With the news that Planet Hollywood will shutter its once-bustling poker room in July of 2021, the Las Vegas landscape continues to shift. Since 2012, 38 poker rooms in Sin City have closed their doors for good, including once popular Texas Hold’em hotspots as the Palms and the Plaza.
It’s been nearly two decades since the famed “Poker Boom,” sparked by Chris Moneymaker’s $2.5 win in the WSOP Main Event as a rank amateur. But the end of the boom days doesn’t explain why Las Vegas’ poker room inventory has slipped to just 20 in operation.
Read on to learn about the five major reasons why poker rooms in the world’s gambling capital are on the decline.
1 – The Games Are Getting Tougher and Casual Players Aren’t Showing Up
If you look back on the boom era, poker’s explosive growth was fueled almost entirely by the so-called “Moneymaker Effect.”
Back then—as the man himself proved so memorably on the game’s greatest stage—accountants who just learned the game could beat professional players in any given tournament. And having watched Moneymaker go toe-to-toe with feared pros and former world champs, eliminating legends like Johnny Chan and Phil Ivey in the process, an entire generation of aspiring Moneymakers was born.
Thus, they donned their hoodies and headphones, headed out to Las Vegas or a local casino, and tried their best to tackle the intricacies of No Limit Texas Hold’em. And sure enough, a few of these former recreational players managed to master the game, rising through the ranks while winning millions of dollars and travelling the world.
That was then though, and this is now…
In 2021, the advent of algorithms designed to “solve” poker games has tilted the playing field like never before. By using a solver, the best players today can run through every conceivable scenario involving cards, table position, chip stacks, and previous action to determine the most mathematically optimal play. Think of it like blackjack, only with a table full of “Rain Man” like card counters who always played perfectly.
Unless you have both access to these solvers and the mental capabilities to play like a computer, you simply don’t have a chance to prevail as an underdog like Moneymaker once did.
Sure, you might win a tournament or two here and there, or leave a cash game with a rack full of chips on occasion. This is still a game of chance, after all, so casual players can get lucky when the cards align just right.
Over the long term, however, even former top pros have quit poker altogether as their skills have been overcome by solvers.
When guys and gals who used to hoist championship trophies realize the games are too tough to beat these days, what should mere mortals like you and I do in response?
Well, what we’re doing is avoiding the poker room in favor of casino games which offer a better chance to find enjoyment, entertainment, and potential profits.
2 – Online Poker Sites Offer a Practical Alternative to the Brick and Mortar Scene
When the pandemic forced every poker room in America to shut down last year, regular players flocked to real money online poker sites to get their fix of flops, flushes, and folds.
As it turns out, many of those players have simply stuck around on the online felt instead of returning to physical poker rooms. And that makes perfect sense too, as the online game offers a ton of tangible benefits for players to consider.
Additionally, visiting a poker room at a brick and mortar casino entails a slew of necessary expenses along the way. You’ll need to tip the chip runner who carries your stack to the table, along with the dealer after winning a cash game hand. Cocktails might be free, but the servers also get a buck or two for hustling your drinks over.
Add it all up, and live game players can easily spend $50 on tips alone during the course of an average session.
While you play online though, tipping is rendered obsolete. Same goes for slow players, rude dealers, and all of the other crude characters who tend to frequent physical poker rooms.
3 – Poker Rooms Are Loss Leaders for Casinos Already Suffering From 2020’s Closures
In the gambling industry, money talks. When a new table game idea underperforms, or a slot machine feature fails, casino managers show no mercy in pulling the failed product from the floor.
Well, believe it or not, but poker rooms are one of the only areas in a casino where the house isn’t printing money. In fact, all but the top poker rooms in town consistently lose money for the casino in terms of operations alone.
Just imagine the overhead costs which come with furnishing a Las Vegas-style poker room. Chip runners, dealers, floor staff, and servers all receive a salary for their labor. Regular upkeep of the table requires cleaning and replacement, as do the chips and cards used on a daily basis.
The house does take its rake, both from tournament entries and cash game pots, but these rebates aren’t nearly enough to make a poker room profitable.
Nonetheless, when the boom days were in full swing, every casino in town was more than happy to lose money operating an onsite poker room. That’s because casual poker players are also casual gamblers, and casual gamblers who win big at Hold’em are highly likely to lose big playing roulette, baccarat, and craps.
While casinos could afford to use poker rooms as a loss leader back then, that just isn’t the case in 2021. The industry was given a major gut punch when health concerns forced widespread closures, so money management is more important than it’s ever been for casinos.
Knowing that they need to tighten their proverbial belts to survive, casinos today are looking to cut costs across the board. And when that’s the case, closing down an underperforming poker room and replacing it with a new bank of slot machines simply makes a ton of financial sense.
4 – The Industry Has Always Been Dominated by a Select Group of Elite Rooms
When you review the long list of poker rooms which have gone the way of the dodo since 2012, few of them will ring any bells for all but the diehard regulars.
More importantly, the games were of such small stature that no serious player would show their face there.
No, the real poker players in Las Vegas do their work at casinos like the Bellagio, Venetian, Wynn, and Aria. Home to four of the largest and most luxurious poker rooms on the planet, these venues specialize in offering world-class tournaments, dozens and dozens of tables, and highly trained and attentive staff members.
Consolidation within any industry is a natural process, so it’s no surprise to see the biggest and best poker rooms crowd out their inferior competitors.
5 – Poker Is Viewed as a Fad Which Has Seen Its Time in the Spotlight End
It wasn’t all that long ago that celebrities like Paris Hilton and Matt Damon used the poker table as publicity machines.
All they had to do was pony up a buy-in at the WSOP, rub elbows with poker legends, and hopefully run up a nice stack along the way. Win or lose though, these stars took full advantage of the ongoing poker boom to expand their brand in the public eye.
If a casino can’t rely on tourists off the street to show an interest in a game, that game immediately has a short shelf life. Sure enough, once the casual players stopped thinking of poker as the height of cool, the casinos pulled the plug and looked for the next big thing.
I grew up playing poker, and went “all in” during the boom days trying to go pro. So, writing this postmortem on Las Vegas rooms has been sad to say the least. Even so, everybody who plays the game seriously knew the ride would end at some point, and what a wild ride it was.
Watching the poker industry in Sin City and beyond revert to its pre-boom status isn’t fun, but it’s not exactly surprising either. Maybe one day a new Moneymaker figure will emerge to spark Boom II. But until that miracle occurs, expect to see more poker rooms die off down the road.