MISDEAL: Pennsylvania Poker Rooms Staying Closed When Casinos Reopen

Anthony Cicali III May 27, 2020
Poker rooms are to remain closed even when Pennsylvania casinos reopen.

When Pennsylvania casinos reopen, dice will be rolling and slot reels spinning. But poker room operations will not be in the cards.

Last week, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) released a memo with minimum protocols for casinos to reopen. Unfortunately, poker players will be out of luck.

“Poker rooms are not authorized to operate due to players handling cards and chips,” the document notes. “Poker room operations will be re-examined based upon changing CDC and PA DOH [Department of Health] guidance.” 

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Decision receives mixed reaction among poker players

Some states have begun allowing poker in some form. The decision in Pennsylvania received mixed opinions from players.

“Players in close proximity constantly touching the same chips and the same cards just doesn’t seem practical right now,” longtime poker pro and Philadelphia native Matt Glantz says. “I feel strongly the poker rooms around the country reopening right now are making a potentially big mistake.”

Not all are happy with the decision however. Some speculated it might be a while until live poker returns to the Keystone State.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” Philadelphia grinder Joe Palma says. “I was told no poker at Parx until at least January 2021. Meanwhile casinos are opening in Florida with six-handed poker.” 

The PGCB memo doesn’t note a date when casinos can actually reopen in PA. It lays out a series of recommendations for casinos to offer a safe environment. That includes wearing a mask continuously while in the casino.

Casinos will be allowed to open up other table games such as roulette, blackjack, and craps. Standards ban congregating around tables and call for chips to be cleaned on a daily basis and dealers wearing masks. Some players believe poker should be treated like these other games.

“If they are opening up the other table games, poker should open up as well,” says Mario Cerrito of Mantua, New Jersey. “The roulette table and craps tables are just as bad as a poker table if you’re talking close proximity and chips.”

Some states ready to deal in poker

States that have already opened poker rooms have strict measures put in place. Precautions include:

  • use of masks
  • plexiglass dividers
  • limited number of players per table

Some properties have even used hand sanitizer bottles substituted for dealer buttons. The measures make for a unique poker atmosphere.

“Masked play and partitioned play potentially further reduces a lot of the social aspect of the game,” PA resident Ben Coren says. “It also cuts down many visual cues that some players see as the only advantage to live play over online.”

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Online poker booms with PA rooms shut down

It’s not all bad news for PA card players however. With the closing of live poker rooms, online poker in PA is booming.

Revenue records having been smashed over the last few months for online regulated casinos. That includes online poker and PokerStars PA remains the only operator in the state.

Some players have transitioned to playing poker online more while poker rooms remain closed. 

“I’ve been playing more online then usual,” 2017 WSOP Main Event champion Scott Blumstein says. “I consider myself more of a live player so I’ve had to make the adjustment.”

Since PA casinos have closed their doors, live gaming revenue is down 84% year over year in PA . Estimates put lost revenue to the state at $238 million since the pandemic began. 

No timeline for live poker’s return

Currently there is no exact timeline set for reopening of Pennsylvania casinos. The state is using a red, yellow, green system for counties to reopen. Gov. Tom Wolf has said casinos can open once a county reaches green. 

But with many of the state’s casinos in more populated areas, reopening soon may be unlikely.

“A casino can reopen at 50% occupancy when its respective county reaches the green phase,” the Allentown Morning Call notes. “None of the 17 counties moving to green May 29 has a casino.”

Some players are trying to stay positive and focus on staying safe even if it means no poker. Rivers Philadelphia casino regular Christopher Larrrea agrees with the governor in regards to casinos and poker rooms.

“I think it’s the right thing to do,” he says. “Yes it hurts the grinders like myself but the bigger picture is keeping everyone safe.”

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