Las Vegas’ top poker rooms may be bursting at the seams at the moment thanks to the hordes of players that have descended on Sin City from across the world with dreams of enrichment at the World Series of Poker this year, but this belies a wider and disquieting truth.
Nevada’s poker rooms collectively amassed $8,511,000 in April, according to the latest figures released by the state gaming commission this week.
That means that revenue from live poker has declined, year on year, for the previous 12 months straight.
And while some poker rooms will be adding extra tables this month to accommodate the horde, the reality is that the actual number of poker tables in Nevada operating during April was the lowest since March 2005.
Fewest Number of Tables in a Decade
Seventy poker rooms spread games across 652 tables during the month. In March 2005 there were just 632, but this was as the poker boom was just kicking in, and live poker was on the up, spurred by the popularity of TV poker and online satellites feeding live tournaments.
The previous two years had seen an unprecedented interest in the WSOP, as Chris Moneymaker and Greg Raymer had won the titles, in 2003 and 2004, respectively, and tournament fields were burgeoning, feeding cash games across the state.
Now the pendulum is swinging the other way, and live poker in Nevada is in a state of decline. This is reflected by a recent spate of poker room closures, because, let’s face it; the fact is that replacing these poker rooms with rows and rows of slot machine is far more bankable for casinos.
Hooters became the second casino in Las Vegas to shutter its poker room this year, and the 14th over the past two and a half years.
Other rooms that have closed recently include Circus Circus, Sunset Station, El Cortez, Riviera, Texas Station, Palms, Bill’s Gambling Hall, M Resort, Tropicana, Gold Coast, and Fitzgerald’s.
Reasons to be Cheerful
However, while poker may need an unlikely Chris Moneymaker moment to drag itself out of the doldrums, it’s not all blanket gloom. The WSOP is expected to be the biggest for some time this year, as evidenced by the 22,000-odd that turned out to play the Colossus.
The WSOP is desperate to bring the recreational players back into the game, and has increased the number of affordable buy-in, big-field tournaments on the itinerary.
While this is unlikely to ignite a second poker boom overnight, it’s a good place to start and a few more years of this may yield the desired results.
Another reason to be cheerful is that the Mirage poker room has reopened after a four-month break, albeit with fewer tables than when we last visited.
What will be interesting to see is whether cash game revenue for Nevada during the Series this year eclipses that of last year. The WSOP has been driver of growth in the past, and positive figures could be indicative of the very first step of a very gradual recovery.