When did the Venetian become the center of the live poker universe?

Geoff Fisk
Published by:
Posted on 01/10/2021

Despite Sheldon Adelson’s anti-online poker stance, players turn out in droves for the Venetian’s live tournaments

The Venetian poker room now stands as the epicenter of live poker activity in the U.S. The 32-table venue competes with any top-tier Las Vegas poker room in terms of capacity and aesthetics, and has operated with an aggressive strategy to keep live poker afloat on the Strip in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite these attributes, however, the Venetian has long been a pariah in the Las Vegas poker scene in the eyes of some players. Venetian owner Sheldon Adelson represents one of the biggest and most influential advocates against online poker in the U.S., using his enormous wealth and political clout in efforts to thwart the expansion of regulated online poker,

Adelson’s ownership of the Venetian alone prompts a portion of live poker regulars to not play there, with those players choosing to give their business to other Las Vegas poker rooms.

The Venetian poker room boycott hit peak levels in October 2019, when the venue offered one of the most unpopular formats ever conceived for a highly-advertised poker tournament.

The venue’s Lucky Shot Poker Series attempted a format rarely if ever seen on the modern-day poker circuit. The $250 buy-in tournament offered a $150,000 total prize pool, with the house not taking any rake until the $150,000 guarantee was met.

After that, however, the house took 100% of all further entry fees as rake. The poker community widely bashed this Avant-Garde approach toward tournament poker from the Venetian, which potentially could have resulted in players paying upwards of 50% in rake.

The tournament structure ended up backfiring on the Venetian, as the tournament eventually ran with around a $27,000 overlay. The Venetian hasn’t tried anything like that since, but the attempt only further solidified the poker room’s negative image for some players.

The Venetian emerges as live poker’s center stage in 2020

The events of 2020 left live tournament players without much to choose from, as the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered virtually every poker tour in the U.S.

The Venetian came forth as one of the only poker rooms offering large field live tournaments in the pandemic era. The in-house DeepStack Showdown ran throughout September and October, with some events drawing upwards of 1,000 entries throughout both series.

MSPT Venetian flourishes, Bally's Main Event Mania fizzles
The Venetian and the MSPT have teamed up for several successful events in the COVID-19 era. Image source: Twitter

The long-running Mid States Poker Tour Venetian series returned to Las Vegas in November, with Main Events on back-to-back weekends just before the Thanksgiving holiday. Both the $1,100 Main Event (1,123 entries, $1,089,310 prize pool) and $1,600 Main Event (1,239 entries, $1,771,770 prize pool) ended up as major successes for the Venetian.

Is the lack of other live tournament options pushing the success of the Venetian? For much of 2020, not much else in the way of major tournaments has been available in Las Vegas.

The latest edition of the MSPT Venetian Main Event ran Jan. 1-3, drawing 1,009 players for the $1,100 buy-in tournament. Bally’s Main Event Mania ran a $1,500 event that competed with the Venetian on those same dates.

In a fascinating turn of events, the Bally’s tournament came up woefully short of competing with the MSPT Venetian tournament. The Bally’s Main Event drew only 57 entries, overwhelmingly choosing to play at the Venetian.

Does the final tally of the Venetian-Bally’s competition indicate that the Venetian’s reputation is repaired? It certainly seems like it, at least for now.

Poker players hope for more live tournament options to open up in 2021. Based on 2020, the Venetian poker room will likely remain as poker’s biggest live tournament hub, even as more tournaments are offered around Las Vegas.

Featured image source: Flickr/World Poker Tour