If poker’s so popular, why are Vegas poker rooms closing down all of a sudden?

  • Poker’s popularity remains as strong as ever
  • Yet Vegas casinos continue to close poker rooms
  • Is proliferation of online poker to blame for closures?

Poker is on the up. Everyone knows that. Thanks to multi-million dollar World Series of Poker tournaments and major sports sponsorship deals involving big hitters such as PokerStars, the profile of the game has never been greater.

Indeed, last year “poker” and “poker hands” were two of the most searched for terms in the UK, attracting almost 100,000 searches a month. If the game is in such rude health then, why have two Las Vegas casinos recently shuttered their poker rooms?

Monte Carlo Hard Rock Vegas
Monte Carlo and Hard Rock, two Las Vegas casinos that have kissed goodbye to their poker rooms

Hasta la vista baby

At the start of this year, the Monte Carlo announced that its poker room would witness its last hand in April before closing down.

Street of Dreams also closed around the same time, and then in February it was Hard Rock’s turn to call it a day; the funds in their running jackpot are expected to be depleted in the next week or so, whereupon it’ll be hasta la vista baby.

Admittedly, none of these poker rooms were the largest or most lucrative, and it’s not unheard of for Las Vegas casinos to close, downsize or repurpose gaming rooms. Still, this doesn’t account for why three poker rooms should be placed on ice in such a short space of time. Is it simply a coincidence or are there underlying forces at work?

Is online poker to blame?

The obvious culprit to blame of course is online poker. People might be playing more poker, but they’re choosing to play it on smartphones and tablets rather than in shadowy poker rooms. It’s true that as the world turns digital, bricks and mortar premises are no longer on such a solid foundation.

That being said, if web-based gaming is squeezing out the old guard, you wouldn’t think it to look at the balance sheet of Las Vegas’ casinos, who reported record revenue of over $1 billion in January. Players are still heading to the strip it would appear; they’re simply not necessarily putting their money on the classics, preferring the lure of the slots and imported games such as baccarat.

There is some evidence to support this theory; much of the upswing in gambling revenue in January came courtesy of Asian high rollers, who were more interested in playing their beloved baccarat than poker. Could the closure of the Monte Carlo and Hard Rock’s poker rooms be the tip of the iceberg, signalling a flurry of further closures as online poker strengthens its grip and casino visitors seek more instant gratification?

The casinos will be praying that doomsday scenario doesn’t materialise, but for interested observers, it could be popcorn time, especially once other US states start to legalise gambling, negating the need for Americans to flock to Nevada to get their poker fix.

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