It shows how completely out of the loop I am in the poker world that I just read, paging through a September 2008 issue of Card Player I still had sitting around my apartment, that Mohegan Sun reopened its poker room back in August 2008. Teh Internets tell me that it was announced a year ago, and I completely missed it.
I don't live in New England anymore, but I would have stopped to see what it was like on a recent trip there. But, when you are out of the loop, and you only listen podcasts to keep up with poker, and all those podcasts are USA west coast based, it's not surprising that you'd miss the news.
The Mohegan Sun poker room has a strange oral history. I started
playing regularly at Foxwoods just a few weeks after the Mohegan Sun
poker room closed in the early 2000's. In fact, I quickly learned to
hustle a very profitable prop bet at the $2/$4 Limit HE tables that I
frequented in those days. When I sat down at a table, I'd pick someone
who was clearly not a regular and say privately to him:
I bet you $20
that within thirty minutes, someone at this table will mention Mohegan
Sun's poker room.. The newbie would usually say,
they don't have
poker! Ok, I'll take the bet. I think I made a couple $100 on this
one. For at least a year, the closing was the constant topic of
conversation at most Foxwoods tables.
Silly rumors always abounded at the Foxwoods tables about why Mohegan Sun poker closed. The most common two were that the poker room manger was dealing drugs or running a prostitution ring from the room. No one ever had any evidence of this. The publicly stated reason, actually, was probably the most true one: slot machines are more dollar per square foot profit for a casino.
Of course, this was pre-poker boom. Thus, casino managers saw poker as a whimsy and not particularly valuable as a draw. I've always believed the hidden numbers in the fact that most people don't go to casinos alone, and therefore some in the group will play poker and others will play slots and table games. But, you can't really measure this, so poker was out and slots were in. Mohegan Sun insisted to stick to its silly plan as the Foxwoods poker room grew and grew.
However, the worst impact this had was on Foxwoods poker itself. I saw the Foxwoods poker room that I first visited turn from the really great poker room to the mediocrity that comes from monopoly. With complete control of the (legal) New England poker market, Foxwoods was able to instantiate player-unfriendly policies and rules and know that they still wouldn't lose the players.
When NL HE started, these rules reached their annoying peak. Here's a run-down of various early Foxwoods NL HE small-stakes policies: $5/half time charges at $1/$2 NL HE with a $40 minimum and $100 maximum. You could buy in for $40, tip the dealer, and immediately rebuy for the $100 max, so, if you knew the trick, the max buy was actually $139 with a $1 surcharge. (I usually paid the BB with $40, folded if moving in for the $38 wasn't profitable, and took the SB with a $138 stack.) Even with the annoying buying limits, it was against the rules to pay the $5/half time charge from your pocket; it had to come from your stack. People who doubled up a few times would call floor on people who tried to pay time from the pockets, and floor would back them up.
Eventually, the one great thing about Foxwoods NL HE
disappeared before I was playing big enough to take advantage: the $5/$5
$500-min no-cap-buy-in $6/half time charge game, which had typical stack sizes of around $2,000 (i.e., very deep $5/$5). A regular in the game, who
often sat with $10k and busted people for a living,
told me in 2002 it was the
juiciest NL HE game in
the world. Foxwoods always remained the place for lots of Stud games,
since the closing of Mohegan Sun took away all other serious Stud action
at the middle limits on the east coast, but that was about all it had
left in the “worthwhile” column after a while.
Mohegan Sun, for its part, stupidly missed the entire poker boom, and opened their room only after the boom's decline was well underway. Poker is now more popular (and likely profitable for casinos) than it was in the 1990s, but the heyday has long past. Nevertheless, I'm glad to hear that New England is finally free of the poker monopoly, and I look forward to stopping at Mohegan Sun on my next trip through Connecticut.