Thursday, June 24, 2021

FAQ: Vegas and WSOP tips

 Normally at this time of year I’d be in Vegas, in the midst of my WSOP campaign, hoping this is the year I bink a bracelet. I’m still optimistic of doing so later in the year, as I know are many others. Many of these are going for the first time, the pandemic has reminded people that you can’t take bucket list items for granted. I know because many have contacted me with specific questions or looking for tips, so I decided I’d write this blog summing up my advice.

Istvan writes:

“Good evening Dara, I need your advice. As u may know Wsop is coming back at the end of September, and if travel would be allowed, I decided with another 2 friends to head over to play few events, and some satellite for the main event... I would really appreciate if you could give us much more information about best way for accommodation, what part is better to fly and stay in Vegas, minimum bankroll requirement, for a 3 weeks stay, and ruffli cost of the transport, what is better uber are taxis? And food wise as well, and any other important things what we should know, like the visa requirement, what is the procedure and the cost of it, we have to declare the money what u travelling with? Thank you very much.”


This is one where there are lots of different approaches, all with different pluses and minuses, which means it’s kinda personal which one works best for you. House, condo or hotel? Strip, adjacent to WSOP, or out in the burbs? Alone or sharing? 

I’ve pretty much tried them all so here are my thoughts.

I personally enjoyed the house experience more than the hotel one, you feel more like a normal person. However, the flip side is a house usually means commuting, and any saving in cost quickly disappears in Uber or cab fares. Being able to cook for yourself is both cheaper and more pleasurable than eating every meal in a restaurant (or god help us, a buffet). The commute can be a pain, or a welcome slice of down time depending how you look at it. 

One year I combined the best of both worlds sharing a condo across the road from the Rio with Mrs Doke and some other Irish lads. Overall my thinking is that hotel is fine and more convenient for anything up to 2 weeks (3 weeks tops) but if you are there for longer you’re better in a house or a condo. As far as hotels go, the Gold Coast right beside the Rio is the best and cheapest option with very good (and reasonably priced by Vegas standards) restaurant options. The Rio itself is a depressing place to be with very poor restaurant options. When I told Lappin recently my friend Carlos is living there at the moment, Lappin’s response was “I think I’d rather be homeless”. 

Where you want to stay is largely a matter of personal taste. Preferably I prefer being near to avoid commuting, but some people find it oppressive being in the same spot all the time. 

Sharing with someone is less costly and lonely, but you need to make sure it’s someone you won’t want to kill if you’re spending 24/7 in their company. Vegas and the WSOP are high stress experiences that end in disappointment most of the time, a recipe for disaster if you’re sharing with someone who gets on your nerves. I’ve seen many close friendships disappear faster than a puddle in the Vegas heat. 


It’s possible to live relatively cheaply in Vegas. I generally budget to spend $100 a day (excluding accommodation). It’s definitely possible to do it cheaper (and a lot more expensive if you’re more baller than me). 


Do not get in a taxi unless forced to at gunpoint. Before Uber, pretty much the most unpleasant part of all my Vegas trips was having to deal with Vegas cab drivers. Not only is Uber an order of magnitude cheaper, the drivers are way friendlier and more interesting (to the point I’ve written several blogs on my Uber trips). Average Uber trip comes in around ten bucks, about three times less than comparable taxi rides. 


Vegas has great food options at a variety of price points. Even without doing your own grocery shopping, it’s possible to eat well (and healthily) for about 50 bucks a day. In terms of cost and health, most of the best options are Asian. 


No visa required from Ireland (or most European countries) but you do need an ESTA which you can apply for online at and lasts two years. Last time I got one it cost 50 bucks.

At time of writing it’s not possible to fly direct from the EU to the US, you have to spend 2 weeks outside the EU before they’ll let you in. Some of my friends have done two weeks in Mexico, but hopefully that restriction will be lifted by the time of the WSOP (if not, I’m not going).

