Global health pandemic paused live poker in the U.S. one year ago

live poker coronavirus
Jon Sofen
Posted on: March 18, 2021 11:23 PDT

At this time last year, for the first time ever, nearly the entire live poker scene went on a lengthy break due to COVID-19. And no one knew just how long poker rooms would be closed.

Initially, most anticipated two, maybe three weeks would pass and then we'd all be back at the casino playing cards. The virus was new and even the top health experts were unsure how it would progress.

One year later and, although many card rooms around the U.S. are open, the virus is still widespread, albeit the pace is slowing down.

In early March, poker rooms around the country began to slowly close down. Some were quicker than others in Atlantic City, South Florida, Las Vegas, and other places. In Las Vegas, the poker capital of the world, the poker rooms closed down one by one. Some stayed open right up until the very end when Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak forced all non-essential businesses to close statewide. Others saw the writing on the wall and shut down days prior.

Poker players often use the Bravo app to find out what games are running at nearby casinos. By March 20, 2020, there wasn't a single poker game showing on the Bravo app in the U.S. It was quite a strange moment for the poker industry. Never before had the live poker scene in the country gone completely silent.

With live poker out of the way for a bit, poker players turned to online poker. Many signed up for poker sites such as Americas Cardroom, a U.S.-facing site. Others joined private home games on the PokerStars app to pass the time.

Online poker saw its popularity spike for the first time since Black Friday in 2011. With millions of Americans out of work and no casinos offering poker games, everyone turned to the internet to get some action. The games were juicy both on ACR and in those private home games played on a play money app (players transferred money to each other via PayPal, Venmo, and other means).

Getting back to work

In late April, a few card rooms began to reopen. The state of Florida, which never really seemed to take the coronavirus seriously, permitted casinos to reopen in April. A few poker rooms returned to action — the start of a slow but steady nationwide reopening process.

In Las Vegas, Governor Sisolak gave the casinos the green light to reopen on June 4. Only about one-third of all casinos in town opened that weekend, and just four poker rooms — The Orleans, South Point, Golden Nugget, and Venetian — immediately returned to action, leaving 27 other card rooms still closed.

But despite the continued spread of COVID-19, Las Vegas casinos began to steadily reopen. At present, nearly every major casino is back in business and 19 of the 31 poker rooms have reopened. In the Reno/Tahoe area, about 460 miles north of Las Vegas, many card rooms still remain closed, but popular rooms Peppermill and Atlantis are open.

Southern California's poker rooms have opened and closed three times since COVID-19. All Los Angeles area rooms are now open but operating outdoors due to city health guidelines. In Florida, another poker hotbed, the games returned months ago and the state has seen numerous big tournaments including the WPT Lucky Hearts Poker Open in January, which brought in 1,573 players to the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood.

Live poker is back in every state, but some rooms still remain closed. Over the past year, hundreds of thousands of poker dealers, poker room managers, and other industry employees have gone without work due to COVID-19 closures. And many pros have been forced to adapt to survive. But it's been a difficult year for the poker community, and tough times are still ahead — the virus isn't going away any time soon.

Featured image source: Twitter