Let's get this out of the way first: Yes, it's considerably nicer than Wheeling Island. The Meadows room is bigger, brighter and more relaxing. Tables are spaced apart and surrounded by comfy leather chairs that even recline a tiny bit.
You'll notice the step up in quality as soon as you walk through the poker room's entrance. Before arriving at the sign-in desk, you'll pass through a kind of waiting room, complete with seven-seat bar featuring built-in video poker screens and flat-screen TVs. There are also a few stray tables and leather chairs strewn about. Perfect for patient girlfriends, busted-out buddies and even your own bad self if you need to spend some time away from the table after a guy hits a two-outer on you.
Past the waiting room is the poker room proper. I got there Friday about 10:30 a.m., when there were only two tables running -- a $1/2 NL and $2/4 limit. I signed up for a players card and got on the waiting list, and we had enough for a second NL table in less than 10 minutes.
I called the room "relaxing" and a large reason why is because it's located a floor below the casino. Yes, that unfortunately means less dead-money will be wandering in from the casino floor, but it also means no slot machines clanging in your ear. Only the sweet sound of clicking chips fills the room.
Dealers were sound, as they should be since most of them came from Wheeling and have plenty of experience. Drink and food service, on the other hand, was awful. I actually hesitate to write that after just one visit. Could be just a single bad cocktail waitress. Heck, maybe she having just a single bad day. But every time I ordered a drink, and even when I ordered a wrap from the kitchen, I had to remind her about it before it would get brought to the table. And when she did arrive with drinks, she'd have no idea who ordered what. At the moment, I've going to give everyone the benefit of the doubt and assume this will improve.
Based on this one visit, anyone who played during the week in the day at Wheeling can expect a similar quality of player at The Meadows. Our newly created table featured a majority of fiftyish men who played passive and predictable A-B-C poker. There were a ridiculous number of limped pots during the first hour or so. As the day went on, a few younger, more aggressive players joined the table, which demanded I make slight adjustments in my game. (Early on, continuation bets worked nearly 100 percent of the time, but as the game got younger, more players were inclined to call or raise my obvious c-bets.) Still, I only played with one guy who deserved to be labeled a "maniac," and he switched to a new $2/5 table after only 20 minutes or so.
Room rules seemed standard. Like in Wheeling, The Meadows uses a traveling button, which is fine by me as long as the dealer understands the rule and how to enforce it. Also, you don't have to post when joining an already-in-progress table.
By noon, another $1/2 NL table had started up, and when I left at 6:30 p.m., there were probably eight to 10 tables running. At the front desk, a few names adorned an "interested" list for pot-limit Omaha but not enough to actually spread the game.
It's not really fair to compare a Friday afternoon at The Meadows to a Saturday night at Rivers, but I've yet to read, hear or personally see anything that contradicts the notion that the action at downtown casino is going to run a lot hotter than at The Meadows, which will likely gain a reputation as a more laid-back room. That's actually fine by me. Who wants every card room to have the exact same atmosphere anyway?