California's Pala Casino closes poker room

Jon Pill
Posted on: November 07, 2020 02:50 PST

Another poker room bites the dust. San Diego's Pala Casino is converting its Poker Room into a new "Asian Gaming Room." The new room will put on various forms of pai gow along with various other table games.

With great optimism, we have seen the COVID lockdown boost online poker’s player count. And we have seen some of those gains fall away.

With equal optimism, we’ve watched as U.S. casinos reopening. One by one they brought poker to the Vegas strip, the AC boardwalk, and to California’s great outdoors. But the virus continued to spread. The Trump administration continued to vacillate between inactivity and incompetence. And slowly it has become clear that normality will not be returning to live poker ay time soon.

The first signs of this were consolidations. Multi-casino groups closed down some of their poker rooms and drove traffic to single sites.

Then the Mirage poker room was converted to slots, a change we found out will now be rendered permanent. And Sheldon Adelson started to make noises like he was looking to full-on sell the Venetian off for parts. Along with the rest of his Nevada properties.

California dreaming

The rot has spread to Cali now. The Pala Resort & Casino has closed its poker room permanently and will be reopening it as The Asian Gaming Room. It will be smoke-free which is nice. But in place of poker, it will be putting on table games. The kind that you're more likely to find spread at the Venetian in Macau rather than the one in Las Vegas.

The Pala is advertising baccarat, face-up pai gow, queens dragon pai gow, and double deck blackjack in the new room. The minimum bet at these tables will be $25 per hand. So, it’ll be a relatively upscale joint.

If you’re looking for a skill game, a double-deck is no poker, but it’s a lot easier to gain an edge by counting cards with two decks than your typical six- to eight-deck game.

The Pala is located just outside San Diego on the Pala Indian Reservation. It is owned by the Pala Band of Mission Indians. And most likely is making the move to cater to the roughly 330k Americans in San Diego who identify as ethnically Asian (about 11% of the city’s total population).

Goodbye to all that

Coley McAvoy, a spokesperson for the Pala, told the Press-Enterprise that the move was largely due to the difficulty of maintaining social distancing at a poker table.

However, it probably has more to do with the fact that poker is not the most cost-effective casino game to spread. The hand per hour is lower than blackjack and the rake is lower than roulette. There’s no fold option for players of craps, and baccarat spreads a higher average bet.

McAvoy does also allow that “we’ve just seen that there was more of a demand for the traditional table games than we saw in the poker product so we felt that it would be a better utilization of that space.”

This increased demand has been driven by the closing of other casinos in California. Degens gotta degen. And they're happy to drive out of the city to get their fix.

Featured image source: Twitter