Weekly Poker Update: June 15, 2020

Black Poker Chip With Date Text

This past week witnessed the largest-scale reopening of casinos so far since the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus. As a result, more poker rooms were filled with life than they have been for a long time. But we are far from a return to normalcy in that respect.

First of all, only about two-thirds of worldwide casinos have opened their doors. In the United States, East Coast casinos are still where most of the lockdowns persist. The good news is that major casino states like New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania are slowly beginning to lift their in-state restrictions, with some casinos in those states opening back up and others soon planning to do so.

As for poker, specifically, it was always going to be one of the most problematic casino areas in terms of the logistics of dealing with the post-COVID necessities. Vegas gamblers are starting to find out what they’ll be dealing with if they want to get their typical action, rather than just relying on real money online poker.

The biggest change is that most casinos have restricted the number of players at each table. Whereas it used to be extremely common to find around 10 players going for a single pot, the new norm is four or five per table. This reduces the congestion and conceivably should help keep the necessary social distancing in place.

The problem is that it turns into a numbers game, with far too many ready and willing players for available seats at poker tables. As a result, expect to wait for a while before you get to sit down if you do want to get back into the swing of things at the poker table. Waiting lists are common, some dotted with as many as a hundred names or more.

Beyond that, other expected precautions have been put into place. You’ll see hand sanitizer stations everywhere you turn, along with signage reminding you to wash as often as possible. And you’ll also witness dealers wearing masks and taking more time to make sure their area is spotless, perhaps slowing down play somewhat.

As for the players themselves, requirements such as masks depend upon the jurisdiction. In casinos where patrons aren’t required to wear masks but are strongly advised to do so, early reports claim that the response has been mixed.

The bottom line is that, while players finally have options if they want to get back to the poker rooms, they should be prepared for an experience that’s quite different from what they usually have. Patience is required, and you have to be ready for some inconveniences for the conceivable future. All you can hope is that things keep trending in the right direction going forward, which is far from a certainty with this unpredictable virus.

Big Brands and Online Play

If you had to ask a casual fan what the two biggest brands are in the world of high-stakes poker, chances are most would name the World Poker Tour and the World Series of Poker. These are the entities that have received the most television attention in the poker boom of the past few decades. It’s telling then that both made announcements this past week about noteworthy online extensions of their brands.

In terms of the World Series of Poker, they had previously announced that they would be adding an online element this year. This past week, they detailed the scheduling, with the first events coming up July 1. On top of that, 85 bracelets, the famed prizes for winning an official WSOP event, will be up for grabs in this format.

It’s a great chance for online players to get involved with the ultimate in poker events. The question remains whether the beefed-up online presence is, in part, a way to replace the live experience.

There have still been no official announcements about a date for the live event, which was originally scheduled for May. A postponement was announced in April, which was a no-brainer considering that all other major live events, like sports and concerts, also disappeared from the schedule.

World Poker Tour Table Game

It is fair to wonder then whether the ambitious online schedule is a fallback plan of sorts in case the months pass and holding a massive, in-person event like the WSOP remains untenable. In that respect, we’ll have to remain in stay-tuned mode.

Whether coincidental or not, the World Poker Tour also stepped forward by solidifying their own plans last week for an online series. It’s called the WPT World Online Championships, and it is being done in conjunction with partypoker. Events run from the middle of July until the beginning of September.

The idea is a series of tournaments, including a quintet whose winners will be official to the extent that they’ll be part of the WPT Champions’ Cup. If you can’t afford the hefty buy-in ($3,000 for four of the events and $10,000 for the main event), there will be plenty of satellite events available at partypoker to spread out the love.

The fact that the WSOP and WPT are sort of going head-to-head with these endeavors suggest some hearty competition is in store. And it will be interesting to see if one dwarfs the other in terms of popularity or if it’s more of a standoff.

Regardless of how that turns out, it can only be good news for those professional players (and aspiring amateurs) missing out on their typical action. If you’re one of those folks, chances are you’ll have one or maybe both of these undertakings on your radar.

Wire Act Waiting

For something that was passed 60 years ago as an attempt to curb the mob’s reliance on sports gambling, the Federal Wire Act certainly has been a persistent little bugger. And it faces more scrutiny this week when an appeal is set to be heard in a case that could have major ramifications on online gambling.

Screenshot of an Online Poker Game

For those who don’t know the story, the Wire Act was passed in 1961 and made it unlawful to use wire communications to enable gambling. At the time, there was no internet, of course. And despite the fact that several judgements in the past have upheld the idea that the Act was meant only for sports gambling, it is once again in the news thanks to a hearing coming up on Thursday, June 18th at the First Circuit of Appeals.

The issue is whether a New Hampshire lottery game runs afoul of the law. The Department of Justice, which has switched its opinion on the Wire Act over the years depending on which way the political winds are blowing, is once again trying to use it to clamp down on all interstate online gambling.

If the three-judge court should rule with the DOJ in this matter, the decision could upend all the process that’s been made in recent years in legalizing online gambling, including poker. Both the poker players and the real money online gambling sites running the games would be back to square one in trying to determine if what they’re doing is legal or not.

Nonetheless, the decision that comes from this court isn’t necessarily final. It could move to the U.S. Supreme Court, which would be the next stop, should the Justices agree to hear the case.

On one hand, that prospect is a bit scary for the online gambling (and poker) world, in that a Supreme Court decision would hold a lot more weight than the back-and-forth with the Wire Act of the past decade. But getting a final decision could also remove online poker from this perpetual limbo and finally put it in the clear.