Rio Vrs BinionsThe Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino
Since the Rio took over World Series of Poker duties from Binion’s in 2005—seems like yesterday, doesn’t it?—it has staked its claim as a worthy home of the greatest poker tournament on earth. Being off-Strip has usually been the source of lesser-than-equal jibing, but now within a wink of the ultra-chic Palms across the street, being away from the main artery in Vegas is almost an asset. Especially when you can go to the VooDoo Lounge on the roof of the Rio and take it all in at once. Apart from poker for six weeks of the year, the Rio caters to the particularly lively, where the beat just goes on and on. And with Mardi Gras-style shows on the hour, Penn & Teller to scare the daylights out of you, the ultimate international buffet and acres of pool space to soak up that aggressive desert heat, there’s little reason to seek greener pastures on Las Vegas Boulevard.
The Rio certainly doesn’t have the opulence of the Bellagio or the extravagance of the Wynn or Venetian, but it does have sophistication, excitement and utility pretty much sewn up. The party atmosphere thumps throughout the casino floor and people of all ages (and sizes) walk around adorned with beaded necklaces and other trophies of showtime conquest. It’s a people’s place where everyone can interact and have a great time without any elitist overtones. And they don’t call it all-suites for nothing. Each room is just massive with great views of the Strip beyond. The general aesthetic of hard-wearing carpets and endless banks of slot machines isn’t anything groundbreaking, but everything just makes sense. And you need that kind of simplicity in a town where its complexities can be a lot to bear.
Starting from the top down, and as we mentioned, the VooDoo Lounge at the roof of the Rio prides itself on its stunning views. It’s arguably the best way to enjoy the Strip and with a crazy cocktail in your hand—thrown together by an equally freaked-out flair bartender—it culminates into the ultimate Vegas experience. Of course the suites are all wonderfully spacious, but you’re not in Vegas to wallow away in the room, so down the elevator you go to the casino floor. If you’re feeling peckish, there are all kinds of restaurants to satisfy any appetite. Buzio’s Seafood is wonderful, Hamada’s has delicious sushi and, of course, the Carnival World Buffet is in a class by itself. Penn & Teller and the critically acclaimed Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding, which combines a great meal with hilarious entertainment, are great ways to spend a night out, or in, depending on how you look at it. Of course the pools are all-day social gatherings with waterfalls, Jacuzzis and acres of searing flesh. Bring your sunscreen and extra-cool shades.
The casino at the Rio isn’t anything mind-blowing. Granted it has everything you could possibly want in a casino but the grandeur, on a Vegas scale, doesn’t raise eyebrows despite its 100,000 square feet of gaming space. Of course, how it’s presented is an entirely different matter as a virtual Bourbon Street comes alive right above your head every hour. These (Off) Broadway-style shows get people in the gaming spirit, and the riveted eyes on the action and endless smiles certainly count for something. So they have the generic casino blueprint at the Rio, but they give it a flair that errs on the side of genuine rather than embarrassingly cheesy.
Well, what can we say about the poker at the Rio? The World Series has its home here. Apart from that great show, the Rio has a daily no-limit hold ‘em tournament at 12pm. It’s a $60 buy-in, so you’re not going to see a lot of poker celebrity here apart from when the Series rolls into town. But any shortcomings in its poker prowess is more than overcome when all the greatest descend on the Amazon Room, which is a pretty healthy walk from the casino action—worth mentioning, for sure. Get your camera out and your autograph book in hand because if you’re in the throes of the World Series at the Rio, great things will happen whether you buy in or not.
Binion's Gambling Hall & Hotel
If you’ve headed to the Downtown area of Fremont Street, Las Vegas, to seek out Binion’s, chances are you’re not easily put off by the schmaltzy ‘old Vegas’ glamour and razzmatazz that lives on to this day. You won’t find any giant pyramids or fake Venetian canals here, as you would on the more showy, ostentatious Strip. Downtown is all about three things: gamblin’, drinkin’ and eatin’, you betcha. And Binion’s has it all in spades.
We love the look and feel of Downtown. Sure, it’s musty and it’s crusty, but it definitely has charm. If we’re going to spend half the day gambling, we’d rather do it standing on 20-year-old faded carpets than be on Strip having scented oxygen pumped up our noses. It’s what Vegas is all about. All your hopes, dreams and aspirations locked inside a slot machine that’s possibly as old as you are. And your drinks are served by a dear waitress who, in classic Vegas style, has learnt to be permanently happy. She’s armed with an arsenal of corny stock phrases. “Well, that’s Vegas. You win some, you lose some,” she’ll chirrup. Even the security guards look like they’d have a good chuckle if you started giving one of the machines a damn good shake. Inside and out, Binion’s (formerly the Horseshoe) is thoroughly old school. From the flashing neon lights and famous sign to the diner-esque red stools that sit in front of every slot machine.
Last issue, we told you of how the Venetian’s Grand Canal Shoppes offer one of the finest shopping experiences in Vegas. Well Binion’s and Downtown don’t. Unless, like GOM, you have a powerful and unhealthy addiction to cheap Americana tat. The shopping in Downtown is comprised entirely of cheap, touristy shops selling innuendo-laden T-shirts, mugs, bad snow globes, even worse oven gloves and the such—in short, we were in our element. Just be careful you don’t laugh so hard that the staff get offended. Our fridge magnet featuring a royal flush of cards sitting in a plastic martini glass came pretty close. Once inside Binion’s, head for the Coffee Shop for an enormous burger that you won’t forget in a hurry (in a good way).
Aside from the regular and progressive slot machines, Binion’s casino offers several blackjack games, the oldest craps game on Fremont Street, American roulette, pai gow and mini-baccarat. Head to the Party Pit in the evening when classic rock and prizes add a kitsch Downtown touch to your casino gaming experience.
This is where it all got started for poker—well, for the hugely popular Texas hold ‘em variant of the game anyway. The World Series of Poker was essentially born here, dominated by such legends as Doyle Brunson, Johnny Moss and Amarillo Slim. And Binion’s is proud of its history. A Gallery of Champions and a Poker Hall of Fame adorn the side of the poker room, featuring photos of all the greats and an autograph wall where top players have left their scribblings and best wishes. It’s a vital part of any poker pilgrimage. And the poker room itself is exactly how you picture it: no frills, just a bunch of serious-looking dudes playing poker—several of whom are wearing cowboy hats. Consider it a poker rite of passage to have sat on a table at Binion’s.
This was a tough one. The numbers tell you that Binion’s came away with it despite the Rio’s overall dominance. But this time, criteria may have been targeted subjectively and there can be no question of the gravity of Binion’s compared to the Rio. For any poker fan or player worth his salt—and this being smack in the middle of WSOP season—you can’t outdo the original, even if all the attention is back at the Amazon Room. So a tip of the hat to the place where it all began, and who could argue with that?