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Mandalay Bay Poker Room Review: Best South Strip Cardroom?

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We here at ProfessionalRakeback are noted more for our expertise with online poker sites rather than brick-and-mortar cardrooms, but who can resist the lure of Las Vegas poker? We certainly cannot, and therefore, we have seen fit to visit the Mandalay Bay poker room and partake in some of the card action so that we can write up our experiences for you, Dear Reader.

There has been a trend in Vegas of poker rooms closing down, and this phenomenon has only accelerated in the aftermath of various COVID-19 restrictions and shutdowns. Mandalay Bay was one of the casinos that opted to stop offering poker, which it did in November 2020. Despite widespread speculation that the cardroom was gone for good, it reopened in late July 2021.

The Mandalay Bay Casino is on the southern end of the Strip, and it is not really close to the mid-Strip heart of poker action in Las Vegas. Perhaps it is this factor that has kept it from becoming a market leader in the past.

Yet, certain elements are in play that could lead to a resurgence of Mandalay Bay poker. Several nearby casinos have recently closed their poker rooms, whether temporarily or permanently, including Luxor and Excalibur. Other would-be competitors, like Oyo (formerly Hooters Casino) and Tropicana, stopped dealing poker hands years ago.

Therefore, Mandalay Bay is in a good position to serve the needs of poker fans staying at any of the above-mentioned properties. The fact that there's a free tram from Excalibur and Luxor to Mandalay Bay doesn't hurt matters either. Furthermore, the casino is right next to the recently built Allegiant Stadium and its Las Vegas Raiders NFL franchise, so it should see a permanent boost in nearby foot traffic, which can probably be converted into more casino/poker players in the long term.

All of this is just speculation though. There's nothing quite like going to a poker room in person to see what it's all about. This is just what we did in order to prepare the Mandalay Bay live poker room review below, which we hope you find informative and useful.

Review of the Mandalay Bay Live Poker Room

Website: https://mandalaybay.mgmresorts.com/en/casino/poker-tables.html
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mandalaybay/?hl=en
Twitter: https://twitter.com/MandalayBay
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mandalaybay
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/mandalaybay
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/mandalaybay/_created/
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada, on the south end of the Strip
Hours: Thursday – Monday, 3 p.m. – 2 a.m.
Promos: $100 Aces Cracked, $50 Random Seat, Monday $400 High Hand, mLife comps
Tables: 10
Rake: 10% up to $5 + up to $2 for promotional drop
Miscellaneous: Restrooms next to poker room. About a dozen televisions inside the room.
Food/Beverage: Drink service in poker room, many restaurants on property
Pros: Soft games, valuable promos
Cons: Little action, restricted hours, only low-stakes tables available

Mandalay Bay Poker Room Location

The Mandalay Bay Casino is usually considered the southernmost casino on the Las Vegas Strip. It's immediately to the south of the Luxor, across from McCarran International Airport and just north of the famous “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign.

Its location puts it near Luxor, Excalibur, New York, New York, MGM Grand, Tropicana, and other resorts on that end of the Strip. However, many properties on the northern part of Las Vegas Boulevard – like the Wynn, Caesar's Palace, the Venetian, and Resorts World – are too distant to be considered a comfortable walk from Mandalay Bay. Of course, other transportation options exist, like The Deuce bus, which makes it easier to navigate to this casino.

Mandalay Bay is a huge complex consisting not just of a casino but also convention centers, an aquarium, beaches and pools, three separate hotels, parking garages, restaurants, and all the other accoutrements of a world-class resort. By contrast, the poker arena is small and easy to miss if you don't know where to look.

Visitors who amble around aimlessly could spend hours wondering, “Where is the Mandalay Bay poker room?” It's on the casino level, adjacent to the BetMGM Sportsbook and near the main casino cashier cage.

Mandalay Bay CasinoThe Mandalay Bay Casino Resort on the Las Vegas Strip.

Mandalay Bay Poker Cash Games

Mandalay Bay is a smaller poker room that's committed to the needs of recreational players, and so it focuses primarily on small-stakes NL Hold'em games. It's not open all the time; rather poker is only spread five days a week (Thursday – Monday) and only between the hours of 3 p.m. and 2 a.m.

When we visited the room near opening time one Sunday, we saw that two $1/$2 NLHE tables (with a $300 max buyin) quickly began. However, traffic tends not to pick up much beyond this amount – the greatest number of tables we saw simultaneously active was four.

