Tiger Tours the Tables - harrah's, ballys belle of orleans, new orleans, louisiana

10/29 friday

harrah's is the new casino located in downtown new orleans. it's on canal street, within walking distance of the french quarter (cafe du monde - cafe au lait and beignet...mmmmmmm). the parking structure is across the street, and you can get to the casino by underground walkway. the casino is pretty cool - lush tropical growth amidst several different "courts." the jazz court becomes our favorite almost immediately.

there's lots of different bands playing in various places in the casino, and in the evening, a jazz funeral parade makes the rounds through the casino several times. but besides the music, the one word which i'd use to describe this place is "loud." in fact, after several hours, the noise is damned near unbearable.

the poker room is located in a corner of the casino, not too far from the buffet (and at $22 per person, the buffet is mobbed!! prolly 'cuz there ain't anywhere else to eat in this place). the room is dubbed "the blue dog poker room" in honor of local artist george rodrigue, who invariably includes a large blue dog somewhere in his paintings. there's one original rodrigue in the room ("luck be a lady" - the queen of hearts surrounded by a brace of blue dogs), and about a dozen other prints. the room is open to the casino, so it's pretty noisy. it's right next to the exit leading to south peter street.

there are about 20 tables in the room, for both stud and flop games. they offer 1-5 stud, 1-4-8-8 hold 'em, 4/8 omaha (high), 10/20 hold 'em, 4-8-12-12 omaha (high), and whatever else the customers want. opening night, they had a pot-limit hold 'em game, with blinds of 15/25, running most of the night. about five of the tables are located on the upper level of the room, 'way in the back. these tables are reserved for the higher limit games. i played some 20/40 stud up there (the game ran for only 90 minutes or so. i won a stack-and-a-half of reds), and it's a terrific place to play. it's far away from the entrance to the room so that all the cacophony of the casino is dissipated.

the room has bad beat jackpots, and has a 10% rake to a maximum of $4. cash does not play. they use the "forward moving button" rule. the lower-limit stud games play seven-handed. seats next to the dealer are not no-smoking. dealers carry their own racks with them (the first time i've seen that on this trip, although i know that this is a common practice out west). they keep their own tips.

ok. let's talk about dealers for a moment. some of them have prior exper- ience (at the old harrah's, at the treasure chest (since closed), at casino magic in bay st. louis (closed), or elsewhere), and these folks are pretty good. i'll make a note of shannon (pretty blonde about 30) and charles (tall black man, short hair, mustache, about 40). however, most of the dealers in the room need an awful lot more time at the practice table. at one hold 'em game, my dealer dealt everyone two cards, drew the two blinds into the middle, and dealt the flop before anyone had acted! one dealer (yada - obese black woman) did get in six or seven hands during her down, and one dealer (calvin - black man, well-built, 35?) ignored my repeated requests to put an absent player button in front of an absent player's stack. i stepped away from the table to inquire about the pickup policy in the room, and when i returned, with a floorman in tow, i found an absent player button in front of my seat. calvin needs more time at the practice table, and a lesson in attitude adjust- ment and customer service.

well, it *is* a new room. they've got lots of kinks to work out before i'd tell anyone to run to play there. besides some awful dealers (perhaps i've gotten spoiled at the biloxi grand), the seating control procedures used at harrah's stink. or perhaps they don't exist at all. however, the management in the room is aware of the room's first stumbling steps. i spoke with several floorpeople, and all of them were interested in hearing my observa- tions and candid comments. i remember when poker started in new jersey in 1993 (ohmigosh! was that something else?), and i remember when the tropicana opened their room in atlantic city. no doubt that time will help this place.

