Recently opening on the Las Vegas Strip was CityCenter, an MGM Mirage creation that includes the Aria Resort and Casino. Within the friendly confines of Aria is its poker room, which debuted amid an economic downswing. Nevertheless, it has received high marks and features a high-limit gaming area that may soon be named after Phil Ivey. Poker News Daily sat down with Adam Altwies, Aria’s Poker Room Manager, to recap its first three weeks in operation.
Poker News Daily: Thanks for joining us. Talk about the daily tournaments at Aria and what your setup is for cash games.
Adam Altweis: We didn’t get our daily tournament going until about two weeks later in order to open up. The daily tournament starts at 11:15am and it’s $120. It has a great structure; players get 8,000 in chips and levels are 30 minutes long. It’s typical of what the Bellagio might be offering in terms of structure, but it has a lower buy-in. We have 24 tables in total. Eighteen are on the main floor, five are in a back high-limit area, and one is exclusive to a very high-limit game.
PND: What were your expectations for opening night?
Adam Altweis: We didn’t know. As a new room, we had an idea of what we wanted to spread, but after time, you have to figure out what games your customers want to play. The room was created for the player. The top-level executives really created the room for the players and made my job a lot easier in that respect. If you take a look at the room, it’s situated next to the Skybox Grille. We can offer tableside food service from anywhere, but that’s the biggest one we use. It’s next door, the prices are good, and the food is great. We also have the Roasted Bean, which is a coffee shop. The self-parking lot and main valet lead right into the poker room. It’s all very convenient.
PND: Address the room’s high noise level, which was one of the only complaints we’ve heard.
Adam Altweis: I’ve addressed that issue. Any time you have a main door, you have slot machines because you want to attract customers. It’s also the main line of traffic up to our Elvis show. In the beginning, it was loud. What made my job easy was that it was a simple phone call to fix. Our slots are all server-based, which means that our guys can hop on a server and turn the noise down. They did it for us, which is a testament to MGM Mirage. I’ve worked here for seven years and everyone works with each other. Each manager and each department makes a concerted effort to work with each other.
PND: What high-stakes poker can visitors to Aria expect?
Adam Altweis: We hope to get a lot more. We’ve had a couple of $150/$300 games in here as well as $40/$80. We also have a $20/$40 Mixed Game, which we want to keep going. We’ve seen a trend in this market where No Limit Hold’em is still the staple at $1/$3, $2/$5, $5/$10, and $10/$20, but a lot more players are looking to expand.
PND: How is Aria able to differentiate itself from the competition?
Adam Altweis: The room. It’s comfortable for players. There’s space in between the tables so that players can move around. We have sculptures, which are aesthetically soothing. We have a player paging system that allows us to text message people on the wait list, so when your name comes up, you’ll get a text message. We also have the capability to let customers know when a game is being started. When a dealer sits down, we can send out a notification that the game is live at Aria. We’re going to be utilizing Twitter and Facebook a lot more in the future. I’m a big proponent of letting us know what’s going on. We want people to tell us what’s good or bad.
PND: Have there been talks about partnering with a group like Dream Team Poker to bring a unique event to Aria?
Adam Altweis: That’s what’s great about being new – we’re open to everything. Right now, we’re not aligned with anyone, so we can listen to everyone. We want a televised event, whether it is a tournament or a late night show. I can pretty much guarantee that we’ll get some televised event, hopefully by the end of the year.
PND: Talk about opening a massive casino and poker room like Aria in the midst of a severe economic downturn.
Adam Altweis: We had a poker boom a few years ago. Everyone was opening up a room. Now, it’s slid back a bit, but we opened one anyway. We opened up a room at the best time possible because we got to pick the best of the best in the industry for our staff. It’s a very unique situation. If we were still in the poker boom, we would have had to hire dealers right out of school and it would take a tremendous amount of time to get the room where we wanted it to be.
PND: What’s an average day like for a poker room manager?
Adam Altweis: On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, I’m taking care of administrative things and come in around 9:00am or 10:00am. Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday are big customer days, so I stay late, talk to customers, and ask them what we can do to better our room. My day is full and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I love dealing with customers, employees, guests, the media, and everyone else. This is my love. It’s been my passion since I was 17.