A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece (“Too Big A Gamble“) about what it would take to get Las Vegas casinos open.
The Nevada Gaming Commission has recently come out with a new set of rules that would require venues to only allow 50% of their maximum occupancies, which I don’t think will be a problem, as tourists aren’t going to be flocking there in large numbers for many months to come. There would have to be more room between slot machines and, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal:
Social distancing will be required in all table games. Limits will include three players per blackjack table, six players per craps table, four players per roulette table and four players per poker table.
Most poker rooms in Vegas used to seat nine players at a table, while the ones here in St. Louis squeezed in ten. I don’t mind playing short-handed on occasion, but with so few people in the game, the blinds are going to come around a lot faster, a factor that will dissuade participation even more. Worse, it’s likely that three out of four of those seats will be occupied by the many young guys (and a few women) who have moved to Vegas over the last several years to play poker “professionally.” I put that in quotes, because there’s a difference between a “professional” poker player and a “successful” poker player.
If you’re wondering how those “pros” support themselves during this period when the casino poker rooms are closed, remember that online poker is legal in Nevada — but they’re still mostly playing against other young guns, because the state hasn’t been full of tourists who could log on and lose to them. On the other hand, strip clubs like Spearmint Rhino have also been closed, so perhaps the guys have been able to hold onto their bankrolls (among other things).
Back to poker. John Mehaffey wrote a piece for Vegas Advantage with educated guesses on which casinos in that town might reopen their poker rooms, and I think he’s right. Moreover, there are going to be a lot of casinos all over the country that won’t even have poker rooms when this is all over. Or if they do, there will be a lot less square footage assigned to the game, for several reasons.
In the first place, poker has never been as big a moneymaker as blackjack, baccarat, craps, roulette, and (especially) slots. If the tables and chairs were removed and replaced with slot machines, the bottom line would go up, not down — even with the machines socially distanced — and the overhead would be a lot less, because there would be no need for dealers and supervisors. I’m not promoting this idea, just being realistic.
Secondly, poker has been on a downswing for the last few years. In St. Louis, which was a hotbed of both Texas Hold’em and Pot Limit Omaha for more than two decades, only the very smallest stakes games were regularly running by the beginning of this year. Enthusiasm for the game dwindled (as did the pool of potential participants) as bad players lost money and interest, and never came back. Rooms that used to fill a dozen tables on weeknights and double that on weekends were practically empty quite often. There were occasional bumps in attendance when a big tournament series (Heartland Poker Tour, World Series Of Poker Circuit) came through, but after their ten-day runs, it was back to the sadly low numbers.
Thirdly, it will be a long time before a lot of us (poker players and others) are interested in sitting in close proximity to other humans for extended periods in any venue. Of course, there will be some, including the pinheads who are already champing at the bit to break the social distancing guidelines.
But they’ll be dead soon, so don’t bother reserving seats at the few remaining tables for them.