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The Borgata's Poker Room

Borgata's poker room is an island unto itself, a self-sustaining entity apart from the rest of the casino. The poker room is at the back of the casino, down a 30-second-long escalator. The entrance is marked by a sign, a couple of benches, and, usually, a handful of players who have surfaced for a smoke break. Coming down the escalator and out of the smoke of the main casino, you get a god's eye view of the room, always filled but never cramped.

An empty seat is rare, but there is still enough room for someone to pull a chair up behind a player and for the cocktail waitresses, dealers, and floor managers to make their rounds. The room feels big, thanks to its high ceilings, and, somehow airy. It's impressive, considering it's essentially part of the casino's basement.

The bright green tables are dotted with cards and chips piled neatly in front of players. The walls sport ancient columns, hand-painted murals that look like antique mosaics in soothing light greens and off whites. If a Caesar was reincarnated and lived on the East Coast this is where he would come to play poker. Overhead, a collection of 42-inch plasmas are tuned to everything from CNN to a darts tournament.

The down escalator deposits you into a holding area directly in front of the check-in desk where you put your name on the ever-present list and begin waiting for your chance at the tables. But it's worth the wait. The room has a solid spread of games, from $2/$4 to $80/$160 Hold'em, limit, and no limit games. There is also usually a $60/$120 Omaha Hi-Lo game.

Everything about this place is classy-cool marble, perfect lighting. And the good folks who designed the room thought of everything, except how popular is would be. There are bathrooms, a snack bar, couches to wait on, and cages. High rollers play in a section just to the left of the main room.

Part of the spacious feel, thanks to nine-player tables, comes about by accident. When Borgata opened in 2003, Atlantic City was a stud poker town, said poker room manager Stan Strickland. "Eighty percent of the game was seven card stud," he said. Then, "no limit Hold'em came on TV" and revolutionized the game. Borgata opened with 12 Hold'em tables and 22 stud tables. Soon it was 26 Hold'em tables, waiting lists, and a handful of stud tables. As Hold'em overwhelmed stud, Hold'em games took over stud tables, giving some players a roomy evening of play at a nine-person table. Even on a rainy Saturday evening in April there is a 60-person wait list at 5 pm for a spot in a Hold'em game. Getting into a stud game, however, can be a matter of minutes.

The poker room is constantly full, Strickland said. Even during the week, the tables are in constant use. It is so busy that Borgata is restricting its daily tournaments to weekday mornings, and one on Friday at noon. On the weekend, Strickland said, there is simply no room. But even though players are desperate to get a seat in Borgata, the casino is still working to keep players happy and recruit newbies. In May 2004, the casino gave a player a boat and every month over the summer the prizes continued. Players earned points to enter the lottery for the prizes based on playing time. From poker rooms to prizes Borgata is the only A-game in Atlantic City.

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