Gambling Today: Will Live Poker in Vegas Even be Worth Playing?

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Governor Steve Sisolak announced Thursday that the Vegas economy is “reopening and will enter Phase 1 on Saturday, May 9, ahead of the previous Stay at Home directive for May 15.” The biggest hit from the new Las Vegas strict guidelines will easily be to the live poker room industry, where it was determined that no room will be allowed to spread games at tables in excess of four players. Beating the rake (casino takeout per hand) is hard enough 10-handed, it’s hard to believe players will sit down at any table four-handed with the blinds coming around in a blink of an eye.

The Venetian Poker room attempted to actually play three-handed just before the shutdown:

It’s often common for players to ask for and receive a reduced rake when live cash games become short-handed, so it remains to be seen how casinos will handle the drop when casinos reopen and if poker games will resume under these directives. Poker rooms may not wish to run every table on reduced rake if they feel it isn't cost-effective. Players, however, would most likely refuse to play with a potential that the rake would make it even harder to win money in any given cash game session.

The effect these rules will have on poker tournaments will also be a major concern going forward. As all fans of poker players are already painfully aware, the World Series of Poker, normally set to begin later this month at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, was originally postponed with a targeted return for this fall. However, that possibility seems highly unlikely with news of four-handed live cash games in addition to tournaments being banned for the foreseeable future.

Back on April 20, Ty Stewart, the executive director of the World Series of Poker stated: "we are committed to running the World Series of Poker this year but need additional time to proceed on our traditional scale while prioritizing guest and staff well-being." However, that seems to be impossible with the latest guidelines by the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

Since 1970, the World Series of Poker has awarded more than $3.29 billion in prize money. The event attracted 187,298 entrants from 118 different countries to the Rio last year and awarded more than $293 million in prize money.

In an attempt to keep their business afloat during the pandemic, WSOP executives have indicated that a number of events would be played online in the United States through WSOP.com.

“In the interim, official WSOP competitions are expected to be played online this summer, and we will soon announce details of an expanded series of tournaments to be played on WSOP.com and through partnership with international operators, which will allow players to chase WSOP glory from their homes.”

However, this does not seem to be a financially feasible approach for either the WSOP or the World Poker Tour unless there are changes at the federal level, as currently only four states allow legal online poker: New Jersey, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Delaware. This issue may spur some sort of new legislation that would allow a return to the glory days of online poker since the infamous day poker players often refer to as “Black Friday.” Black Friday is a term given to the events of April 15, 2011, when the United States Department of Justice issued an indictment against the three largest online poker websites in the country: PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker.

With the new reality of table-games gambling being immensely restricted on casino floors it’s impossible to see how officials will allow massive groups of people gathering for high-scale poker tournaments. Hundreds of tables crammed into a single area represents one of the most dangerous possible scenarios officials are looking to prevent.

Tourists aren’t just canceling their WSOP trip for fiscal reasons, as many are concerned that simply exchanging dirty poker chips could put their lives at risk. Travelers need to be convinced that Las Vegas is a safe destination before tourism returns. However, just how attractive will live poker in Las Vegas, even for locals, be with these seemingly over-the-top four-handed limitations as well as the ban of all tournaments?