Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Harrah's Atlantic City

I finished my brief Atlantic City trip with Cardgrrl two weeks ago yesterday, which means that my promised report of Harrah's A.C., where we stayed, is now two weeks past promise. Sorry about that.

I suppose that the most general thing to say about the place is that it's perfectly acceptable. It didn't blow my socks off in any way--nothing like, say, the Venetian does when I have stayed there. But I had a quiet, comfortable room without problems and with a nice view. In terms of a hotel, I don't need much more than that. What little time I spend in the room is mostly unconscious, and amenities don't carry a lot of weight with me at that point.

As regular readers know, I'm not much of a gambler, so I can't tell you anything about Harrah's A.C. as a casino--except that it's really big, and an annoyingly long walk from the Bayview Tower to the poker room, which is the only part of the casino I care about.

So how is the poker room? Again, it's perfectly fine. Nothing special, but--and this is uncommon for me--also not a lot to gripe about. But you just know that I'll find something anyway, right?

Here was my first experience: I get my name on the list. A while later I hear it called. I go to the desk. The guy there tells me, "Go talk to David [I'm not sure that was the name, but it doesn't matter]. He'll get you seated." They apparently just assumed that I would know who this "David" was and where he was. I didn't. I had to ask. When I found him, he was quite busy, and I had to follow him around from table to table for a couple of minutes before he got to me. Then he was surprised that I was asking him for a seat, because he hadn't been told that anything was available. It was a classic case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand was doing. He finally found me the seat that had opened up. It was only then that he informed me I'd have to go fetch my own chips for the initial buy-in. It sure would have saved time if somebody--anybody--had told me this beforehand, and I could have had it taken care of while I was waiting. To make it worse, David just said, "Go get your chips from the cage." I had no idea where the cage was. From where I was standing in the poker room, I could see two cage-like windows, but both of them had signs on them reading something like "Race bets only." I asked David where this cage was that he spoke of. He just pointed in the direction of those windows. I told him that it looked to me like those signs were indicating a cashier. He then explained that there is another window around the side of the same area (which wasn't visible from where I was) that was the cage.

In short, everybody seemed to assume that I already knew my way around and knew the room personnel. As a point of customer service, it seems to me a better default position to assume that it is the patron's first time there, rather than that they know all the ins and outs.

I did not at all like how they handled the member card for tracking hours. There are no card readers at the tables, only one at a computer in the center of the room. That means that everything after the initial swipe requires the dealer to call out to the floor person that a player has changed seats or left the game. I can only imagine that that relay system is highly prone to errors and failure. I have no idea if I actually got the proper credit for the hours I put in.

Speaking of hourly credits, I learned that Harrah's A.C. gives 30 "tier points" per hour for playing $1/2 NLHE, and 60 per hour for $2/5 NLHE. That compares to the 28 per hour given by the various Harrah's properties in Vegas for any game. "Tier points" are what give you Gold, Platinum, Diamond (or higher) status, with their associated perks.

There is one seriously strange thing about how this poker room is run. Apparently fills have to be brought by a security team, rather than by a chip runner, another dealer on break, or whatever. This means that they are incredibly slow in coming, and dealers routinely run out of change-making chips long, long before a fill will ever come. The result is that players end up volunteering to go buy--out of their own pockets--$1 chips from the cage, then bringing them back to the table and selling them to the dealer. They do this because otherwise the game grinds to a halt. It's utterly ludicrous and moronic to run things this way. I have no idea what state regulations there might be, if any, that cause things to be done this way, but I could hardly believe my eyes the first time I saw it. That the casino management just blithely allows this insane practice to continue is the most tangible sign I saw there that they just don't care about presenting a professionally run poker room.

The dealers were mostly unremarkable--neither especially great nor awful. But there was one who was truly incompetent, so remarkably so that she deserves to have the following stories told about her, all of which occurred during a single down during the one tournament I played there (Sunday afternoon):

1. She took a full three minutes to get herself signed in. This was largely because she noticed a problem with how the previous dealer had signed the sheet (something about his badge number or employee number or whatever not having been recorded), and spent time trying to fix it for him, while nine players sat there impatiently watching the tournament clock tick by. She seemed completely oblivious to how she was affecting the game and annoying the players by her stupid insistence on fixing that problem right that minute.

2. She was the slowest dealer I saw the whole trip, by a large margin.

3. During one deal the ace of clubs flipped face-up to the under-the-gun player. No big deal--that happens to every dealer occasionally. But how she handled it was inexcusable. She replaced the card as per protocol. But then when that player folded, the dealer took it upon herself to peek at the two mucked cards, then got a look of obvious relief on her face, and said, "That's good." To anybody paying attention, that made it clear that there was not an ace folded there, and probably not two clubs, either. There is no reason whatsoever for that kind of thoughtless dissemination of potentially crucial information. The dealer has no business even knowing what cards a player mucks, let alone hinting to the table what the cards were.

