The Seattle area has seen a lot of changes in the poker scene in the last year or so. The trend has been the increased dominance of the smaller, non-tribal rooms at the expense of the tribal poker rooms. A few factors have conspired to make it this way. The most important factor has been some changes in the regulatory landscape over the last few years that made it possible for these smaller rooms to compete with the popular no limit games that were previously dominated by the tribal rooms (technically they are spread games but at the lower buyins its a close enough approximation). Though the non-tribal rooms still have a $300 maximum bet/raise per action compared to the tribal $500 limit, the difference matters little in the smaller, more popular games. In parallel with this more competitive landscape, Seattle’s worsening traffic makes proximity to the city a key competitive edge for the smaller rooms that are closer to town.
So where to play in this new landscape? Here is my rundown of the poker options in town.
Muckleshoot. Only Muckleshoot in Auburn and Tulalip in Marysville have the higher $500 bet/raise limit such that they can spread a purer mid-stakes holdem game. If NL Holdem is your game and you are looking for 3/5NL or higher without a $300 max raise limitation then Muckleshoot is the better choice. Muckleshoot also runs decent tournaments more regularly and twice a year run a very popular “poker classic” series with buyins ranging from $200 to $750. The atmosphere makes a bad first (and second) impression, but the room is well run and the dealers and floor staff are good. They deployed the Poker Atlas system which (though not easy to use) lets you sign up for a game online and gives you an hour to get there and claim your spot. Unfortunately for them, the arrival of Fortune poker on the scene really hurt them. Fortune peeled away one regular after another leaving Muckleshoot much weakened despite the fact that the rake is a dollar more at Fortune now. With some construction and remodeling coming soon to that part of the casino, rumors abound as to what will actually end up happening here
Fortune. This room in Renton is run really efficiently, almost militantly (e.g. no straddle once the first card is off the deck and an F-bomb can get you kicked out). If you sit at a table here it won’t take more than 5 minutes before someone talks about the food and deservedly so. It was described to me as one of the top 24hr dining spots in the Seattle area (not just of any casino but overall) and its hard to argue. The food is top notch and the table side service rivals Aria in Las Vegas. Who even knew a breakfast banh mi with egg and bacon was a thing? If they further liberalize the laws for non-tribal card rooms and allow them to have more tables and higher betting limits Fortune is the most likely to take advantage. They have room to expand and ambitious management. They run a popular promotion where each week your second high hand is $499. There’s a couple reasons I don’t spend that much time here. Their 3/5 NL game is somewhat anemic on the weekdays, though it picks up in the evening. Also they recently and oh so quietly moved to taking a dollar more in rake. Now they take $4 & $3 (rake, jackpot drop). Rake aside, this has got to be the best run room in town. Strangely, they don’t have any way to get on the list remotely which is the one area they are behind the times.
UPDATE 9/21/19: Fortune is launching a 5/10 NL game on Tuesday and Wednesday. I also hear the 3/5 NL action has picked up considerably.
Red Dragon. There are pros and cons. There’s a few things I don’t like about the Red Dragon. It’s loud, they use low quality cards, the food is mediocre, and a lot of bad etiquette goes unaddressed. There are some pretty inexperienced dealers but most know what they are doing and are nice. The floor staff does try hard, and it is a lot to manage. There is no ‘must move’ or ‘controlled move’ system when a 2nd game starts so there is often a free for all when a softer game starts up. The place is just rough around the edges all round. The parking lot is often full forcing you to the sketchy overflow lot. The dealers often know what is right but aren’t sure if they are empowered to enforce it. I try to speak up for the integrity of the game while I’m there and I hope other players do the same. There are some great things too though. They have an excellent remote sign up app that gives you 30 minutes to show up (I’ve come to feel like that is the best way to do remote signups, you know who’s about to walk in the door and can plan table starts or table breaking accordingly). They are spreading a 1/3 PLO game with a $5 bring in that at least initially was the best action within 100 miles of Seattle. It has calmed down a bit but is still good. The game is a perfect storm of a deceptively small buyin and blind structure combined with the inherent action of PLO. The game plays bigger than you’d expect. There are frequent button straddles and the money gets in the middle much of the time. I’m surprised other rooms aren’t spreading a similar game. Their bigger 5/5 PLO game has drawn a lot of the regulars that used to go to Tulalip though that game its now competing with an odd 75/150 mixed game, cycling through four limit Omaha variants. I believe the Dragon takes 3 & 4 in holdem games. They are dropping $4 with no jackpot drop in the PLO games.
