Saturday, September 06, 2008

Storm Puts Brakes on Poker Jones

A TROPICAL STORM APPROACHES the area, threatening rain, wind, and flooding. I haven't wandered next door to the supermarket to engage in the ritual pre-storm purchase of milk yet. I used to wonder why folks swarmed the milk before hurricanes and snowstorms, but then I began drinking coffee, and then I Understood. Don't keep the residents of America's hurricane belt away from the morning joe, and maybe a nail to suck down while nervously eyeing the Weather Channel.

Aside from a catastrophic rainstorm back in 1994, I've lucked out during recent weather upheavals. Tropical Storm Floyd in 1999 laid waste to any parts of Bergen County near streams or rivers. An apartment complex owned by my landlord took on water to the second floor. Businesses near this building were saturated to the ceilings and condemned. All of this was only a couple hundred yards from my digs. While riding the bus on the Garden State Parkway the next day, I could see water shimmering in an unbroken sheet across the backyards of houses along the highway. Mere feet from my previous place of residence in Hackensack, Route 17 had become an inland sea through its Lodi–Rochelle Park stretch.

It's a stone bummer I won't be able to travel this weekend, but there's nothing out there that won't wait until fairer skies make my drive easier. I've got an itch to hit one of the local casinos. I haven't visited a cardroom since my return from Las Vegas. The Borgata is hosting a series of poker tournaments, which has the benefit of bringing out more crummy players, and would offer me another chance to say hi to the one and only Dr. Pauly of Tao of Poker, who is down there covering the tourneys. But that would take me straight down the barrel of the storm.

Heading north to Connecticut is the other option, but then I'd get tagged by Hannah's remnants while driving home in the dark. I do want to check out the expanded New England poker market soon. After missing out on the hold'em craze nearly from Day One by closing its poker room 5 years ago, Mohegan Sun launched a new cardroom this Labor Day. I've been giving them some time to get their shit together . . . and from the looks of this thread on the 2+2 Forums, they still have some glitches to shake loose. I hope they do.

It does seem they're trying to distinguish themselves from the 100-table poker room down the road at Foxwoods. From what I've read, poker dealers at Mohegan Sun keep their own tips, rather than following the lead of Foxwoods poker dealers many years ago to pool their tips with those earned by the rest of the casino's dealers. Nearly alone among the nation's poker dealers in this practice, Foxwoods' dealers occasionally get accused of being less committed to customer service. Insofar as the tips they're earning through good performance aren't entirely "theirs," they're perceived as not working for them as hard as Vegas or Atlantic City dealers do. I've seen dealers of every level of dedication at the Woods, both at poker tables and the regular casino games, but the rep was strong enough to motivate Big Mo's card-slingers to follow the example of their colleagues across the country and hang onto the chips they pick up during their downs.

Even grading the reactions of 2+2's posters on the usual curve for Internet opinions, there still seem to be some areas where the Mohegan Sun management can improve: selection of table limits, confused floor staff, the announcement system (i.e., the PA that calls players to games), weird cards. Plus they may have overtaxed their greenhorn dealers by soft-launching on a holiday weekend, which is going to stress even a veteran crew. Their official launch is said to be in October sometime. Still, even a couple of weeks' duty will tighten the operation, assuming the management is observant and attends to the real issues (and doesn't give in to any little nitty twitch of the notoriously fussy poker community). I'm looking forward to visiting, now that buying gasoline only requires a single kidney for collateral rather than both lungs or a leg. I like the ambience at Big Mo more than the mall-with-gambling feel of their older cousin down the road, Foxwoods. Granted the latter has upgraded its apparatus, pairing up with casino giants MGM Mirage to open a new wing. I haven't seen either the new Sun poker room or the Foxwoods expansion yet, and I'd like to take a day to explore them both.

This month will be a travel-packed cavalcade of whimsy, though. Two days in Central City midmonth, then four days at an industry convention in the final full week of September. Keeping the weekends free might be the only thing that keeps me sane amid this, and I might end up preferring just hanging locally for a boardgame night or run to a local eatery. We'll see how weekend plans pan out as this summer lashes us with its final few weeks of spiteful heat and hurricanes, before yielding to the welcoming embrace of autumn.

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