What to expect from Las Vegas poker in 2021

Jon Sofen
Published by:
Posted on 12/26/2020

Las Vegas has long been the poker capital of the world. In 2020, however, due to the global health pandemic, the poker scene took a bit of a hit. What’s the forecast for poker in Sin City heading into the new year? The short answer is, better times are ahead. But the long answer is a bit more complicated.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way so we can focus on the positives. I’ve lived in Las Vegas since 2012 and have played in just about every poker room in town many times. Unfortunately, numerous card rooms around were unable to withstand the bad beat that was COVID-19.

Prior to the coronavirus striking in March, 31 poker rooms were open in Las Vegas. That number is now down to 19, still the most out of any city in the country (by a wide margin). But there’s very little chance many of the poker rooms that haven’t yet reopened will eventually do so.

Mirage and Harrah’s, for example, have already replaced their poker rooms with smoke-free slot areas. And none of the 12 casinos that haven’t reopened have announced plans to do so. So, even when the coronavirus cases begin to decline and tourism in Las Vegas improves, you shouldn’t expect many additional card rooms to reopen.

Now let’s get to the good stuff

If you’re tired of playing poker with a face mask on, sitting in front of those annoying plexiglass dividers, and having a lack of tournaments to play, help is on the way in the form of a vaccine.

COVID-19 cases continue to spike at an alarming rate in Nevada and nationwide. Until the virus is under control and is no longer a grave threat to Americans, live poker in Las Vegas will continue operating as it has been since the casinos reopened in June.

As soon as the recently approved vaccine begins to hit the masses, live poker in Vegas should go back to normal, minus some of its card rooms, fairly quickly. That’s the good news. But this is all dependent on a large portion of Americans willingly taking the shot.

According to a recent USA Today survey, 42% of Americans said they will take the vaccine right away once it becomes available, and another 36% said they’ll wait for others to take it before doing so. So, that means we could be just months away from a majority of Americans getting vaccinated.

Within a few months after the vaccine has hit the masses, it’s likely the casinos will allow players to remove face masks and for poker rooms to fill up without capacity restrictions.

What about major and daily tournaments?

Las Vegas isn’t just the cash game capital of the world. The Southern Nevada desert town is also the premiere spot for major tournaments and poker events such as the World Series of Poker, high roller events, and some World Poker Tour events. On top of that, no city offers more daily low-stakes tournaments for the regular grinders and tourists.

Since mid-March, however, the major live tournament scene has been non-existent. The 2020 WSOP in Las Vegas was canceled for the first time in 51 years. And the current list of daily low-stakes tournaments is only a fraction of what you’d normally find in Sin City.

As we head into the new year with a vaccine on the horizon, you should expect to see the tournament scene slowly but surely growing. The biggest annual poker event in the world — the WSOP — begins in late May each year. As of now, it’s a toss-up on if the series can run by that time. There’s a decent chance the WSOP will be bumped back a month or two to later in the summer or early in the fall.

That all depends on when the COVID-19 cases in Nevada begin to significantly decline, which is dependent upon a large chunk of Americans getting the vaccine. So, you may be best suited to take the shot and encourage everyone you know to follow suit. That’s the only way the Las Vegas poker scene will get back to its old ways. And the only shot of having a live 2021 World Series of Poker.

Featured image source: Twitter