Poker rooms are opening again in Las Vegas
The global pandemic has definitely taken its toll on the poker rooms of Las Vegas. While all casinos closed for several weeks in March 2020, most poker rooms wound up closing for good. To gain an understand of where Las Vegas poker is going, it's important to understand where it's been.
Once a popular amenity, by the early 2000s, only a a handful of poker rooms remained. The Mirage, Bellagio, The Horseshoe, and Stardust were among the most popular, and their game spread was mostly focused on Limit Hold’em. After Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker No Limit Hold’em tournament in 2003, poker enjoyed a resurgence of popularity. By the mid-2000s, nearly every casino had a poker room, and the game spread shifted to a preference in No Limit.
A few years after the initial boom, a few smaller rooms wound up closing. The poker rooms at the Luxor, Monte Carlo, and the Palms closed. By early 2020, about half the casinos on the Las Vegas Strip offered live poker. When the pandemic hit, poker, which depends upon people sitting closely together in one room, certainly suffered.
Several of the MGM poker rooms like the Mirage, Mandalay Bay, and Excalibur never reopened. Instead, the poker rooms took their collective jackpots and brought them to the MGM. For multiple weekends in a row in the Spring 2020, the jackpots were given to those playing at the MGM, with the poker rooms at the casinos they represented, closed for the foreseeable future.
The rooms that did reopen, such as Wynn, Bellagio, and the Golden Nugget, had to reopen with safety protocols in place, set by the Las Vegas Gaming Control Board. While poker tables normally seat nine or ten people at a maximum, occupancy dropped as low as four per game for a brief while. With safety protocols in place, such as the addition of plexiglass, casinos were able to host more players. And as time passed, a slow and stead occupancy increase came to pass.
Poker tournaments, however, were put on hold for many months. It was unprofitable for a casino to host tournaments with seating restrictions, so many temporarily canceled their tournaments. The World Series of Poker (WSOP) moved its competition online in 2020. This made the field much smaller than normal years, as the only people able to participate were those with internet access in Nevada or New Jersey. The WSOP did host the remaining nine players at the final table live in December 2020. Covid tests were required, and one player tested positive. Gaming Control Board rules dictated that the player testing positive must forfeit his stack, and be awarded prize money for 9th place. Other than that, the tournament continued as normal.
So what happens next? On May 12, 2020, Bellagio removed their plexiglass partitions. The MGM and Aria are expected to follow suit. The Sahara added tournaments back to their mix in mid-2021. Wynn, Aria, and Bellagio did the same, as they’d invested in plexiglass partitions early on. The Golden Nugget has not reinstated tournaments, nor do they have plans to host their Grand Series Poker Tournament. The WSOP, however, is back and booming. They created an online variation on WSOP ring events all year long for 2021, and they will host a live event at the Rio in the Fall 2021.
For those of you who are itching to return to the poker room, all signs are looking like a go!