The Las Vegas Poker scene is probably as healthy as it has ever been. Most of this traffic is centered around just a few poker rooms though and this has caused problems in Las Vegas poker rooms that cater to locals or do not otherwise have a niche that sets them apart from large poker rooms. Locals poker rooms and a few poker rooms on or near the Las Vegas Strip have closed due to these market conditions.
The most notable 2012 poker room casualty is the Tropicana poker room. The casino opened a poker room at the end of its renovation on April 15, 2011. This was the same day as online poker’s Black Friday. Tropicana tried to establish its six table poker room as the Las Vegas home for unusual games. This included a Monday night mixed game and the first Las Vegas Razz cash game in years. There was also a Wednesday night 2/5 No Limit Texas Hold’em game with a mandatory button straddle. This game featured house pro Jamie Gold for several months and the poker room was billed as the Jamie Gold Poker Room. Many players were unable to take the room seriously after this marketing agreement. Gold’s name was quietly removed from the room just a few months after he was signed but the damage was already done.
The problem was that Tropicana could not compete with MGM Grand across Tropicana Avenue, even with several player friendly features. These features included new high end tables and chairs as well as a coffee and water bar located in the poker room. A state of the art Cantor Gaming sports book just steps away from the poker room could not draw players either. Many of the tournaments never got off the ground and too often the poker room could not get any cash games at all. Tropicana created a prop program that was unpopular with players due to it being funded through a jackpot drop of up to $3. The poker room was also home to a failed Canadian Poker Tour event that did not help its reputation either. All of these factors caused Tropicana to close its poker room on September 11, 2012.
O’Shea’s was a favorite among locals and tourists alike. There were three cash game tables located just steps off of Las Vegas Boulevard. There was a tournament poker room located towards the back of the casino too. Drink service was exceptional and the games were great at night as players would get loaded and splash chips around. As popular as the poker room was, O’Shea’s closed its entire casino on April 30, 2012 to make room for Caesars Entertainment’s Linq Project. The casino was demolished shortly after that date.
Fitzgeralds closed in January 2012. This closure happened just over a year after the Plaza, another downtown Las Vegas poker room, closed their poker room. Fitzgeralds poker room was located in a back corner on the second floor of the property. It was not a popular poker room and offered promotions to try and draw cash game players to the room. This included a $20 add on to an $80 buyin for players that bought into a 1/2 No Limit Texas Hold’em game after 7pm. The casino rebranded as The D. The second floor has been transformed into a retro casino full of coin operated slot and video poker machines. This includes a Sigma Derby machine, which is a simulated horse racing game popular among nostalgic casino players. This leaves just three poker rooms downtown. Those poker rooms are located in Golden Nugget, Binions and El Cortez.
Aliante Station is a locals casino located in North Las Vegas on the edge of the city’s development. The property was spun off after the Station Casinos bankruptcy. Aliante Station offered nine tables and mostly low limit games including 2/4 Fixed Limit and 1/2 No Limit Texas Hold’em. The area around Aliante Station is mostly undeveloped due to the Las Vegas real estate bust that especially affected North Las Vegas. This made for tough times in the poker room and led to its eventual closure in November 2012.
Ellis Island is located just east of the Las Vegas Strip. The property is best known for its great dining deals. This includes an inexpensive barbecue restaurant and a great off menu steak deal in its diner. Ellis Island tried its luck in the Las Vegas poker scene in July 2012. The poker room lasted only two months before throwing in the towel in September 2012.
Joker’s Wild is a casino located in Henderson. This locals casino closed its four table poker room on October 31, 2012. The poker room specialized in $.50/$1 No Limit Texas Hold’em and low buyin tournaments. The offerings failed to draw a loyal poker player base and was replaced by slot machines.
Silverton is located at Blue Diamond Road and I-15 just south of the Las Vegas Strip. The Silverton poker room specialized in 3/6 Fixed Limit Hold’em and offered the occasional 1/2 no limit game. The main draw of Silverton was its $2 max rake. Silverton closed its poker room on January 31, 2012.
While these seven poker rooms closed in 2012, others closed in 2011. These closures include Tuscany and Gold Coast. It is becoming harder and harder for small poker rooms to make it in the current Las Vegas poker environment. Some casinos that cater to locals can no longer justify using this space for an unprofitable poker room when slot machines require little labor. This is especially true in the Las Vegas locals market that is still suffering even after the worst of the recession is in the city’s past.
The big rooms are unaffected by the decline in small Las Vegas poker rooms. Aria, Bellagio, Wynn, Venetian and Red Rock continue to post impressive traffic numbers. Not all large Las Vegas poker rooms are enjoying a brisk business. Caesars Palace and MGM Grand have struggled in the past year. MGM Grand’s problems are likely caused by its constant relocations during the property’s remodel. Caesars Palace has an oppressive rake structure that keeps it from competing with the big rooms.
It may take regulated online poker in the U.S. to bring back the poker boom of years past that can help to sustain as many small poker rooms as Las Vegas had just a couple of years ago. An economic recovery would not hurt either. In the meantime, it would not be a surprise to see other low volume Las Vegas poker rooms replaced by slot machines in the near future.
All Vegas Poker was used as a source for some dates and historical data in this article.