Social-gathering protocols connected to the ongoing Covid-19 novel coronavirus pandemic have begun to ease across much of the United States, but it’s clear that live poker as we know it will face a new an ongoing challenge in presenting games that can be played amid ongoing restrictions on how poker players can congregate.
Nowhere will the new reality have a greater immediate effect than in Nevad, where those poker rooms and series that have been shuttered likely won’t be able to restart business as usual. With Nevada Gaming Commission (NGC) regulations limiting the number of people at a given table to four, both full-sized ring games and tourneys and even six-max offerings have no realistic way to run. By and large, four-handed poker is a crummy game, so despite some casinos’ plans to give it a try, poker’s not going to draw in the players any time soon.
All planned poker series remain postponed indefinitely, even at casinos such as Wynn and the Venetian, which have announced preliminary plans for opening their casinos in June. And as for something like the World Series of Poker (WSOP), which at last check was postponed to some unspecified date in the fall, that’s looking rather less likely.
Theoretically, a WSOP consisting of nothing but online events and a few heads-up live events could run, but realistically, no way. So the wait continues.
Outside Nevada, the wait continues as well, though some facilities that feature little besides poker are experimenting with ways to offer live games. One photo that’s been making the rounds comes from The House Club Poker Room & Lounge in Edinburg, Texas. This is one of the semi-private poker clubs that have begun popping up throughout Texas, and this is in far southern Texas, near Allen.
The House Club Poker Room hasn’t reopened, but when they do, they’re likely going to try it with a partitioned table, like this:
The room has uploaded a video showing the table from all angles. It’s available on Facebook here.
Over in Florida, near Miami, the Hialeah Park poker room has put together a table with similar plexiglass panels. Florida appears set to allow out to four players per table only, so, according to Andy Slater on Twitter (@AndySlater), Hialeah has put together this monstrosity:
As solutions go, these seem doomed. First, they’re likely to be ineffective at what they’re designed to do, which is to stop the spread of the virus. A virus can spread via airborne transmission or by direct contact with an infected surface, among other ways, and these solutions prevent neither. The plexiglass panels might protect against forced virus projection — sneezes, coughs and such — but virii are very, very tiny, and they float on air breezes. That means they’ll go over, under and around those partitions, with exposure more related to time of exposure than anything else.
And as for contaminated cards and chips, the barriers offer no physical protection at all. You’d be handling the same cards and chips as everyone else at the table; unless you’re wearing gloves (and somehow remember to never touch your face), or constantly using disinfectant gel, you’re still sharing germs with the rest of the tabel.
Over the top, though, is that most live poker players want no part of these “solutions”, even if these rooms deserve some praise for trying to find ways to safely operate. Live poker in particular is supposed to be a social form of warfare, and these tables strip much of the sociability out of the equation. Responses from players in social-media threads where photos of these tables have appeared have been highly negative. The response of perhaps 80% to 90% of players has been, collectively, “No way in hell.”
Who knew that the electronic tables poker players that most players have previously rejected might have offered at least a partial solution to the current situation? But it’s too late to go down that road quickly.
And that means it’ll be a long road to recovery for live poker in the US, even as play online has surged. Cash games will struggle and run only in very limited form… except for underground games. I’m also pessimistic that major series such as the WSOP will be able to run at all for the remainder of the 2020 calendar year, yet only time will tell.