While things are slowly returning to a more normal state of affairs, regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and its massive effect on live-poker events around the globe, it’ll be some time yet before the poker world returns to as it was pre-pandemic. Case in point: Las Vegas, Nevada, where it’ll be a busy summer, but perhaps one not quite as busy as in 2019 and earlier.
The reason the Las Vegas scene will be a bit different is the decision by the Caesars-owned World Series of Poker (WSOP) to move its seven-week series from its normal end-of-May to mid-July dates. Instead, the 2021 WSOP will begin in late September and run into November.
The WSOP, of course, is the traditional magnet around which the entire busy summer of Las Vegas’s poker events has long revolved. Numerous Vegas properties’ poker rooms have always enjoyed what began as the WSOP overflow. Rival series at other properties were first launched, then prospered, and the late spring and early summer brings a bump in cash-game traffic as well.
The WSOP’s hands were forced a bit in that the series is still held at the Rio for at least 2021. The Rio was sold off and is no longer a Caesars property, meaning the WSOP would’ve had to comment to a pricey rental agreement while not being sure whether strict pandemic protocols would be in place. An entire WSOP series being played with , for example, plexiglass dividers and a maximum of four or five players per table would have been fruitless. So pushing the live WSOP down the road became the only viable option, and besides, there’ll be a summer 2021 WSOP Online series, just as there was in 2020.
Other Las Vegas poker-offering casinos were able to wait much longer, and as a result they’ll be offering summer series, whether the WSOP runs or not. The Venetian, for example, had already relaunched its DeepStack Extravaganza series in March, and the next rendition of that series is already set for its own normal late-May-to-July dates, usually opposite the WSOP.
Then there’s the Wynn, which announced its Wynn Summer Classic Series just a few weeks ago, with a “Wynn Millions” main event and a $10 million tournament guarantee as its keystone. There’s no doubt that for this year, at least, the focal point of Las Vegas poker action will be the Venetian-Wynn hub on the east side of the Strip. The two properties are connected by walkway (hint to visitors: park at the Wynn), and it’ll be a busy poker scene for weeks.
Other properties are expected to offer summer series as usual, including South Point, the Orleans, and the Golden Nugget. It’ll be almost like normal… but not quite.
One thing worth monitoring is not the general attendance, but the makeup of the players by nationality. The WSOP in particular among summer Vegas events has become a global draw, but even as the US relaxes its COVID restrictions, other countries have not necessarily followed. For example, an Australian poker player could freely travel to play in Las Vegas this summer, but he would then face a mandatory two-week quarantine once he returned Down Under.
At last check, Canada has similar restrictions, as do many European and Asian countries. Overall, this just has to have a depressing effect on the overall Vegas poker attendance numbers. The flip side is that for American players, with no live WSOP available, participation in these rival series becomes a likely option.
There’s another ripple effect waiting down the road. With the WSOP now shunted to the fall, it runs squarely into dates when many other series, both in the US and around the globe, traditionally schedule other major events. For the WSOP, its own Circuit series will need to be arranged, while prominent series such as the European Poker Tour (EPT) and the World Poker Tour (WPT) face unexpected fall competition.
Those series have always avoided clashing directly with the WSOP’s June-centered run, but simply dropping fall events in addition to the normal summer gap is not a recipe for a hefty increase in revenue or turnout. So there’s a new scheduling conflict in play which is still being tacitly worked on by all the players involved. October could provide event turnouts many onlookers could view as disappointing, especially if stricter COVID restrictions remain in force.