In most casinos, poker rooms are the poor cousin of the rest of the casino. A casino gets most of its revenue from the slot machines (well, to be precise, he gambling addicts who sit at the slot machines 14 hours a day) and most of the rest from the “Table games” – blackjack, roulette, craps, etc. Poker is a small revenue stream – it’s a consistent one, and the house cannot lose, but it’s small. But it does bring in customers, so most casinos like to keep it up.
Rama, not so much. The poker room was never great to begin with but they decided to remove a few tables and assigned the world’s worst pit bosses to run it. I think the people running the poker room might actually have been guests woorking off gambling debts they couldn’t otherwise repay. Everything about the way the room is run is terrible. The waiting list is badly managed, the staff is inattentive, and the room is tired and decrepit. Most of the dealers are good.
The list was absurdly long. People were waiting hours, and yet they have unused poker tables. I asked why that was and they said all the staff were needed at the table games. We walked over to the table games to find lonely dealers standing behind completely unused games. It was frustrating. I lost $100 playing table games and we glumly wandered around watching other people lose money, too.
Eventually we did get to play, but had to play limit. Allow me to explain.
Most poker played today is Texas Hold ‘Em. If you’ve watched “Rounders” or a poker TV show, that’s what they were playing. There are two major variations, which are determined by betting; limit and no limit.
In no limit, you have a minimum bet, and you can bet any amount of money, on any betting round, from the minimum up to every dollar you have in front of you. A game of “1/2 No Limit” means the minimum bet is $2, but you can call that $2 bet, or fold, or raise to $13, or $59, or any number up to every single chip you have. When someone says “I’m all in” that is literally what they are doing; that means “I bet every single remaining dollar I have.” If you sit down with $200, you could lose every dollar in one unlucky stroke, or could could triple it in one hand. Normally you go up and down, parrying and blocking and never committing everything in one go, but sometimes you do. I’ve lost it all on my second hand, and I’ve turned $200 into $900 in three hours. You can see how this could be exciting and scary.
In Limit, the size of bets is, well, limited. If you are playing 2/5 Limit, as we were, then in the first two rounds of betting (after you get your two cards, and then after the 3-card “Flop” is dealt) each bet is $2. If someone wants to bet, it’s $2. If the next person wants to raise he can add $2 more to make it $4, and so on. In the last two rounds, the bet is $5. If you want to raise it becomes $10, and so on. There cannot be more than a bet and three raises per turn.
Limit is a much less popular game, largely because No Limit is what got famous on TV. I like both, really, but the 2/5 Limit just isn’t very exciting and you simply can’t win. The “rake” – the amount taken by the house – is a huge percentage of the pot at that level. Probably 15% of the money at the table is taken by the house every hour. You could be a professional level player and the best you could hope for is to break even. (At higher limits, you can make money if you’re good, because the rake doesn’t increase much even though the money to be won does.)
We played along and played pretty well but the table was mostly grumpy old people who wouldn’t bet anything. No money could be made. I was playing poker, my favourite game, but we’ve had funner times.
After a break for a nice steak dinner we went back and it was just as bad; the lists were hours long for no limit. We sat down in front of a video poker machine and I stuck in $20 and idly played for awhile while Mrs. MAJ watched, breaking even. Then she went to check the waiting list.
While she was away I hit four of a kind on the machine, turning my $20 into $75. Hooray!
Mrs. MAJ got seated at limit poker first. You can’t kibbitz, so I wandered around and found a table game I’d never seen before – “Big Raise Stud Poker.” I’d never seen it before but at $10 a pop, why not try it? I did not know ideal strategy but I’ve played games like it so what the hell.
I won $230 in ten minutes.
Overjoyed, I rushed back to show Mrs. MAJ my take. We observed that I seemed to be winning when we weren’t near each other, but we played poker together anyway and successfully lost the rest of the weekend. It was a miserable run of cards, which was frustrating because there were a lot of visible bad or drunk players we could have taken money from if any good cards had ever come our way.
We had a great weekend though. Great food, a great swim and massage in the very nice spa. You could do worse.
The thing about poker is that your skill at it can only be ascertained in the very long run. I’m talking years. One terrible weekend does not mean you’re bad. One good weekend doesn’t mean you’re good. The third time I ever played in a casino I turned $200 into $750 and figured I was a poker god. My next 10 sessions proved this was a grievous misapprehension; I had just gotten lucky. So we’re planning a trip to Niagara in a few weeks to see their fancy new poker room.
CASINO RAMA REVIEW:
Hotel – 8/10
Spa & Amenities – 9/10
Food – 8/10
Casino, Outside of Poker – 6/10
Poker Room – 3/10
Poker Room Ratings:
Game Selection: 5/10
Quality of Opposition: 6/10 (higher means worse opponents)
Poker-Specific Amenities: 3/10