Declaring money

If you’re bringing in less than $10,000 you don’t have to declare it. I generally bring just under the limit in cash to avoid hassle at the airport, but this doesn’t always work out. Sometimes they get suspicious if you’re just below the limit and insist on counting it to be sure. I almost missed my last flight because of this. I used my card for most tourney buyins last time. There’s a fee (4% I think) but it saves hassle and queueing time

Dublin airport

If you fly from Dublin to the US, you clear security in Dublin, which is great once you get to Vegas and can just sail thru customs, but you need to allow 3 hours to be safe in Dublin. Usually you’ll get thru quicker, but routine inspections can get lengthy. Be aware they have the right to go through all your mobile devices and look at everything on them: I know one girl who was refused entry when they found messages on her phone suggesting she intended to stay in the US with her boyfriend, and an Irish poker player was refused entry after they read a WhatsApp conversation between him and his weed dealer!

Tax matters

At one of my tables last year, hearing I was from Ireland, one of the American players said

"So if you win this you'll have to pay it all in tax, right?"

"Um no"

"But most of it?"


"How much?"


"That can't be right. You have taxes, right?"

"Yes but not on poker winnings"

Looking dubious my interrogator asked

"So who am I thinking of?"

At which point one of the others at the table, who it turned out was an actual taxation consultant

"America, buddy. We are the ones that pay"

There then followed a lengthy discussion of federal, state and city taxes which made it abundantly clear that Americans pay a lot of tax on their poker winnings. So, of course, do many European countries, but not the UK or Ireland, something the WSOP knows but many of the other casinos in Vegas don't. This is deducted at source on all cashes over the threshold (10k last time I checked, although someone recently told me it's actually 5k profit which apparently is why the WSOP main min cash is exactly 15k). To avoid it, you need an ITIN number 

The wonderful people at the WSOP will handle this all automatically for you if you're lucky enough to have your first cash in the US with them. They'll need your passport and proof of residence (so bring a bank statement or utility bill), but they'll do all the necessary paperwork to get you an ITIN. More importantly, they won't withhold 40% of your cash as tax, and as an added bonus they'll keep it on file so you don't need to go through the same procedure every time.

Other casinos and series are not as helpful. Some of them won't even know you're exempt from tax. Even if they are, they will withhold tax anyway unless you provide them with an ITIN. A few years ago, one Irish player who cashed big in the Venetian cornered me in the Rio saying they'd withheld 40% as he had no ITIN. He was flying out in a few hours so couldn't get one in time, but we were reliably informed he could claim the money back from Ireland. I'm not sure how cumbersome this process is, but it's one you'll want to avoid if at all possible. 

The one upside to all this is that American taxation law has inadvertently led to many a favourable chop for those of us from less taxed countries. On one of my first trips to Vegas, I heard about an Irish player who despite being the shortie by a long way secured the lion's share in a five way chop with four Americans all motivated to keep their payout below 10k. So if you find yourself in such a situation, it's worth educating the American players you'd like to chop with on taxation matters. Similarly, if you're one of the Americans reading this, be aware that chops in which the Euro nominally takes first prize (and possibly disburses some of it to his more taxed American buddies in the parking lot, something which I'd obviously never condone but know for sure happens) can have very beneficial effects on your bottom line.

Mental preparation

I've often said that if you want to see the biggest change in a group of people in a short period of time, go to the Rio in the first week of the WSOP, then come back for the last week. At the start everyone is buzzing and bouncing around, happy to see all their poker friends from all over the world, and convinced that this is their year. By the end, most are so stuck that only a very deep run in the main can get them out, as they shuffle like zombies through the corridors of the Rio, desperately waiting for their flight home.

A WSOP/Vegas campaign is essentially the equivalent of a Sunday online, stretched out over six weeks. Online players wake up every Sunday feeling great and ready to go, hoping this is the Sunday they bink a major. Usually, they end the day wanting to cry into their keyboard, having bust their last shot at 4 AM or whatever. In Vegas, you can very easily bust 6 tournaments in a day without making dinner break. Obviously that's not the aspiration, but you have to be prepared for it, because losing trips are far more common than winning ones if you're a tournament player. It might seem defeatist to anticipate failure, but it's a far more useful approach than just assuming everything will be great. The problem with positivity is it doesn't prepare you for setbacks when they come, as they almost inevitably will. I've written before in this blog on the Stockdale Paradox, which states that pessimists respond to adversity better than optimists. So be pessimistic, and if it turns out great, be pleasantly surprised.



Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More