My two cents, that is...
This is the most special time of year in the poker world. Thousands of professional poker players fly into Las Vegas for part or all of the six-week long World Series of Poker. Many thousands more who aren't professionals but love the game fly in to check out the spectacle that surrounds the WSOP. They are on a much tighter budget, but want to have a taste of the most anticipated, intense, grandiose and celebratory poker gathering each year. They too want to take a shot, but there is no reason they have to blow their wad in the process.
The following advice is geared to those players and fans looking to get the most value from their visit.
1. Take a shuttle. Everyone's usual first advice when landing at McCarran airport is to not get taken by your cab driver, who would prefer to take you via the I-215 tunnel costing you a few extra dollars. My advice, if you don't have a friend to pick you up or you aren't traveling in a group, is to take one of the several reliable shuttle services outside of baggage claim. Depending on your destination and time of day, it may take you an extra 20-30 minutes to get there, but for $8 and a dollar per bag tip you can happily spend the extra cash on other parts of your trip.
2. Where to Stay. Most people get caught up in the status of where they stay. Checking out a new luxurious property is great, but even if you get a decent rate you are usually paying more premium prices for all the amenities on that property. Personally, unless I plan on entertaining in my room, I would rather I find a decent room at a convenient property to where I'll spend the majority of my time. Transportation costs add up, so if you can walk or take public transportation occasionally it really saves money. I don't care that much about the prestige of the hotel, but rather that I have a decent bed, shower, responsive air conditioner and really thick window curtain that cuts out all the light. I don't plan on spending much time in my room, except to sleep, so why invest much in it.
3. There is a tournament for you.While your poker bankroll may not afford the higher buy-ins common to the WSOP, there are numerous special event series around Vegas during the summer months. Hundreds of more affordable buy-in tournaments ($120 on up) can be found at events like Caesars Mega Stack, Venetian DSE III, Golden Nugget Grand Poker Series, Binion's Poker Classic, and the Rio's Carnivale of Poker. There are tons of different times and games offered to suit your schedule.
Extra tip - Learn from professional poker players and spread your risk (e.g. 2+2 marketplace). Before you arrive, talk up your trip and tournament plans to poker friends and family. If they each invest a little, they can get a piece of your potential win, while you lessen your risk and actual cost to play.
4. What to Pack. Poker players aren't known for their fashion sense and I don't really care what you want to go around in, but understand that it's very hot outside (100+) both day and night, and very cold in every casino so be prepared for both. My advice is to bring at least three pairs of shoes; one very comfy pair for all the walking you'll do, one pair of flip flops for casual or pool time, and one pair of dressy black shoes for going out to the clubs or nice restaurants.
Extra tip - A small day-pack packed with drinks, snacks, iPod/headphones, an extra layer, and even your own hand sanitizer can be a real lifesaver for regular tournament players.
5. Restaurants. There are so many great options both in the major casinos and off the strip so I won't pretend to give you advice on where to eat. I would suggest stocking up with some snacks at a local grocery store. They can really cut down on impulsive in-between meal purchases and sustain you during deep runs in tournaments.
Extra tip - If you enjoy gambling and are feeling lucky, always CCR (credit card roulette) your meal with your friends. Run hot for a week and you won't pay for a meal.
6. Access. One of the greatest aspects of the WSOP, unlike most sporting or entertainment events, is you can get close access to all the most famous poker players in the world. Every top player in the world has to roam the same halls, Poker Kitchen and bathrooms that you do, so make sure to keep your eyes open. When you enter the Amazon room, you can look for the lingering crowds which usually give off where top players are playing, or you can wander on your own to check off various stars you recognize from TV and online fame.
Extra tip - I always recommend spending time in the "mothership" featured table area. They always have some top recognizable player at the table and it's nice to sit down for a while and take in the experience.
7. Make friends. It's who not what you know, right? Poker players love to be appreciated and recognized in a respectful way. You can often befriend poker players during the series. You might be able to join them in a drink (e.g. hooker bar) or a meal. Poker players are typically very generous, especially around the WSOP time when they meet up with all their friends.
8. Network. The same goes for dealers, staff, press, and poker people working in the Rio. Treat them kindly and they might share information to which most people don't have access. Notice all the poker companies that promote at the WSOP. They often have special promotions, swag to give away, and private lounges to relax in.
Extra tip - Keep an eye out for promotional parties and charity poker events. Some companies sponsor exclusive parties for their pros and fans that can be a blast. If you have some money you can invest in a charity tournament (e.g. Wounded Warrior, Ante-up for Africa etc.), it's often a great opportunity to play with notable poker players and celebrities in a more intimate setting.
9. Know where to look. While the convention area of the Rio is pretty massive, there are certain places to keep an eye out for famous players. The red carpet area leading in from the valet and self-parking area is a key point to view players. Media companies often interview players on break there. There are also two or three radio/podcast companies that establish sets where they regularly interview poker pros.
Extra tip - Linger under the misters attached to the white awnings along the red carpet to give you a quick refresher from the oppressive heat and catch a poker player on a smoke break.
10. Winners like to celebrate. Only 61 people will feel like true winners, with a bracelet and the first place cash prize to back it up. Almost every one of them, and often some final tablists, will want to celebrate their achievement. They will often go clubbing, treat friends to a restaurant or pool party. So while you may not hit it big in your low buy-in tournament shots, that doesn't mean if you network well you might not be able to enjoy a little piece of this year's WSOP success story's celebrations. In the end, you may not be a true poker 'baller' but by using some of these tips you can squeeze out a lot of fun and value on your WSOP-time Vegas poker trip.