we had a drink or two in "satchmo's", the bar in the jazz court. of course, there's a band - singer, sax, piano, bass, and drum. after the second or third number, the guitar player arrived - he looks and plays guitar just like george benson! the guy on sax (white, about 45, beard, from buffalo, new york!) has a sax which he hasn't cleaned in 20 years (ever see david sanborn's sax? he hasn't cleaned his in about 30 years...). they won't do anything that might interfere with the tone or quality of the sound from their instru- ments! the jazz was smooth, the drinks were large and not too expensive, and it's a great place to relax after a session. lean back, and stare up at the dome over the court. it's an image of the night sky. and every twenty or thirty seconds or so, you just might see a shooting star! :)

and when you come right down to it, poker is a game of people. i play the game because i love to meet 'em. "skinny kenny" is a local boy from slidell, 6'3", brown hair, blue eyes. he used to be a dealer at casino magic. his mom put him through dental school, and he has a growing practice in his home town. he took the afternoon off to play some poker, and we spent a very pleasant three or four hours together. i learned that kenny just lives for the day when he'll see someone who put a bad beat on him sit down in his dentist's chair.... };) kenny loves people, poker and po'boys. this guy didn't miss one set all day. he'd play pocket pairs from any position, and he'd get there, if not on the flop, then on the turn. he's got a twinkle in his eye, and just loves to wink. folks like this guy make poker worth it.

and, as i noted elsewhere, we've got our first winner of the "where's tiger?" giveaway!! mike flanagan won a jacket, and he didn't even know about the promo!! i got a chance to talk with mike as we walked to my car. he's a journeyman elevator mechanic, and was intrigued by the fact that a large part of my practice involves defending a self-insured elevator company against liability claims! it really is a small world!!

we left the casino well after 2:00 am. we'd had enough noise. we wanted out of the place. and we didn't want to stop for a meal nearby. but we couldn't find a place to eat near our motel. we went back to the interstate, drove a few miles down the road, and found a shoney's chain restaurant open. the environment was black; the friendly service was impeccable; and the all-american bacon cheeseburger and fries hit the spot!

10/30 saturday

"the belle of orleans" is bally's riverboat, which actually cruises. except that this riverboat is located adjacent to an airport on a lake. a big lake. lake ponchartrain is one very big lake! the six table poker room is located upstairs, ringed by slots, a bar, and the cashier's cage. they spread 1-5 stud and 1-4-8-8 half 'n' half (half hold 'em - half omaha high). there's one stud game in progress, with two seats open. just enough. nolan and i sit down.

the room rakes 10% to a maximum of $4. dealers here are experienced. cash does not play. seats next to the dealers are not no-smoking. they've got bad beat jackpots. players are rated for "bonus bucks" (one buck per hour for live play, and extra bucks for high hands, such as straightflushes, etc.).

nolan goes on a rush in this stud game, and wins about four stacks of whites. one disgruntled geezer next to me mumbles that nolan sure is a lucky player. i reinforce the image: "yup! he's the luckiest player i've ever met!" we exchange winks. ;) on the very next hand, i make a straightflush to the king on sixth street...and get four-way action!! too bad that two of 'em are all-in.

we help crank up the half 'n' half game. ninety minutes later, i'm up $81, and nolan hasn't given anything back. we cash out, and i exchange pleasant- ries with heath, shift supervisor. he didn't have any hats left (for my straightflush bonus), but offered a meal comp to the deli. no thanks. the three of us go downstairs, and the dallas want to try the buffet. we learn that you can get one dollar off the cost of the buffet by joining the commodore club. it's around the corner, and joining is as simply as producing a driver's license. they get their dollar off coupon. i tell my story of the straightflush to the three nice ladies behind the counter (two black, one white). one lady looks at another. she looks at the third. they all nod together. one reaches down under the desk and pulls out a red, white, and blue "bally's of new orleans" baseball cap! i beam at them. i place the cap directly on the counter precisely in front of me....ceremoniously remove my "biloxi grand poker" baseball cap....and don the bally's cap. they cheer!! :)

after our meal, i put nolan and marietta on a plane back to washington, d.c. this was one great week!! too bad it had to end.

i'm heading to shreveport/bossier city!

i don't get past baton rouge. i've got laundry to do, some checks to send out, and this report to write. i'll be at the horseshoe tomorrow.

stay tuned!!