I get asked a lot of questions via email and the comments sections. I pretty much have to ignore most of them, or give only cursory answers, because of time limitations. Besides, in order to write sometime interesting, I have to feel like writing about it. It's hard enough to write something interesting when I have a desire to write about it; trying without that desire is, I think, doomed to failure.
Still, some things get asked often enough that I feel some sense of obligation to post an answer eventually. So I'm starting this occasional series of posts. Other questions high on the list that I'll probably get around to answering sooner or later are things like why I tend to buy in short rather than for the maximum allowed, why I still play $1-2 rather than moving up, where I like to play most, where should somebody try to play when they come to town on vacation, and several others. Feel free to add to the list with whatever you're curious about. I make no guarantee about when or even if I'll ever post an answer, but your chances are a lot better if you ask than if you don't!
Today's question is:
Why do you continue to play in places that have rakes as high as $5 + $1?
The heart of the answer is pretty simple: I keep playing where I make money consistently. The rake is only one factor in determining my profit.
Look at it this way: All else being equal, would you rather play in a house with a $6 rake and nine opponents who have no clue what they are doing, or in a place with a $1 rake and nine sharks at the table? Of course, it's never really that simple, but looking at the question framed that way should, I hope, make clear my general point.
I keep careful records, so after doing this for a couple of years, I have a pretty reliable read on which places are consistently profitable and which are not. I don't know all the reasons why. I lose money more often that I make money at Treasure Island and MGM Grand, for instance, even though other players that I know of comparable skill report raking in the dough at those places. Conversely, the Venetian tends to be one of my most profitable places, while others who I think are comparable to me tell me they avoid it because they find the competition a lot stiffer than they run into elsewhere. It's incredibly difficult to pin down why our experiences might be so different.
I suspect that much of it is simply random variance as to table composition on a given day. There is also likely a psychological self-fulfilling prophecy kind of thing going on. That is, if just by chance I have losing sessions the first three times I play in a particular card room, the fourth time I try it I likely have some subtle negative expectation going in that erodes my confidence, and it's deadly to play without confidence. So I lose a fourth time, which makes me even more pessimistic on the fifth try, etc.
Other factors that may make one place more or less profitable than another over the long haul, despite playing what is ostensibly the same game, might include one's subjective sense of physical comfort (e.g., I generally prefer smaller, enclosed, quiet rooms, while others feel limited and confined in them and like being open to all the stimulation of the surrounding casino action), one's like or dislike of the dealers, floor staff, and house rules/policies (again, feeling good and comfortable rather than feeling irritated or on edge makes a huge difference), and the style of play that tends to prevail in a given poker room. There really are noticeable differences in this, and one's preferred style of play might work better in some environments than in others.
Finally, of course, there is the opposition. The clientele playing at Bill's is completely different from what you'll find at the Wynn, and that, in turn, is completely different from what you'll find in a nitty, locals-predominant place such as Boulder Station. The skills it takes to win in one place do not necessarily transfer directly to winning in others.
Anyway, when I put all of those things together and find, e.g., that a Harrah's property with the highest rake in town is earning me, say, $60/hour over enough visits and time that I have probably evened out much of the statistical variance and can really count on the numbers being a genuine reflection of expected income there, and another with the lowest rake in town, after similar experience, shows, say, $12/hour, where would you choose to spend more time?
Sure, all else being equal, I would prefer to have fewer dollars taken out of each pot that I win. But all else is far from equal, and the fact is that I can't just conclude that I will make more money playing in the rooms with the lowest rake. The rake is simply one factor in the profitability equation, and one that is probably overwhelmed by some of the other issues mentioned in the foregoing. So for the most part, I disregard it. When deciding on any given day where to head, honestly, the rake doesn't even dawn on me. I'm far more focused on where I have a history of consistent profit, where I'm comfortable, where there might be a convention with some easy pickings, where traffic isn't likely to be heavy, where will be close to or on the way to other places I need to go for errands, where I can be confident a game of my liking will be going, where I haven't visited in a long time, and other such sundry factors.