Monday, July 23, 2007

On Myriad Things: An Update

There's actually going to be very little about me in this post. Mostly, it's going to be about the continuing saga of the opening of Four Winds Casino.

With the casino opening to the public only a little more than a week from now (midnight, the night of August 1), people are scrambling to get things ready. In truth, they have a little less than a week, because there are various pre-opening events that essentially require a fully functional casino. So we're starting to see some of the things that bespeak an imminent opening: This morning, a full cart of liquor passed me in the hall on the way to one of the bars.

I've lost some of the feelings of impressiveness about the casino as a whole, because I've been there for a while now, but there are specific things that continue to impress me. The "corridor" on which the retail lies, is impressive in its design and length. The atrium as you come in from valet is fairly impressive. The porte-cochère—basically a fancy French word for "carport," where valet parking is—I can see how it would be impressive, but it doesn't do much for me personally. The high-limit table-games section is impressive, though. It evokes my idea of what a European casino looks like, with the games themselves around the outside, and floorpeople walking around on the inside acting as hosts. There's even a VIP area behind the normal high-limit area, with a private entrance, private bar, and (I'm told) private bathrooms, and the room can be shut off from the lowly pæons playing only $500 a hand. Even the entrance to high-limit looks as if it will be impressive as hell, and it's not finished yet.

The expensive restaurants—a steakhouse and a seafood place—strike me as small for a casino, but I rarely eat at the expensive places when I'm out, so I don't know. The buffet is large enough, I think, but there might still be long lines during the peak times. I have no opinion as to the adequacy of the other restaurants. We've eaten at the buffet a couple of times, now, and the food is certainly the best buffet food I've had at a casino in the area, and only the Wynn can I say was definitely a better buffet, of those I've had. My guess is that the buffet will be eight to ten bucks cheaper than the Wynn, too.

Including the high-limit room, there are five table-games pits. Pit two is the most interesting, because it heavily features mini-baccarat and pai gow, two games heavily favored by the Asian gambler. (Wynn Macau is said to have more baccarat than blackjack.) The craps pit has eight tables, several of which are "Bonus Craps" (with six extra bets in front of the boxman, one of them paying 175:1), and one of which is Crapless craps (where 2, 3, 11, and 12 set a point rather than win or lose). The crapless table has the bonus bets, as well. It suddenly occurs to me that I don't know the total number of tables in the casino. It could easily be over 50. Add a few more, if you include the "Rapid Roulette" and similar games, of which I've seen three (roulette, baccarat/sic bo, and I don't remember what the third is).

When they put the felts on the non-bonus, non-crapless craps tables, a major mistake turned up: The 3 and 11 were shown as paying 30:1 (on a 16:1 shot). Since this normally pays 15:1, and paying it double would cause a whole lot of people to quit their jobs and become professional "yo" players, I have to assume that there's a rush order in place to get new felts before we open (and a lot of hard words being exchanged).

Our last week and a half has been in the casino itself, and during that time the experienced dealers and floorpeople have arrived. That number includes a number of people who've dealt to me at other casinos, including Soaring Eagle (at least four) and Manistee (at least two). This has been very good for us "break-in" dealers, actually, because we have one-on-one instruction for the first time since class began many weeks ago. I go from feeling like a genius, to feeling like a doofus, on a roll-by-roll or even bet-by-bet basis. Some dealers have got more practice than I have, but I'm generally happy with how much attention I've got.

This week has begun us being on our "right" shifts, so I'm reporting at 4AM (and working 'til noon). They say that they still don't have the days off worked out yet, but almost certainly next weekend will be the last Saturday and Sunday I have off, for a long time. So far, I'm liking the "sunrise" shift; it is indeed mellow, which is what I wanted. But I'm sure, with my lack of a sleep schedule, that the day is not too far off—a matter of weeks at most—that I'll really be hating waking up at 3AM. I hope that I can handle it as well as, well, I hope. In fact, the biggest problem with the sunrise shift so far is that, with it more important to get the employees up to speed on the buffet than it is on the employee dining room, they've had us eat in the buffet—which doesn't open until 10AM.

Today I finally had an opportunity that I've wanted since I heard that the poker room was going to consist of entirely electronic PokerPro tables: I got a chance to play on one. It wasn't really a true test, in that the players were playing more than a little bit stupid with fake money, but I did get to see them in action. I have to preface this by saying that I was predisposed to not like the tables, but not only did I not see anything to change my mind, I saw several things I disliked about the tables that I hadn't even thought of. Here is someone else who didn't like them. I didn't have the same problems that he did regarding the touch-screens, and in fact he seems to have seen a slightly different version than I did, but otherwise I agree with all of his problems with the games. One thing I noticed as well was that the game went too quickly; there wasn't time for the social banter between hands that is truly a big reason that many people go to poker rooms in the first place.

In short, I think they have a real problem with the electronic tables. I think after the honeymoon period of people trying out the tables, they'll have difficulty filling a single table with cash-game players. They may, however, have some moderate success with tournaments, especially if they run very low-buyin ($20 or less) tournaments that the electronic tables enable them to run. But nothing like the success they could have with human dealers. It's therefore not a question of if they get rid of the electronic tables, but when, and what they're going to do for poker players to apologize for the electronic tables.

A couple of tidbits: The maximum rake seems as if it will be $3 per hand, although I was unable to tell if it was a 5% or 10% rake (the pots were too big with fake money). They are also dropping $1 for the bad-beat jackpot, which I'm told they will start at $44,000. It's also looking like employees will be able to play, but probably limit only and probably only as high as $10/$20 (if they ever get action that high, which I doubt until the PokerPro tables are destroyed). There are logistic problems with allowing us to do that, but they're apparently working those out. We probably won't be eligible for the bad beat, but they'll probably drop the dollar out of our pots anyway.

Despite this, I do feel obligated to play there at least sometimes. I feel that my predisposition against the electronic tables requires me to give them every possible chance to succeed. (I also want to build up some "juice" to make sure that I can get into the poker room whenever the electronic tables actually do go away.) So, if they actually spread some low-limit limit games, once I'm getting real paychecks, I do expect to be in there once a week or so.

While we're mocking things this week, I want to see how seven-card stud works on the tables, and I want to—but probably won't be able to—try out an actual limit game where the players are taking things reasonably seriously. I expect stud to be horrible but I might be pleasantly surprised at how a limit game works. I only hope to get the opportunity.

The next thing that I have to look forward to, now, is August 2.