The betting stakes don't get much higher either. We saw $1/$3 games (with a $1,000 maximum buyin) run sometimes, and we heard that $2/$5 NLHE occasionally starts.

Poker rake is 10% up to $5. The promotion drop is up to two additional dollars with the first dollar taken when the pot reaches $10 and the other dollar collected when the pot hits $40.

Mandalay Bay Poker Tournaments

Pre-pandemic, Mandalay Bay used to run low-buyin tournaments every day, but these have not yet resumed as of November 2021. Since demand obviously has not regained a level to permit the room to even stay open seven days a week, management probably feels that it's too soon to add tournaments to the schedule. We look forward to the reappearance of a Mandalay Bay poker tournament schedule.

Mandalay Bay Poker Promotions

Mandalay Bay does take a promotional rake of up to $2 per hand. Rather than locking this money up in rarely hit bad beat jackpots or inconveniently scheduled freerolls, this room prefers to give back to players in smaller chunks that the average individual actually has a good chance of collecting.

These promos are subject to change at any time. Here's what was on the promotional roster when we visited in November 2021:

Aces Cracked

The first four pairs of aces cracked per day between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. entitle the holder of the aces to a payment of $100. At least $10 in called bets must be in the pot to qualify. This figure is determined before the rake is taken out.

Random Seat Cash in a Flash Drawing

Every half hour starting at 5:15 p.m. and ending at 7:45 p.m., one table and seat are drawn at random. Whoever occupies this seat receives a free $50. In order to win, the individual in the designated seat must have been dealt cards in the previous hand at that table.

Monday Night High Hand

Every Monday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. the highest hand of the hour will win $400. In order to be eligible, there must be at least $10 in called bets during the hand as calculated before any rake is taken. Only hands of jacks full or better can qualify for the High Hand promotion. Both hole cards must play, and for a full house or four of a kind, a pocket pair is required. If there is no qualifying High Hand during a designated one-hour period, the prize DOES NOT roll over to the next period.

mLife Rewards

Mandalay Bay is part of the MGM family of casino-resorts, and it therefore participates in the mLife rewards program. The rate of earning comps is equal to about $1 - $2/hr while playing poker.

In addition to comps, which can be used to pay room rates, dining bills, and entertainment, your play will also be tracked for the purposes of marketing offers. You may receive discounted or complimentary rooms, slot freeplay, and other benefits depending on your volume of play. You might get offers at other properties under the MGM umbrella, like the Bellagio in Vegas and the Borgata in Atlantic City, even if you have only played at Mandalay Bay.

Mandalay Bay Poker Room Ambiance

Mandalay was a far-flung outpost of the British Empire in Burma, and Mandalay Bay attempts to capture its ornate colonial style with large open spaces, high ceilings, opulent decorations and lighting fixtures, and gold trimmings. The architecture and décor of the poker room partake of this same spirit although the tables and seats themselves are basically the same as in any standard poker hall.

Poker Room at Mandalay BayThe Mandalay Bay Poker Room

Two sides of the rectangular poker room abut the more spacious BetMGM sportsbook while another side is open to the casino floor. Thus, there can be a lot of noise filtering through to the poker space especially when a big sports play has just occurred.

There are only about a dozen televisions and monitors mounted on the walls of the poker room itself, but there are plenty more in the sportsbook that are visible (and audible) while sitting at the tables. The seats, incidentally, each have a cup holder embedded in the table in front of them along with charging ports for cell phones: both nice touches that we would not necessarily expect to find in such a small cardroom.

The best feature of Mandalay Bay poker has nothing to do with the physical layout of the space though. It's rather the friendly and recreational nature of the player pool. Most of the players are people who are staying at the casino for a convention, individuals who have wandered over from nearby non-poker resorts, and travelers with a few hours to kill before their planes depart from nearby McCarran International Airport.

There are generally no more than two or three seats per tables occupied by pros or seasoned amateurs. Thus, the action tends to be donkish and loose with quite a few multiway pots, much preflop limping, and hopeful chasing of longshot draws.

Food and Drink

Tableside drink service is available at no cost although you're expected to tip the waitress. We did observe, however, lengthy intervals during which no cocktail waitress approached the table. From time to time, the dealers had to call for service so that players could order their drinks. This is a minor inconvenience perhaps best explained by the small population of the room not meriting much attention from the servers rather than any intentional snub of poker fans.

