Tobacco Station

by , Aug 26, 2012 | 7:14 pm

Dragging Pots: The 4/8 limit Omaha at Boulder Station is a throwback to days when smoke-filled poker rooms were standard.

Open the locomotive-handled doors, weave through the slot machines between the bingo hall and Burger King, and step into the past.

The poker room at Boulder Station, an off-strip casino opened in 1994, is one of only two poker rooms in Las Vegas that allow smoking at the tables. (The 3-table Arizona Charlie’s on Decatur being the other.) With 11-tables and a reputation for action, the Boulder room remains popular among a certain, darker-lunged crowd.

And it’s one of the few places — smoking or non — that offers consistent small stakes limit Omaha it’s the all day solution for stress.

But what are places like this still doing around?

“It’s just tradition,” Steve Deuel, the poker room manager, told me. “It’s been that way for 18 years.”

Only about 5 miles from the Strip but seemingly in another era, the train-station-themed casino sits between a Motel 6 and an apartment complex facing the I-515. It’s on the east side of town and the  north end of a row of a widely spaced casinos along the diagonal Boulder Highway.

“Play the 4/8 Omaha high over there,” Andrew Neeme said in a text message. “I’ve never seen bigger pots, physically, than in that game.”


I wondered what kind of splashy tourist might find this place, and I’m still wondering. As a local who rarely grinds off-strip casinos, I felt a little out of place in what is something like the Cheers of poker rooms. Couldn’t spot an out-of-towner in the place, let alone someone under 30.

By 5pm, they were starting a  third 4/8 Omaha table, and I hopped in the 6 seat. The action picked up quickly, especially for a Monday. Along with Omaha, there were 4/8 and 2/4 limit hold’em games and a quickly growing interest list for 1/2 no-limit.

Smokerati Game? Baby blue $1 chips lined the wooden racetrack edges at each of the tables.

Technically, there are “smoking” tables and “non-smoking” tables. But the room is enclosed and there’s only one table that separates the non-smoking and smoking sections. At one point, I stepped into the pit to get some fresh air.

Not only did my opponents know each other by name, they knew back stories. Alvin had a rough past and a distaste for limped pots, while Bruce had deep pockets and shared Alvin’s love for action.

“I wish I had Bruce’s money,” one of the few non-smoking older guys grumbled.

“I wish I had his money, and he had a feather up his ass. We’d both be tickled,” I said, stealing a line I picked up in Biloxi, trying to enter the fold.

The table talk ranged from the recently cracked royal flush jackpot to the bad beat jackpot to “those jacks are hot,” as we saw one on each of the first four flops.

A pleasant white-haired woman to my right who could’ve been any grinder’s grandmother lost with jacks full of tens, then promptly won the next pot with fours full of jacks.

“Can’t win with the yacht,” she said, referring to jacks full, “win with the canoe. Fours full of jacks isn’t really a boat, is it?”

A few hands later, I lost my first pot with a small full house. The villain dragged the pot with one hand while holding  her Pall Mall with the other.

Then her neighbor lit up and Alvin, on my left, reached for a glass ashtray in between raising and 4-betting his rags.

We were 6-handed, with half the table smoking. My cards were trash, and my eyes were starting to get a little watery.

Centuries ago, Mike Caro said that poker players who smoke give off some of the biggest tells, but it’s hard to spot a bluff when you’re rubbing your eyes and coughing.

Another player joined the 4/8 Omaha game and went for his matches before peeking at his hole cards.  (He still called, after lighting up.)

Four ceiling fans spin above the tables at which smoking is allowed, but their effect in clearing the air is negligible at best.

After missing most flops, I was down a little bit, but felt like I had a good read on the table, particularly one of the other non-smokers. But before I’d get a chance to go after his stack, I had to step away from the table for a smoke break and get off the Boulder Station Omaha train., The puffs of exhaled nicotine became too much, and a run of cold cards didn’t help me breathe any easier.

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