How COVID-19-Related Changes Could Affect Poker Players During the WSOP

It may feel like an eternity for players eager to return to Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker but, in reality, it’s been 27 months since the live poker festival last took place at the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino.

rio wsop poker vegas

The Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino will host the World Series of Poker for what may be the last time this fall. Poker players will find many differences in Las Vegas in 2021, largely due to how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the city. (Image: CardsChat)

Still, a lot can happen in two-plus years, especially in the age of COVID-19. As players descend on Sin City for the 2021 WSOP, let’s look at how some changes in Las Vegas could affect poker players this year.

Poker room closures, short staffing

Las Vegas has lost several poker rooms since the 2019 Main Event concluded, starting with the room at The Strat in October 2019. Eleven more rooms closed during the pandemic last year, and most have yet to reopen, including stalwarts such as Binion’s (the original home of the WSOP), Harrah’s, MGM Grand, and the Mirage. Planet Hollywood closed in July, further condensing the poker action in the city. On the bright side, Resorts World opened a poker room when the Strip’s newest casino debuted this summer.

As CardsChat previously reported, Caesars Entertainment is shuttering its poker rooms at Bally’s and Flamingo during the WSOP because it needs more dealers to run the plethora of tournaments, cash games, and satellites at the Rio.

The reduction in rooms could result in long waitlists for players trying to get into cash games around the city. Wait times to get seated in a room on the Las Vegas Strip sometimes approached hours during massive-field WSOP events in past years. With fewer rooms and fewer dealers to service players in 2021, wait times during WSOP events such as The Reunion this weekend could become untenable for some.

Higher limits for casino game players

Many poker players love a good gamble and often take their wagering dollars to the casino floor during breaks in the poker action. While those who enjoy machines offering slots or video poker won’t notice much of a difference this year, those who like to play table games like blackjack and craps may experience sticker shock in 2021.

Due to the casino staffing issues, many venues, especially on the Strip, have raised the table minimums to increase revenue since they don’t have as many dealers to open tables. Casinos that usually offered $5 minimums bumped them up to $10, while many Strip properties aren’t offering limits below $15 or $25. Know that your casino gaming money may not stretch as far this year if you like to blow off steam in the pits.

Masks required in most indoor locations

While authorities have lifted most COVID-19 restrictions, Las Vegas hotels and casinos generally continue to follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on masks. So while those who vaccinate and play at the WSOP don’t have to wear masks at the tables in the Rio convention halls, everyone must mask in most other locations (and WSOP players must mask when away from the tables). That includes inside casino theaters, in gaming locations, and when walking to and from tables at restaurants.

AARP notes that several properties, including MGM Resorts, Main Street Station, and the Cosmopolitan offer COVID-19 tests to tourists in case one begins feeling ill during a visit.

Written by
Johnny Kampis
Johnny Kampis -- the author of "The Essential Guide to Vegas during the World Series of Poker" and "Vegas or Bust: A Family Man Takes on the Poker Pros" -- has been making the summer trek to Las Vegas from Alabama since 2004. When not playing poker, he's a professional journalist who's written for American Spectator, Fox News, HuffPost,, and many others. He currently writes for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance and serves on the FCC's media advisory panel.


john basile wrote...

hi i plan on playing in the wsop 2021 this october .i have been vaccinated have my card is that all i need or is there other measures i need to take.thank you john basile

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