The US live poker scene is slowly returning to normal. As Americans continue getting vaccinated and COVID-19 cases and deaths decline, the casino industry is seeing major changes.
That includes the poker world as more players head back to the tables. This is welcome news to players across the country as they get back to the betting, bluffing, and riffling chips.
Ready for poker action
COVID-19 certainly put a major damper on the live poker scene since last mark. Many rooms were closed for months with some not returning at all.
Major tours like the World Series of Poker (WSOP) and World Poker Tour (WPT) cancelled numerous events and have only recently returned.
The WSOP shifted the annual summer series to the fall this year. The WPT only recently began running live events and is currently finishing TV final tables from last year.
Online poker sites around the world saw surges during the pandemic. That includes the US market, which has seen historical highs since March 2020.
Poker rooms across the country have now begun removing Plexiglass and some have even made masks optional. The Nevada Gaming Control Board recently approved several casinos to operate at 100% capacity.
The Wynn was one of the first to remove Plexiglass dividers and move to full capacity. With the WSOP moved to the fall, the property recently announced a new tournament series to fill some of that void.
The $10,000 “Wynn Millions” tournament runs June 25 to July 2 with a $10 million guarantee. The event becomes the pinnacle of the annual Wynn Summer Classic poker series, which runs May 27 to July 12.
The Wynn Millions is expected to utilize 90 poker tables, the largest poker tournament ever hosted by Wynn Las Vegas. This kind of event was unthinkable for many in the industry only a few months ago.
More casinos 86 the Plexiglass
Other properties have followed Wynn’s lead in recent days. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, casinos with poker rooms now without Plexiglass include:
- Caesars properties (Bally’s, Caesars Palace, Flamingo and Planet Hollywood Resort)
- MGM Resorts properties (Aria, Bellagio and MGM Grand)
- Station Casinos properties (Boulder Station, Red Rock Resort and Santa Fe Station)
- Orleans (Boyd Gaming)
These properties are also operating at full capacity, but some rooms are keeping eight-handed play as of now. Masks are optional for fully vaccinated players at some properties, including the Orleans.
Aria director of poker operations Sean McCormack seemed pleased to see things return to normal.
“Driver roll up the partition please”
“Poker room pull the partitions down”
— Sean McCormack (@ThePokerBoss) May 13, 2021
Reviving an industry
Beyond the player aspect of the return to normalcy, the moves also impact businesses and employees. Some dealers have struggled in recent months finding work. Poker’s revival means more positions to fill.
Bellagio director of poker operations Mike Williams has even reached out to prospective dealers at the property.
According to the American Gaming Association, the gaming industry has rebounded from the pandemic. In the first quarter, the industry produced revenue of more than $11 billion.
That’s a 21% increase from the fourth quarter of 2020 – a good sign for the industry and for poker.
While poker has been available for the last several months, many weren’t interested in playing behind Plexiglass. Poker is a friendly, social game and some saw the dividers as inhibiting.
That appears to be changing. Reports from Aria indicate players generally seem happy with the return to a Plexiglass-free environment.
Vegas feels like back to normal again. From what I saw, about 30% of people are still wearing masks and 90% of the plexiglass is gone. Walked by a few poker rooms as well and most people were not wearing masks. Restaurants are all at 80% capacity & no more big lines. #VisitVegas
— Eric Mizrachi (@EricMizrachi) May 16, 2021
Jerry Carl played in a tournament on Sunday night at the Hollywood Casino in Perryville, Maryland. The 32-year-old business owner from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was glad to be back at the tables without glass or masks.
“It felt better,” he said. “It was like I could read my opponent better and was just better overall with the game play of being able to talk to people and see the cards and players’ chips.”