Poker players don’t seem too optimistic about live action returning to Las Vegas any time soon. Even as the Nevada Gaming Control Board rolls out plans for reopening casinos, and the WSOP insists there will be a World Series this fall, the poker community faces an uncertain future — one with more questions than answers.
Can the Las Vegas poker industry survive four-handed tables, as required by the NGCB? Better yet, will casinos even open up their poker rooms once they’re allowed to?
The Las Vegas poker industry isn’t dead, but with no legal live-action tables anywhere in the world since mid-March, it’s definitely in a coma. CardsChat News spoke with some prominent players and local card room managers to get their take on what reopening might look like.
Corporate Casino Calculations
Economists contend that Las Vegas, due to its dependence on tourism, will be hit harder financially than any other US city as a result of COVID-19. While most other towns have additional industries beyond hospitality and leisure, Las Vegas relies heavily on its hotels and casinos.
Corporate casinos are preparing for tough times ahead.
“MGM Resorts employees are being informed that the current layoffs may become permanent due to a lack of customer demand,” Las Vegas casino insider @LasVegasLocally tweeted. “It’s clear that the world’s 2nd largest casino corporation isn’t expecting an economic turnaround anytime soon.”
It’s been a common lament among laid off and furloughed workers who are uncertain about what lies ahead. Even if demand turns out to be higher than MGM anticipates, GCB requirements for sanitation and social distancing may limit gaming’s ability to rebound.
Once they reopen, casinos will be limited to 50% occupancy, and must reduce the number of slot machines in use.
With tourism expected to be low once casinos do reopen — which some anticipate could occur within a few weeks — gaming execs will have to make some difficult decisions that could change the Las Vegas poker landscape for years to come.
Poker rooms will only be permitted to play with a maximum of four players per table, while only three players will be able to sit at blackjack tables, and only six will be allowed at craps.
Short-Handed Poker Reboot
Chris Moneymaker had big plans for 2020 before the coronavirus shutdown of live poker. He was looking to open a poker room in Texas, but he has since tabled that idea.
“It doesn’t make sense in the current climate,” the 2003 WSOP Main Event champ said, adding that he has no interest in playing four-handed poker or spreading such games as a room operator.”Live poker is dead so long as social distancing policies are in place.”
Popular poker vlogger and host of traveling meet-up games Andrew Neeme says he will “happily play short-handed.” But he also said, “I don’t know if the player pool of other people who would play four-handed is remotely sustainable.”
Fellow vlogger and MUGs cohost Brad Owen says he’ll take a wait-and-see approach, but will likely give short-handed games a shot.
Legendary WPT commentator Vince Van Patten is also cool with sitting at 4-max tables.
“I like short-handed poker anyway,” Van Patten said. “I’d enjoy the extra room.”
But these sentiments run contrary to popular opinion on social media.
“Four-handed poker is great around the kitchen table,” ESPN poker commentator Norman Chad said. “But it doesn’t translate to a poker room, unless they’re comping glasses of milk and my mom’s homemade honey graham crackers.”
Profitable Enough for Operators?
Poker rooms reopening with the casinos — or at any time in the near future — is hardly a sure thing. So will any of the 31 poker rooms in Las Vegas reopen in the next few months? As of now, there’s no clear answer.
Aria poker room manager Sean McCormack says he doesn’t know what to expect. “I don’t have all the answers as this is still a very fluid situation,” he said. “I believe I’ll know a lot more by mid-month.”
Other casino employees are similarly uncertain about poker’s role in any reopening.
“At this time, we are still finalizing our plan for poker,” Venetian PR Manager Elaine Chaivarlis said in an email.”We have been working diligently to finalize operational changes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Once we have final details, we will share them on our website.”
Four-Handed Excuse to Remove Poker Tables?
Many contend that four-handed poker restrictions might give some casinos an excuse to ditch the cardrooms and replace them with slot machines.
“Poker rooms have always existed as a courtesy to hotel guests who want to play poker,” Chad said. “But it is harder for them to justify their existence if they are just accommodating half the patrons.”
Nevada casinos raked $143 million from poker in 2019 — just a fraction of the state’s $12 billion gaming win for the year. In the end, like so many casino decisions, it will come down to profitability.
“Four-handed poker sounds like a tough sell for a casino,” Chad said. “For the player, too many small pots. For the house, not enough rake and too many labor costs.”