To be completely honest, I did not think much of a new poker room opening up in Sihanoukville. I thought to myself, just one more entry in a long line of failed attempts to have a sustainable poker room in this city. But having arrived and seen for myself, the group that has set up the Top-Pot Poker Club inside the WM Casino has me at least thinking about whether or not it can be done. There are still many challenges ahead in a town that has undergone so much change in just a couple of years. But if intent and effort counts for anything then the room will have more than a chance to succeed.
The first couple of weeks of any new poker room is going to be a honeymoon period. The room held an inaugural $3K freeroll and are having a daily guarantee freeroll of $400 for the first couple of weeks. Literally everything is free in the room right now. They have a buffet in the room like most other casinos, but for the moment they are letting all players order off of the regular menu for free and also order top shelf alcohol. And this does not even speak to the room itself as only one word can really describe it, luxury. They spared no expense in opening this room as I have already mentioned they have 11 tables plus three additional rooms for VIP's that play $10-$20 and higher. They have televisions over nearly every table, a full wait staff and more than enough dealers. If I were to design a room without any concern for cost, it would look very much like the Top-Pot Poker Club.
That having been said, not everything is ideal. Their rake employs the same low percentage, high cap model that so many other rooms use throughout Asia. But I have been thinking as of late that perhaps my way of doing things is a bit outdated, or at least difficult to apply here in Cambodia. The fact is that the poker culture has changed a great deal in the last decade. Players just do not act as quickly as they once did, as evidenced by the fact that there has been increased discussion of using a shot clock of sorts in at least tournament play. While good dealers can command a table and keep a game moving, at the end of the day there is only so much they can do. And with features of the game here in Asia such as insurance and running boards multiple times, trying to keep dealers to a high quota of hands per hour may be unrealistic. The income of a poker room is basically determined by how many hands dealers can get out. But if that slows and nothing can be done to reverse that, then rooms have to make up that difference by charging a higher rake. The Top-Pot Club does seem to be offering an aggressive rakeback plan where players can earn cash by swiping in their player's card whenever they play. And with so many things being free in the room I can see why they may need to charge more. I used to think that to charge a lot and to give away a lot was just a more complicated way of charging less. But players do not seem to mind a higher rake if they feel like they are getting a big return in terms of comps and amenities. I am still not sure though if this model is sustainable over time. If they figure this out, they would have accomplished something that no other room in this town has yet to do.
For all of this to work of course the room has to do one basic thing and that is to offer good games. On this end they seem to have succeeded, at least in the opening few days. The $1-$1 game has run with deep stacks most of the time and has played bigger. The $1-$2 game has been decent, but not great as one would expect when the room runs a $1-$1 game concurrently. The games are really too close for both games to be very healthy. Either the $1-$2 game has to be ditched entirely and the next game be $2-$5, or they have to run some modified version such as $1-$3. Speaking of the $2-$5 game, that has been absolutely crazy thus far with action I have seldom seen in games of these blinds. They have some sort of association with the shareholders of the casino at large and when these guys show up, the action is quite good. I was initially worried about how many games they would have, but last night they had all three ($1-$1, $1-$2 and $2-$5) and so this may not be an issue.
But the bigger challenge lies in the city of Sihanoukville itself. The infrastructure has worsened quite a bit as more construction projects are started. More roads are blocked or in terrible condition, there is traffic everywhere and most do not drive in what I call a safe manner. And it is very difficult to find accommodations as prices have risen dramatically in the last couple of years. In thinking about moving back here, I have had great difficulty in securing accommodations for any length of time. One bedroom apartments are going for around $700 and monthly guesthouses at an affordable rate or far and few in between. I have managed to find some decently priced rooms, but they are outside of town and given the road conditions the travel would prove to be too difficult. There is no doubt about it that if all things were equal I would come back to Sihanoukville to play in these games and take advantage of the aggressive benefits the room has for players. But right now I am finding challenges that the poker room nor I have any control over to be too difficult.
So in my final conclusion, the Top-Pot Club is doing nearly everything right and they certainly have the drive and ambition to make this work. If one is coming to Sihanoukville for a holiday, this poker room is definitely worth a visit as a player. But for grinders looking for a permanent home or at least a lengthy stay, some assistance is required to overcome the challenges that this city presents to those that want to live here.
Life in the Third World
Just a collection of random and not so random thoughts from my daily life here in Cambodia.