UPDATE 2/21/2019: The Dragon has introduced new cards that are far superior to the old cards that were getting dents in them all the time. They also introduced “must move” to their games which is another welcome addition.
Caribbean. This room in northern Kirkland has a location advantage that is going to be unassailable. For folks in many parts of the Eastside it’s pretty much the only reasonable option distance wise. If you are looking for an action 1/3 NL holdem game then this room is all you need. Some evenings (often on Friday and Saturday) they get a 2/5 NL game. There has also been a 5/10 NL game going on Tuesdays and Fridays (start time around 2pm). Yes, it is a bit hobbled by the $300 max bet/raise per action but there is still plenty of money changing hands. The atmosphere is very friendly though a bit dark and they use these annoying cards with very large patterns on the face that you have to bend half way back to read the suit. You get the sense that a lot of the employees appreciate working there and that vibe permeates the atmosphere. They have a popular monthly freeroll tournament that the house pays for not the player jackpot drop. They also have the best food comp around ($8 free when you first sit down good for that day only + you accrue an additional hourly food comp that stays on your card), though I’ve noticed the food service is a bit erratic. I’ve had my order come out wrong a number of times. People tell me all the time the food is good, but I think mostly its because its close to free. You can look up the active games online but annoyingly they list all the spread games as 1/3 so you’d have to call to know if the 2/5 or 5/10 game is actually going. They are taking 3 & 3 in most games and at least seem to be experimenting with no jackpot drop in the new 5/10 game. Generously, everyone’s hours qualify for the freeroll because its house funded. If they had bigger games more often I’d probably play here most of the time on account of the reasonable rake, and pleasant atmosphere.
UPDATE 9/21/2019: the Caribbean is under new ownership and some changes are afoot. I hear they dropped their monthly freeroll tournament and the midweek 5/10 NL action isn’t what it once was. Still a friendly room well worth checking out.
Tulalip. This is the hardest room for me to describe because I don’t spend that much time here. I only show up now to play the occasional tournament. I used to play much more regularly but its a longer drive from the city and traffic tends to be a bear through Everett. Let me start with the good. They have a pretty great hotel attached so if you are looking to combine with a stay you have a pretty enjoyable option. They also spread the biggest game in town, a 5/10/25 Pot limit omaha game if that’s your jam and occasionally run some nice tournaments like their last Sunday of the month event and their annual Powwow series. They have the same set of core dealers and floor staff they have had for years so they have experience on their side and they are not afraid to spread a format nobody else is (like a Stud eight tournament for example). They have one great promo that nobody else has ever copied which is a $20 credit towards your next tournament if you play two hours of cash games after your current tournament. This promo always struck me as particularly clever. Overall though they don’t really have a competitive edge in any obvious way other than their ability to spread games with a $500 instead of $300 max bet/raise per action. Despite being a large resort and casino their room only has 12 tables, less than Red Dragon and Fortune which both run 15 tables. Whoever designed the room (when it moved a number of years ago) needs a talking to because they built it open to the smoke and noise of the casino yet still hidden near the hotel side. You get the smoke (in Vegas mega-casinos the ventilation systems can accommodate that strategy) without the exposure benefit of being seen from the center of the casino floor. I appreciate Creedence but if I hear ‘Born on the Bayou’ coming out of a slot machine one more time… Lastly, they are raking 4 & 3 which seems to be the norm in the Seattle area now.
UPDATE 9/21/2019: word on the street is that Tulalip is going to be closing their poker room. Although they did a lot of things poorly this would be a big blow to Seattle area poker and is definitely an unwelcome development.
It feels like tribal rooms were caught flat-footed, probably because poker is not a core business for their casinos. They either didn’t see the value or lacked the imagination to defend their poker turf. Nothing symbolized this more than the demise of the ever shrinking but much loved poker room at Snoqualmie casino. It all ended bitterly with the biggest slap in the face possible, player’s jackpot money being diverted to table games in a move that appeared to be legal but morally dubious. The biggest mystery for me, as I’m driving in circles trying to find a good parking spot at these crammed lots of non-tribal poker rooms and invariably ending up in overflow parking, is how the tribal rooms ceded their dominance without a fight. Every day I see hundreds of people with money to burn walking into these rooms and yet the tribal casinos don’t see enough value in them walking across their casino floors instead. These are the same casinos that run free bus services, give you free vouchers and meals, and constantly give away cars and trucks just to get people in the door. Puzzling.