With live poker reopening, one of MGM’s major poker properties is taking a lead in the efforts for the game’s return. The Bellagio became the second Las Vegas Strip property to reopen its poker room last week.
The casino joins the Venetian and Caesars Palace, which opened the same day as Bellagio on June 18. Players will find six-handed poker with plexiglass partitions between players in a more spacious table and room environment.
On June 20, USPoker spoke with Bellagio director of poker room operations Mike Williams on site. The property is making an effort to return to normal as much as possible.
Live poker post-pandemic
After months of casino closings, poker room managers are moving to get players back to the tables. State guidelines call for five-handed play at poker rooms without dividers or plexiglass partitions.
However, the Nevada Gaming Control Board approved Bellagio’s request for six-handed poker games with partitions.
Upon entering the poker room, guests are greeted by service staff at an open and spacious entryway. Players are seated by staff when a table has an opening, often with no wait depending on game and time.
There is a waiting list screen mounted to the wooden wall structure outside the poker room entryway. Players can also get poker room and game updates on the Bravo Poker app.
The poker room now has 23 poker tables, down from 37, and is open for play 24 hours a day. On Saturday, the spacious room had 16 tables running with more than half spreading $1-3 and $2-5 No-Limit Hold’em.
The Bellagio is one of the few Vegas rooms regularly offering more high-limit games. There were also $5-10, $10-20, and $20-40 No Limit Hold’em games and a $1-2 Pot Limit Omaha (PLO). Staff also offered a waiting list for high-limit mixed games.
Players returning to a safe environment
Williams noted a number of regular players have returned. The property has numerous cleanliness protocols in place. Dealers are wearing masks and sanitizing the playing area and seats for new players.
“The feedback has been very positive from the players and guests,” Williams said. “The poker room is swapping playing cards every four hours. The cards and poker chips are disinfected by the property on schedule.”
The plexiglass partitions provide better health and safety measures while meeting social and physical distancing guidelines.
One Bellagio guest said the clear dividers are “less intrusive and preferred” over no partition.
On June 24, the state added a mandate for players to wear masks. The previous rule called for masks if there are no plexiglass partitions. Nearly half the players at Bellagio wore masks on Saturday before the new rule.
New perks welcome Bellagio players
Expensive parking fees have long been a complaint of casino players. Williams noted guests will now find free self parking and free cocktail service. However, no food or non-playing poker guests are allowed in the poker room per safety guidelines.
Williams previously worked as poker room manager at Aria, another MGM property on the Las Vegas Strip. Aria hasn’t announced a reopening date yet.
While at Aria, Williams noted the growing interest in PLO and plans to offer more games at Bellagio.
“It’s better when a poker room can expand and have more games,” he said. “We want to grow the $1-2 PLO game at Bellagio.”
TV screens remain mounted throughout the Bellagio poker room. Sports bettors are in luck with one of Las Vegas premier sportsbooks adjacent to the facility.
Checking out the day’s sports action, horse racing, and odds screens is simple. Wagering windows are available and bettors can also use the BetMGM app while playing poker.
The sports bar lounge is right outside the poker room and was also active on Belmont Stakes day, but with fewer masks noted. Guests enjoyed cocktails and some spacious interaction.
Live poker’s return comes after major online growth
While online poker has seen substantial growth during the COVID-19 crisis, it’s encouraging to see live poker return. Poker is the ultimate social game, and while tournaments are not yet in play at Bellagio, patience is the protocol just as it is when playing poker.
The same goes for those hoping for the return of a live World Series of Poker at the Rio. That property is currently closed and the live WSOP is delayed until fall.
Buy-ins range from $400 to $3,200 and players can qualify for events in multiple daily online satellites. On July 19, the series expands for international players on GGPoker.
Live poker may not have returned completely, but the WSOP Online adds even more buzz to the industry as a whole.