I was in Louisiana last week. I visited the Belle of Baton Rouge, a riverboat casino on the Mississippi River, right next to downtown Baton Rouge. This seems to be one of the only places to spread poker in the area. There’s another nearby riverboat called Hollywood Casino but it doesn’t have poker. There are also a few places across the river in Port Allen but none of them seemed to offer poker either.
The Belle of Baton Rouge has a small poker section with six tables on the third (top) floor of the riverboat. The rest of the boat is pretty much slot machines. When I went at about 8 pm on a Wednesday evening, there was one main $2-5 NL Hold’em game going and a short-handed must-move feeder game. They also had a limit $4-8 game going. These tables are 10-handed. The poker room doesn’t let you call ahead to put your name on a list, but here’s the main number if you want to call to check on what games are running: 225-242-2600 (you’ll have to ask to be connected to the poker room).
The $2-5 game had a minimum buy-in of $200 and a maximum buy-in of $1,000. But if a player at the table has more than $1,000, that becomes the maximum buy-in. In other words, if a player has $2,000 in front of him, you can buy-in for $2,000. I’ve only seen that rule in a couple poker rooms, but I really like it.
The action was very lively on the $2-5 game, in both the short-handed game and the main game. Most of the players had at least $500 in front of them, with a few having around a grand. Only a couple people had short stacks of around $200. There were some unreasonably huge pots in the short session I played there, with players pushing hands way too hard when it should have been obvious they were beat, or else just getting the money in knowing they were drawing. In other words, there was a lot of what some people might call “gambling”. It was the kind of game where you could just buckle down and wait for a hand and you could expect to do quite well in the game.
I engaged one of the regular players in conversation and learned a little bit about the game. I asked if a lot of tourists played there and he said no, it was mostly local regulars with a small percentage of out-of-towners there on business. He said tourists were more likely to be playing in New Orleans, which was only an hour and a half away. He said he played there every day and it was mostly the same faces every day.
As I looked around the table, it was pretty easy to spot who was who. You could tell the players who knew each other and looked comfortable in the game and easily contrast them with the guys who looked more cautious and who didn’t talk to anyone. Not that this was any sort of indication of skill. There were several regulars who were playing just ridiculously loose and nonsensically. Even a couple of the guys who I’d pegged as pretty decent ended up getting involved in pots that they should never have been in and losing their whole stacks, so I was constantly having to lower my evaluation of their play.
Basically, what I’m trying to say is that it seemed to be a good game, and that even the regulars that play there frequently were not good. Now of course that’s just my observation from one night in the middle of the week. But I think it’s a good sign that the game was so loose on a weekday while mostly filled with locals. I’d imagine on a weekend the games are probably even better with a few loose businessmen in them.
One downside is that the small poker section is ugly and located right in the middle of the boat, surrounded by slots. There is no indication you are on a boat or that there is actually a scenic view somewhere nearby. I was kind of naively expecting to play cards while enjoying a nice view of the river. I know poker isn’t that profitable for these places, and I know casinos don’t like to remind their patrons there is an outside world, but I was still expecting some nod to the fact that we were playing the game of poker on the Mississippi River, not far from where the game as we know it was created. But they obviously don’t care too much about creating a pleasant environment. Frankly it was one of the more depressing poker rooms I’d played in.
If you’re interested in a little more information about casinos in Baton Rouge, this article (from 2008) talks about how the area really can’t support much more than two casinos.