There’s nothing quite like some poker action at a casino. A night of card playing comes with a great vibe as the sounds of riffling chips echo through the poker room. Players celebrate a big winning hand or lament their tough luck.
And while a poker room may be an excellent card-playing experience, betting and bluffing in a different setting can also be exciting. Some games have gone beyond the card room or home game.
Players can play in unique environments, from a tropical pool setting to downtown Las Vegas' Fremont Street - to a bunkhouse in the great outdoors.
Here’s a look at some unique poker settings that have players ditching the card room and even their hoodies. These experiences show that poker can be played anywhere.
Table of Contents
1 – Poker in Prison
Most players wouldn’t want to experience this poker environment, but some betting behind bars qualifies as a unique location. Erik Audé experienced poker in prison first-hand. The actor, stuntman, and personal trainer grew up in Beverly Hills, California, and made a significant stake in the days after 9/11.
A friend asked Audé to bring back some leather goods from the Middle East. He took the job and completed a few more trips doing the same. In early 2002, Audé even headed for Islamabad, Pakistan. Upon his return, Audé quickly realised he wasn't just bringing back leather goods.
Airport security searched his bags and found 7.9 pounds of opium, and Audé received a sentence of seven years in prison. Torture and violence became the norm, but poker offered one way to pass the time and keep his mind sharp.
Prisoners played on the floor since there were no chairs or tables:
"I was placed on death row because it was probably the safest place to keep me at the time," he told PokerNews. "There were other prisoners there, and they played Texas Hold’em poker a lot. A man named Murad spoke a little English, and he would end up becoming my friend. He taught me how to play.
“We'd buy in for five Pakistani rupees [worth about a nickel] and play with chips and worn-down playing cards. Tournament poker was the preferred style of play because not too many people had enough money to play a cash-style format. The money would be used to buy food – chicken, yoghurt, drinks, et cetera – and we’d play for that.
"People in that prison were always hungry, so winning some chicken or good food was a treat, and they would play their asses off. Other times, we would just play for the money if we couldn't get enough players to pitch in for the 100 rupee chickens. But it was a great way of killing time."
Audé got out after two and a half years when U.S. officials worked to get his release. His story was on the television show Locked Up Abroad, and he now regularly plays major poker tournaments.
No doubt, a nice chair at a casino is much more comfortable than the floor of a Pakistani prison.
2 – Fremont Street for a WSOP Main Event Title
The birth of televised poker and the expansion of online poker saw the game surge in popularity in the 2000s. Chris Moneymaker’s 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event win, aired on ESPN with viewers able to see hole cards, played a massive part.
But the WSOP had seen decent growth in the 1990s, with numbers increasing almost yearly, from 201 in 1992 to 393 in 1999. The 1997 Main Event featured a unique twist when players reached the final table.
The Fremont Street interactive light show experience debuted in 1995. The final table was just outside Binion’s Horseshoe under the unique video lights attraction in downtown Las Vegas.
At that time, the WSOP was in April and May, but the weather was still hot. The temperature reached 98 degrees as Stu Ungar battled for his third Main Event bracelet. No doubt, dealing with sweat, the poker legend eventually came out on top for $1 million.
Sadly, Ungar passed away just a few months later but remains the only player to win the Main Event three times.
3 – Beach Vibes
Who doesn’t love a trip to the beach? A bit of sun and sand has been a popular spot for final table poker action through the years. World Poker Tour commentator added his name to the tour’s Mike Sexton Champions Cup in 2013, taking home $145,000.
The WPT Caribbean was at Casino Royale in St. Maarten. The filmed final table overlooked the area’s brilliant blue waters, with stunning beach views. A beautiful island and a six-figure score were up for grabs. So, it was quite a trip for Tony Dunst.
Sunglasses are standard among some players at the table. But the outdoor seaside setting might have necessitated some shades.
Here’s a look at some of the action from St. Maarten:
That wasn’t the only WPT-related event featuring tropical final table vibes. The original Aruba Classic in the tour’s early days featured the final table among palm trees with brilliant views of the Caribbean.
Winners of the event included Juha Helppi, Freddy Deeb, and Erick Lindgren.
The company’s Alpha8 tour was an early high-roller series that ran three seasons from 2014-16. The action featured nosebleed stakes tournaments, including a $100,000 buy-in event on the island of St. Kitts. The final table overlooked the beach.
Philipp Gruissem took down the first event for $1.1 million – quite a vacation getaway.
4 – Tent Time
Finding live poker in the initial days of the pandemic was especially difficult. Casinos worldwide shut down and left many players heading to online poker. The industry saw a surge that hasn’t slowed down since.
For those interested in live poker, casinos began slowly returning by the summer of 2020. But whether a property reopened with some live action depended on the location. In the United States, that meant a state-by-state approach. What was allowed in one state might not be permitted in others.
Restrictions continued for months in California. The state features a blend of tribal and commercial casinos and poker rooms. Sovereign Native American nations determine their own rules, including their pandemic responses. Many eventually reopened indoor poker rooms faster than other California properties.
Commercial properties facing more stringent state regulations had to be more creative. So, many embraced large tents and outdoor locations to get cards back in the air. By October 2020, facilities like the Bicycle Casino in the Los Angeles area reopened with outdoor facilities.
They used tents and other outdoor structures that left plenty of room and space for airflow. Many properties went through great expense to build these outdoor venues.
Charlie Wilmoth, who lives in the L.A. area and hosts the Third Man Walking poker podcast, remembers playing in outdoor card rooms. His travels included a trip to play at San Diego’s Ocean’s 11 casino.
“The weather in autumn was perfect — highs were around 83 and lows were around 65, so it felt great all day,” he says. “It wasn’t yet known then exactly how low-risk it was to be outside, but we did know it was much less risky than being inside.
“Not to be melodramatic, but after being cooped up for much of 2020, outdoor poker made me feel like I had regained some control of my life. And, of course, the weather in Southern California was as close to ideal for outdoor poker as you’re going to get.”
There could be worse things than PLAYING poker outside in such near-perfect west coast weather. Blue skies, gentle breezes, and sunshine - that scenario could have many poker players doing their own California Dreaming.
5 – Hunting, Fishing, and Getting Outdoors
A trip to the outdoors often includes card games when not out hunting, fishing, canoeing, hiking, or some other recreation. Hunting and fishing getaways often include poker in the lodge or hotel.
Say you’re on an Alaskan salmon fishing excursion, elk hunting in Colorado, hitting the trail in Yellowstone, or stationed in an RV for a getaway. Many outdoor adventurers enjoy some poker after working up a sweat during the day.
Canadian television's The Red Green Show even featured a game from Possum Lodge. Red details how he came out a loser on the final hand after winning all night. Red Green's game involved quite a few wild cards. He barely made it out without losing his flannel shirt.
The author remembers many trips to west Texas for dove hunting with family and friends. That often involved mixing in tournaments and cash games in an old west-style country home, perfect for a game.
The goal was to win enough to pay for the entire trip, which came with its successes and failures but always plenty of fun.
The hit television show Yellowstone even offers viewers a look at a bunkhouse poker game featuring many of the show’s cowboys. No doubt, many real cowboys have joined in similar games after a long day on the trail herding cattle.
No matter how exhausted a poker player may get, there is always time for poker!