Should live poker tournaments postpone for the foreseeable future in Las Vegas?

Geoff Fisk
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Posted on: January 4, 2021 9:50 pm EST

First weekend of 2021 draws big numbers for MSPT Venetian as the COVID debate continues

Las Vegas stood at the center of the live poker world, as per usual, in the first three days of the new year. While the heads-up finale of the 2020 WSOP Main Event played out in an eerily empty Rio Convention Center, the Venetian Poker room was the bustling epicenter of the city’s live poker activity this past weekend.

The MSPT Venetian $1,100 Main Event drew 1,009 entries over Jan. 1-3, as the Venetian poker room continues to draw big numbers for its tournament series despite the progression of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The World Poker Tour announced a stop at the Venetian scheduled for later this month, with the WPTDeepStacks series coming to the Strip poker venue Jan. 18 through Feb. 1.

Live tournament poker is alive and well in Las Vegas at the moment, but should the nature of large field live events prompt casinos like the Venetian to halt live events in the short term?

A look at Clark County, Nevada’s COVID-19 numbers

The website provides daily updates on COVID-19 numbers across the U.S. The site looks at COVID statistics across a number of metrics, and assesses overall COVID risk level and recommended actions.

CovidActNow tailors the risk level and recommended actions on a county-by-county basis. The latest update (Jan. 4) shows daily new cases at 68.8 per 100k, an infection rate of 0.96, and a positive test rate of 19.4%.

The website’s guidelines for Clark County, based on those figures, recommend bars and gyms to close completely, restaurants to be limited to 25% capacity, and schools to enable remote learning for students.

What category does live tournament poker fall under in the COVID-19 guidelines?

The CovidActNow guidelines don’t include specific rules for retail casino capacity, but it does recommend that “Gatherings should be avoided with people outside the immediate household.”

High-stakes poker pro Isaac Haxton is one of the most vocal proponents of shutting down live poker in Las Vegas as the COVID-19 pandemic draws on. A series of tweets from Haxton in December called for players to stop traveling to Las Vegas to play poker.

“If you live in Australia or New Zealand or much of Asia, playing live poker is probably fine. If you’re in the Americas or Europe, it’s probably not, but few places are as spectacularly bad as Nevada is right now,” Haxton tweeted on Dec. 14.

He added that while Reno’s COVID numbers are worse than Clark County’s, the Las Vegas poker scene should be avoided right now as well.

“I’m talking about Las Vegas, right now. Nevada has the highest per capita COVID hospitalizations in America, with 1/1700 Nevadans currently hospitalized with COVID,” Haxton wrote.

Should Nevada’s COVID-19 numbers prompt the Venetian and/or the WPT to postpone the upcoming DeepStacks event? The WPT just announced the event on Dec. 30, doing so with COVID-19 considerations in mind.

Neither the tour nor the Venetian is likely to cancel this just-announced event. That puts the impetus on players to decide whether to keep playing large field tournaments in Las Vegas.

Should the possible COVID-related consequences of attending an event that could draw more than 1,000 entries stop players from participating? At this point, approaching the one-year mark of the pandemic, that choice falls on the individual.

With live tournaments all but completely halted over the last 10 months, players can’t be expected to not attend an event like the WPTDeepStacks Venetian.

Featured image source: Twitter