The current lockdown of society due to the COVID-19 outbreak has brought everything to a screeching halt. This has been particularly hard on the casino industry and, by extension, the poker world. At no other point in history has the gaming industry faced such travails, but it may be even more problematic looking towards the future.
There are going to be changes in our world once lockdowns are ended and people are allowed to attempt to resume their lives. For example, grocery and department stores (which have already been battered by the advent of online shopping) will probably have to have even less stock on hand as they have to expand aisles to allow for people to walk with distance between each other. With this in mind, what will be the future of casinos and, in particular, poker once the coronavirus alerts have lifted.
Eight to a Table
One of the biggest things that will be seen in the future in a poker room are table maxes. From the timeframe of the “poker boom” in 2003, many poker room managers wanted to jam as many people onto a table as was possible, especially for tournaments. Nine and ten handed tables became the norm as poker room managers looked to maximize the numbers and take advantage of the popularity of the game.
After COVID-19, however, this is going to change, whether the poker rooms like it or not. There is going to be more room put between tables – don’t expect to see tables on top of each other, like at the World Series of Poker (whenever that may be this year) in the past. See the photo that accompanies this essay? That is going to be something that disappears. These tables will have probably between 15-20 feet at the minimum between each other in the future, to make sure that people aren’t in close contact with other competitors and, as far as those at their table, that they can maintain a bit more distance than previously.
The number of people at the table will also change. Instead of nine- or ten-handed tables (be it cash games or tournaments), poker rooms will most likely make eight-handed tables the norm. Eight handed tables still allow for strategic play but it will also move the action. It is the perfect balance between the (too many) ten-handed tables and the (too few) six-handed tables, both from the playing aspects of poker and from the health concerns of the players.
One of the side effects of this is that tournament participation may either be reduced or the multiple Day Ones will become a staple of tournament poker (not like they weren’t already prevalent). But that’s a discussion for another time…and let’s not even get into EATING at the table!
More Attention to Cleanliness?
The poker rooms haven’t necessarily been a bastion of cleanliness in the past. Everyone talks about the Rio “crud” that will often be circulated amongst the players, staff and other personnel at the WSOP, and it is a real thing. But poker players themselves aren’t exactly persnickety regarding how clean something is, so it was often overlooked as one of the hazards of going to the poker room.
In the future, poker rooms are going to be much more mindful of cleanliness. Chips, handled by all of the players, will be cleaned more frequently (in fact, it may become a selling point of poker rooms – “chips cleaned weekly using (insert industrial strength disinfectant cleaner) for your protection!”), and the poker rooms themselves may be shut down for short periods of time during a work day to allow for custodial personnel to perform their magic on the rails and other common areas. If you want to go to the extremes, we may also see poker room personnel – table runners, managers, cashiers at the cage – wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) such as rubber gloves, maybe even facial masks, to provide another level of protection to not only the employees but also to the customers.
Yes, Some Poker Rooms May Be Closed
The stark reality is that some poker rooms may be closed once this epidemic ends. Especially if the rooms are made to put more distance between their tables and have fewer players on the felt, this means that smaller rooms – let’s say those with 15 tables or less – aren’t going to be able to put through the traffic that they might have had previously. With fewer tables also could come fewer personnel, pushing some very talented people who work in poker rooms out through no fault of their own.
Then there’s always the scourge of that abomination called “slot machines.” It has always been a delicate dance in a casino between the slot machines – the automatons that don’t take days off, constantly crank out profit and don’t need to have “breaks” or “vacations” – and the poker rooms, and this will become even more apparent in the very near future. In the past, this dance hasn’t ended well for poker rooms.
Especially after almost two months of closure, many casino operations are going to be looking to maximize their revenues after having the spigot shut off for so long. If it comes down between putting in a few banks of slot machines that takes a skeletal staff to man and maintain versus a poker rooms relatively wide open spaces and personnel that require a pesky paycheck, which one do you think that casinos are going to go for? It has happened before, as anyone who has been around the game for any length of time will tell you.
A Whole New World
There are definitely going to be changes to what is “normal” in everyday life once the coronavirus pandemic has run its course (and just how long that will be is anyone’s guess). This will be even more evident when it comes to casinos and poker rooms in the future. Hopefully all will come out on the other side unaffected, but there is little in the face of reality that would show that everyone will emerge unscathed.