Your First Trip to a Poker Room, Part 1: Arrival

Perhaps, you’ve been playing poker online or in a home game and have decided to try some live poker at your nearby casino or cardroom. Or you are on vacation in Las Vegas and are considering playing a daily tournament at one of the many casinos that offer them on the Strip. But you’ve never played poker in a casino before. What do you do?

Before you Go

Casinos are cash operations. You will want to bring with you whatever cash you need to buy into a tournament or sit down at a cash table. Of course, you can always go to a casino ATM machine, but you will find that these generally have extremely high service charges. You will also want to make sure that you have a form of identification. You will need this to get a player’s card, which is generally required for tournaments and recommended for cash games.

Tournaments vs. Cash

Although many of you already know this, tournaments have a set buy-in (80% to 90% of which will be divided among the winning players and the remainder withheld as the casino’s fee for hosting the tournament), escalating blind structure, elimination of players until the final 10%-15% are paid, and is played down until there is a single winner or some agreement to divide the remaining winnings among the active players. Cash games, however (e.g. $1-$2 No Limit Hold’em [NLH], $2-$5 Pot Limit Omaha [PLO], $20-$40 Stud), treat your chips as money equivalents, with the ability to sit down, move, or cash in at any time, no escalation of blinds, and the ability to continue playing even if you lose your current stack, that is, as long as you keep buying back in. For more detail, we have specific information on cash and tournament play.

Do you need a Player’s Card?

Decide whether you would like to play in a tournament or a cash game. If you want to play a cash game, you often do not need a player’s card, but many casinos offer rewards programs that make getting a player’s card appealing.

If you decide you would like to play in a tournament, you generally will need to sign up for a player’s card to do so. The player’s card is free, but will require some form of identification (such as a passport or driver’s license) so that the casino can track your activity and withhold taxes should you win big. Casinos are generally required to withhold federal taxes on wins over $5,000 and state taxes as well if you are a resident of the state in which the casino is located.

To get a player’s card you would go to the greeting area (a desk, kiosk, or podium that is usually near the entrance of the card room), and ask where to sign up. Sometimes you will be signed up there, sometimes at the cage (where you would go to buy chips for a cash game), and sometimes at a separate rewards desk. At large casinos rewards desks may be found outside of the poker room entirely, and they can sign you up and direct you to the poker room.