Arizona poker has come a long way.. Once the favorite game of outlaws, five-card draw, stud and Faro were king of the saloons in historic towns such as Tombstone or Bisbee. There was a long drought in the state, when for years poker and other gaming was totally outlawed in Arizona. The rise of Las Vegas as a gambling mecca in neighboring state Nevada was a catalyst, and as gambling on Native American reservations spread across the country, the pressure for the state to throw its hat into the gaming ring was too much, and legal poker galloped its way back into Arizona.
From the moment the first Native American casino opened, Arizona Poker has enjoyed a slow and steady growth in availability and popularity. Today, there are 13 major poker rooms in the state offering almost two hundred poker tables.
Arizona Poker Games
Arizona Texas Holdem Games
Most of the poker rooms in Arizona offer the standard fare: Texas Holdem is typically the most popular choice, especially for the game's higher limit crowd.
Arizona Omaha Poker Games - Arizona Stud Poker Games
Seven-card stud and Omaha high/low split are also typically being offered in most of the rooms. $1-$4 stud games are common, while hold em and Omaha hover at an average of $3- $6. According to casino's websites, the occasional $1-$2 game can be found in the larger casinos for beginning players or those just playing for fun and not looking to risk a lot of cash. It is still true that higher limit players don't have much choice in game venue, as most Arizona casinos keep the $6-$12 hold em game as their highest floor limit. There may still be a few outlaw games offering higher stakes, but as far as legal play is concerned, poker in Arizona seems to top out at the $12 limit.
Arizona Poker Players
There are a handful of famous poker players with Arizona credentials. Chip Jett, born in Arizona as "Charles" but given the nickname "Chip" well before it would prove ironic, is a self-made poker millionaire who got his start in an Arizona casino, a Native American reservation venture that would not have been possible without the introduction of such casinos in Arizona in the early 90s. Chip has had several high profile runs at the World Poker Tour and the WSOP, including three top 3 finishes for a total of 16 money finishes in professional poker. His wife, also a high profile poker player, famously ended up at a finals table with her husband in August of 2005. Chip Jett is a perfect representative of Arizona poker -- lacking the flash of a Chris Moneymaker but still out there playing poker and earning a great living.
World Series of Poker back-to-back champion Johnny Chan (who is also a member of the Poker Hall of Fame) also began his career, some would say, in Arizona. At the age of 16, Chan took off from Phoenix (where his family was living at the time after immigrating from China) to Las Vegas, his first experience in the city that would eventually make him a star. Johnny Chan is the stuff of poker legend -- it is rumored that Jerry Buss offered Chan an NBA championship ring if he could win his third WSOP title in a row in 1989, and he very nearly did, coming in second place to Phil Hellmuth. Another interesting side note -- Matthew Hilger, the professional poker player and strategy writer, played his first game of Texas Hold em in Arizona, an experience which no doubt inspired his career playing, and helping others play, his favorite game.
Arizona Poker Rooms
It seems the state of Arizona has long had some amount of influence on contemporary gambling, and now that table games are becoming more readily available and popular, poker players can expect to have a unique experience when gaming in this state, just a stone's throw from Vegas.
Some poker rooms in Arizona stand out. Casino Arizona at Indian Bend is often listed as the poker room to visit while in Arizona -- travel sites like TripAdvisor.com and Expedia agree. This "high tech" room features automatic shuffling machines, flat screen televisions everywhere you turn, and almost fifty poker tables. The trend at Casino Arizona seems to be toward less slot and video machines and more table machines, which is an unexpected pattern in a state where the lottery or video and slot machines are the most popular gaming options. Whereas a 'typical' casino in Arizona may boast 1100 slot machines to 20 poker tables, the Casino Arizona at Indian Bend has a mere 430 slot machines and forty-seven poker tables. Harrah's Ak-chin is a surprise favorite among reviewers of casinos in Arizona, who tout the poker room's larger size when compared to smaller rooms in the area, as well as their gamer-friendly promotions and proximity to major urban areas like Phoenix and Glendale.
In stark contrast to the variety at the Casino Arizona room or the convenience and atmosphere at Harrah's are the more common poker experiences to be had at places like Bucky's Yavapai in Prescott, Arizona. With just six poker tables offering only four games, the excitement must live in the slot and video machine room. Then there's Deal Me In, a "social" poker room in Scottsdale with an even smaller number of tables and options for poker players. "Social" poker rooms are those where the house takes no rake and the dealers are volunteers -- a sight becoming increasingly common in poker rooms in this state, where gaming revenue mostly comes from non table gaming. It is true, Arizona is not as table game friendly as Las Vegas or Atlantic City, but poker is making a comeback in the state, much as it is elsewhere in the country.
If you're a poker player looking for an experience outside of the traditional Vegas poker room, or if you are a beginner at poker and don't want to swim with sharks, Arizona is full of gaming opportunity. Go West, young man, someone said. For poker players, the new phrase should be, Go Southwest.
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