A Glimpse into the Future of Las Vegas Poker: Predictions for 2020 and Beyond

Sahara poker room

One of the directives from the Nevada Gaming Control Board, in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, is to limit the number of players at live poker tables to four. These regulations have been put in place to ensure that casinos maintain a sterile and safe environment for their patrons. The Gaming Control Board has taken proactive measures to provide clear guidance to casinos on how to achieve this goal. By implementing these directives, casinos can help prevent the spread of the virus and protect the health and well-being of their customers. It is crucial for casinos to strictly adhere to these regulations to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission within their properties.

As soon as this plan was announced, poker enthusiasts and those familiar with the industry quickly realized that it simply wouldn't work. The majority of players would not be willing to participate in a game that is limited to just four players. Even if the rake and tips were lowered to accommodate the faster gameplay, the costs would still be too high for most players at this skill level. Moreover, this approach completely eliminates the social aspect that is so intrinsic to live poker.

Are there any poker rooms in Las Vegas that offer four-handed games?

It's clear that the majority of poker rooms in Las Vegas won't be able to resume operations according to the strict guidelines set by gaming regulators. Interestingly, on the very day when the announcement regarding the player table limit was made, news emerged that Station Casinos had let go of all their poker staff. Moreover, some other casinos demonstrated a lack of enthusiasm for offering shorthanded poker games by closing their poker rooms earlier than required. As an illustration, the Venetian briefly attempted to have tables with only three players, but ultimately abandoned the idea before the closure mandate was issued.

In the midst of these unprecedented circumstances, it is worth noting that there are a few instances that veer from the norm. As per the information gleaned from Bravo Poker, South Point continued to offer games right up until the mandated closure on March 17, which is quite remarkable. It is worth mentioning that these games were limited to five-handed tables to comply with social distancing guidelines. Similarly, The Orleans also carried on dealing cards well into March 17, maintaining the same five-handed policy. Additionally, both Cannery and Sam's Town, two other poker rooms operated by Boyd Gaming, managed to stay open until the very end. Notably, the Golden Nugget went above and beyond by hosting six-handed games amidst these challenging circumstances.

In my opinion, when it comes to Las Vegas poker rooms considering the option of dealing four-handed poker, two establishments stand out as the top contenders: South Point ranks as the most likely candidate, followed closely by The Orleans.

Before South Point, Red Rock Resort dealt into the last day of several Station Casinos poker rooms. It was the last room to close, spreading seven-handed games. Unfortunately, the poker staff has already been laid off, which makes it highly improbable that they will resume poker in the near future.

Las Vegas Strip poker rooms are not expected to resume operations during the initial phase of reopening.

I am skeptical that poker will be immediately available at any of the Las Vegas Strip casinos once they reopen. To mitigate the significant financial losses incurred during the closure, these resorts will prioritize maximizing their cash flow while operating with minimal staff.

I don't believe any Las Vegas Strip poker room will start dealing hands until the restrictions are eased to allow for at least six-handed tables. Poker rooms, particularly those with only four players at a table, are not effective at generating rake that would significantly contribute to the overall profits. It's important for the restrictions to be relaxed in order for the poker rooms to have a better chance at boosting their bottom line.

Can Las Vegas poker rooms weather the storm and stay in business?

Based on my close observation of Las Vegas poker rooms for almost a decade, I have made some informed deductions, although it's important to note that these are all based on educated speculation.

When a poker room doesn't reopen right away, there's no need to worry, even if they convert the space into slot machines. I reckon some casinos might do this to ensure social distancing by spreading out the machines, but it doesn't necessarily spell doom for poker in that casino. In other cases, poker rooms that remain closed in the upcoming months might be temporarily closed off, either with walls or ropes. This way, the casino can easily reintroduce poker when the situation improves.

Forecasting the future of poker rooms in Las Vegas.

In the past ten years, it has become increasingly common for poker rooms in Las Vegas casinos to close down. After conducting thorough research, I discovered that a total of 27 poker rooms had shut their doors, as I highlighted in an article I composed subsequent to the closure of the one at Strat last year. However, the impact of the ongoing pandemic is set to exacerbate this trend significantly. Based on my analysis, I anticipate that approximately 12 out of the current 31 poker rooms in Las Vegas will not reopen in March. Furthermore, even those that do make a comeback may be forced to remain closed for a duration of at least a year, if not longer.

I believe that poker rooms that cater to both tourists and local players have the best chance of thriving in the long run. In my opinion, the top contenders in this category include Aria, Bellagio, Caesars Palace, Golden Nugget, Venetian, and Wynn/Encore. These establishments have established themselves as favorites among poker enthusiasts and are likely to continue offering their poker rooms.

When the dust settles, I anticipate that the larger poker rooms in Las Vegas, such as Orleans, South Point, and Red Rock, will likely resume their operations. However, it is the smaller, more localized casinos that will probably continue offering poker games. These establishments, such as Boulder Station, Club Fortune, Green Valley Ranch, Sam's Town, and Skyline, are already operating with ample space inside their properties, eliminating the need to remove tables. Additionally, the poker rooms at Cannery and Poker Palace in North Las Vegas are also expected to be unaffected.

In my assessment, the smaller-scale poker establishments, predominantly situated along the iconic Las Vegas Strip, will likely be the ones affected. I anticipate that Caesars Entertainment and MGM Resorts, being the major players in the industry, will likely streamline operations by consolidating a select number of poker rooms. The decision to do so will hinge upon the level of demand observed at their flagship poker rooms. Specifically for Caesars, the establishments that fall under this consideration are Bally’s, Flamingo, Harrah’s, Planet Hollywood, and Rio. If we are to make an educated guess, it is highly probable that the Rio poker room will remain permanently closed, unless the World Series of Poker makes a triumphant return prior to the expiration of the two-year leaseback agreement. As for the smaller poker rooms within MGM Resorts, we have Excalibur, MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay, and Mirage.

There is a limited availability of small-sized rooms in Las Vegas, primarily found at individual casinos such as Binion's, Palace Station, Sahara, Santa Fe Station, Silver 7's, and Westgate.

The possibility of the two poker rooms at Station Casinos remaining closed for an indefinite period is quite high, although it is likely that at least one of them will eventually reopen. The remaining poker rooms, on the other hand, all seem to face the challenge of relaunching as underdogs.

I desire to be proven mistaken.

I remain hopeful, hoping that my prediction is proven incorrect. It is not my desire to witness the unfortunate closure of any poker room or witness any dedicated employee lose their livelihood. Nonetheless, my perspective is more sanguine than that of the majority. When I expressed my belief on Twitter that at least 20 poker rooms in Las Vegas would endure this challenging period, the prevailing responses seemed to cast doubt on my optimism.

Nonetheless, there will be plenty of room in the market to accommodate the demand, even though there may be a decrease in the availability of smaller rooms for players who favor such a setting compared to a grand poker room.