4. There was one giant hand that involved five players and two side pots. This dealer screwed it up beyond all recognition. She just didn't know how to set up two side pots, so she was reduced to taking instructions from the players, who, of course, completely disagreed with each other about how she should do it. It became a mass of confusion. The hand took about ten minutes because of her utter incompetence.

5. The tournament clock had tipped over to the next level while that hand got sorted out. One of the players didn't notice that and put out the previous blind amount. I pointed out that he needed more. He said, "Oh, the blinds went up already?" I joked, "Yeah, we only got that one hand in on the previous level." The dealer heard this and freaked. She stopped in the middle of pitching cards, fixed me in her glare, and said, "Do you want to sit here and do this?" Note that I hadn't said anything about her directly, or why the hand had taken such a long time. But it was an indisputable fact that it had taken a large part of one entire blind level. I couldn't believe (1) that she was being so sensitive about a joke that was nearly literally true and that, additionally, didn't blame or even mention her as the cause, and (2) that she would further slow down the game to complain to me about it, rather than doing the honorable thing and apologizing to the players for having screwed up so badly. So I just stared back at her, curious to see how long she would hold up the action. It was about 30 seconds of her repeating her question to me and me doing nothing but staring back at her, not wanting to give her the satisfaction of engagement, before she gave it up and went back to the task at hand.

This woman doesn't deserve her job. But as I said earlier, she stood out from the pack as the sole example that I saw of somebody who truly was sub-par.

I really had no other meaningful complaints about the room. It was reasonably comfortable, reasonably well-run, pretty good in terms of noise and smoke infiltration from other parts of the casino, readily accessible restrooms, and had the nice touch of drinking fountains for refilling water bottles. I can't say that I loved the place, but if it were in Vegas, I would certainly have little reason to dislike or stay away from it. For a chronic complainer to be able to come to that conclusion, they're doing pretty well.

Many people I have subsequently run into who knew that I took this trip have asked me about the competition. Frankly, I didn't notice any obvious systematic differences between the manner or quality of play between Vegas and Atlantic City. Plop me down blindfolded, and I sure wouldn't be able to say, "Oh, yeah, this table action can only mean we're in A.C." The addition or subtraction of a single player can change the game far more than putting the table down in either Vegas or the east coast. Or, as the statisticians would say, the within-group variation exceeds the between-group variation by a long, long way.

I played $2/5 for the last couple of hours before we got on the bus back home--something I don't do too often. Good thing I did--it turned what would have been a small overall loss on the trip to an overall win. The play was unbelievably passive--even more so than I usually see at $1/2. Cardgrrl, who was at the table with me, later agreed that it was seriously abnormal play for those stakes. She has played a lot of $2/5 in that room, and assures me that that's not how it usually goes.

So the big question: Would I go back? Yes. Absolutely. I very much want to. In fact, I'm already hatching plans. We'll see if I can persuade Cardgrrl to drive up there next time instead of taking the bus, so that we have both more time and more flexibility to visit other cardrooms. When and if we do, you know that I will spill all the details here.

Here's a few bonus photos of the place for you:

I love that this is the artwork most easily visible from a few of the tables in the poker room. Fish! Perfect!

Stepping out the poker room door and finding an ocean is not exactly the norm for Las Vegas casinos. It's an odd but pleasant sensation.

View from the hotel window. In the photo you can just barely see the power-generating windmills in the background. In reality, they were very prominent in the landscape, but the bleak weather, low-contrast light, window reflection, and my general incompetence as a photographer combined to make them almost disappear here.


Lag said...


The fills at the two Connecticut casinos, Mohegan Sun & Foxwoods, are done the same way: by a whole security crew consisting of one boss and one security person. The dealer then counts it all and signs their name to a slip, presumably holding them accountable for any screw-ups. Now, that's not to say that they run out of change often. That's just due to poor management of the room. If they're going to do their fills that way, then they should keep good track of which table needs a fill.

It's funny what perspective does. I think of that fill procedure as normal because it is for me, whereas you find it absurdly odd.

phrankguy1 said...

Thanks for the trip report, I was anxious to read what you thought of AC.

I'm pretty sure the fills work in the same manner at every casino, although most rooms are better about stocking the tray than Harrahs. I'm thinkin that its something to do with NJ Casino Commission rules, but I haven't bothered to verify this.

I don't know if its the same in Vegas, but alot of AC dealers start as on call dealers and deal solely tournaments until a regular shift becomes available, so you probably got a newbie, it happens. Sounds like you got a taste of that Jersey attitude.

The experience you had getting seated is the same at every AC poker room! Your name is called, then its "go see that guy", then its following him around, etc... same experience you had, just about every time. Finally you learn the floorpeoples names, etc.

Anonymous said...

When you come back, please at least give the Borgata a day. Newest and by far the nicest casino/poker room/ambience. Maybe not the most personal, but I think you would like it

Conan776 said...

Why are you showing us photos? Is there gonna be a quiz... oh wait... nvm!