Poker in the Western Prairie, PART 2

by Ashley Adams

In the first part of this article I recounted the excellent experience of playing poker at the Dakota Magic Casino in southeast North Dakota. I stayed there Saturday night and left for Billings, Montana on Sunday morning.

 My trip took me through the outstandingly scenic Badlands of North Dakota. I took a break from my driving long enough to walk a mile and a half in the Painted Canyon – part of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

 I arrived in Billings at about 7:00 PM Sunday – just in time to meet Beau, the poker room manager of Big Dawg’s Poker Room – inside the Gold Rush Casino. The Gold Rush, like all of Billings many casinos, is not the glitzy gambling palaces of Las Vegas or Atlantic City. These are little more than bars or lounges with a few slot machines.

 Big Dawgs spreads $2-10 limit hold’em. Unfortunately, they didn’t have a game when I arrived. So Beau sent me to another Billings room, BugZs – up in the northern part of the city. They had just finished a tournament and were spreading “no limit”. I put it in quotes because the law in Montana does not allow for any pots to be larger than $300. If a bet is called and would result in a pot larger than $300, the excess is rebated back to the players and the rest of the hand is dealt out with no betting.

 I played at BugZs for about two hours. The game was good, with plenty of loose, if short-stacked, players. The house provided a nice spread of fried chicken, egg salad sandwiches, corn dogs, beans, and lots of dessert – left over from the tournament I gathered. There were also free drinks. Loose players, a good game, plenty of food – what’s not to like? I finished up about $100 during my two hour session. I returned to a short-handed $2-10 limit game at Big Dawg’s.

 Everyone was friendly and courteous. But there was little loose money – except perhaps for mine. After a couple of hours of heads up and conceded pots I left – down a few bucks. Even so, the players filled me in on where to play the following day, before I left for Gillette, Wyoming. They recommended the Crystal Lounge.

 The Crystal Lounge opened at 10:00 AM. This small room, in downtown Billings, has been spreading low limit hold’em for more than twenty years. It’s said to be the room in which Annie Duke began to hone her considerable poker skills.

 I took advantage of the room’s morning promotion buying in for $50 and getting $70 in chips.. We started the $3-$6 limit game shorthanded. My four opponents were all locals and regulars. The game’s structure of a $1 small blind and a $2 large blind, might have also contributed to a very tight game. I enjoyed the free, self-service coffee, and the great conversations about poker with Marlin – the most senior player in the room. I would have stayed longer – but I wanted to get on the road, and head down to Gillette Wyoming, my next port of call. I drove southeast out of Billings, stopping for a great fried chicken lunch at the Four Aces bar and restaurant in Hardin, Montana. I learned that they also have a hold’em game every Friday night. Apparently, it is not unusual for bars, restaurants, and lounges throughout Montana to have a regular poker game. Would that this were the case in every state.

 Before leaving Montana for Wyoming, I stopped and walked around Devil’s Tombstone – that rock climber’s nirvana made famous in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I had an opportunity to reflect on poker in Montana – a place with poker in just about every large town and city in the state. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was about to go from a good poker environment to what may well be the best place in the world to play poker – Wyoming. More on this in my next article.

Gold Rush Casino, 1310 15th Street West, Billings, MT, 406-254-2134
BugZ’s Casino, 1341 Main Street, Billings, MT, 406-252-4112
Crystal Lounge Casino, 101 N. 28th St., Billings, MT, 406-259-0010

Ashley Adams is the author of Winning 7-Card Stud and Winning No Limit Low Limit Hold’em. He hosts the radio show House of Cards, broadcast Mondays at 5—6 p.m. in Boston, MA, on 1510 AM, and on the Internet at www.houseofcardsradio.com. Contact Ashley at asha34@aol.com.

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