It's not possible to order food from your seat, but the Mandalay Bay Resort has any number of dining venues to choose from. For quick bites, your best bet is the food court, which is unfortunately quite a distance away from the poker area. Here you can buy meals from Nathan's, Subway, Johnny Rockets, and several other options. Those in search of more upscale dining can satisfy their palates at STRIPSTEAK Las Vegas, Lupo by Wolfgang Puck, and the House of Blues among other eateries.

The Sportsbook Grill is right next door with a menu of burgers, sandwiches, and salads. Alas, it was temporarily closed as of November 2021.

Additional Info

Players here typically buy in at the tables by giving their cash to chip runners who will retrieve the chips for them. While waiting for the chip runner to return, cash plays at the table, which is convenient but can lead to confusion if several hands elapse before the chips arrive. When it's time to leave, players can redeem their chips for cash at a podium within the poker room.

Restrooms are just outside the poker room. Smokers will have to step away room to indulge in their habit although they don't have to walk very far as smoking is permitted immediately outside the poker room.

Unlike several Las Vegas casinos, Mandalay Bay does not really use $2 chips much at the poker tables. We find this refreshing because the mixture of $1, $2, and $5 chips at a low-stakes table can cause confusion and lead to accusations of hidden chips and dirty stacks.

Conveniently, the chip runners habitually bring new players 20 x $1 chips without having to be specifically instructed to do so. This makes it easier to post the blinds of $1, $2 and maybe $3 without having to make change all the time. It's also convenient when tipping the dealer or cocktail waitress.

Straddling is permitted UTG and on the button. In the case of a button straddle, the action begins with the small blind and proceeds to the left from there. In the $1/$2 No Limit Texas Hold'em game, a straddle is $5 instead of the customary $4 probably because straddling a single red chip is more conducive to smooth gameplay than putting up four $1 chips.

History of Mandalay Bay

Mandalay Bay was built by Circus Circus Enterprises on the site of the old Hacienda Hotel. It opened its doors in 1999. Expansions in the early 2000s added more hotel rooms and a convention center.

In 2005, Mandalay Bay was purchased by MGM Resorts. It thus became part of the mLife program, which ties together dozens of properties across the nation in a single rewards system.

In 2017, the terrible events of the Las Vegas shooting caused a downturn in Mandalay Bay's business, which was made worse by the response (or lack thereof) from parent company MGM Resorts. However, this effect proved to be temporary, and after a couple of years, the resort's popularity had returned to normal.

Poker has been present at Mandalay Bay since its opening. It has always been a smaller venue for the game and has never really been at the forefront of the leading poker rooms in Vegas. With the closure of dozens of Vegas poker rooms in the past decade, though, perhaps now the Mandalay Bay poker room will have its time in the spotlight.

Mandalay Bay Poker Conclusion

The Mandalay Bay poker room has friendly dealers, soft tables, and a relaxed atmosphere. It's a great place for low-stakes No Limit Hold'em especially with its roster of multiple easy-to-understand and realistically attainable promotions. We can strongly recommend Mandalay Bay poker to anyone staying on the south Strip who's looking for fun and easy NLHE cash games.

However, serious pros who wish to play for sizable stakes will have to go elsewhere because the player population to support higher-stakes games simply isn't there. The same is true when it comes to other poker variants, like PLO and Stud. Tournament aficionados will also be disappointed by the fact that poker tourneys have not yet returned to Mandalay Bay.

Other Players' Opinions

We always like to look through what other players have to say before publishing our reviews so that we don't miss anything important. Therefore, we have included below a sampling of comments from real-life players who have checked out the Mandalay Bay poker room.

Their experiences largely echo our own. Most people are pleased by the atmosphere of Mandalay Bay and the way the games are run although there are occasional grumblings about the low level of traffic.

PokerAtlas Comment About Mandalay Bay Poker
2+2 Post About Poker at Mandalay Bay
TripAdvisor Comment on Mandalay Bay Poker Room
Google Review of Mandalay Bay Poker Room

Go Online for Greater Game Selection

The major issue with Mandalay Bay poker is the small number of games and players simultaneously active. This is much less of a problem online because the decentralized nature of the internet means that people can log on and play from anywhere even at a niche operator.

The moribund Nevada-licensed online poker market contains only a single firm, and Mandalay Bay is not it. Thus, if you want to benefit from all that interactive poker has to offer, you will need to head offshore and sign up with one of the several upstanding international poker rooms that welcomes U.S. residents as customers.

We have compiled a lot of information about this topic in our guide to USA online poker. On that page, you can learn all about the top sites, the promotions that are available, and the games that are spread.

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    Jake Rake is the head poker writer at ProfessionalRakeback.com.

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