March 16, 2021
Exactly a year ago to this day, all Las Vegas casinos were ordered to close around noon and the live poker scene began a long nap. But the city has since recovered partially, despite still facing some COVID-19 challenges, and is slowly but surely returning to normal. Or at least a new normal.
On March 16, 2020, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak notified all non-essential corporations in the state that they would have to cease operations the next day. The slot machines were due to be shut down on the 17th at midnight and all casino hotel services were due to end on the 18th at 12 noon.
Las Vegas casinos closed
The adult playground known as “Sin City” had never been closed around the clock, not even for September 11th or after the October 1st, 2017 mass shootings on the Strip. At the time, no one really knew how long the casinos and other businesses would be closed. Sisolak initially requested a 14-day shutdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19 across the country.
It took 30 days, and after 60 days hundreds of thousands of Nevadans were unemployed, including poker dealers, poker room managers, cocktail waitresses, and many others in the poker industry.
For the first time since Clark County’s gambling legalization in 1931, Las Vegas had become a ghost town. From mid-March until the casinos reopened on June 4th, the Las Vegas Strip was almost empty. Only a few joggers and the occasional casual pedestrian could be seen on the sidewalks.
This may not seem strange to someone from a small town, but we’re talking about Las Vegas, the city that never sleeps (sorry, New York, you’re not the only one). Every other March the strip is filled with spring breakers, St. Patty’s Day partiers, and basketball fans looking for NCAA tournament action.
The pool season, which usually starts in early March, has become Netflix and Chill Season. At the time the Las Vegas casinos closed, Nevada had only 55 total cases of coronavirus. However, health experts expected exponential growth for the novel coronavirus.
On June 4, Sisolak reopened state casinos for the first time in nearly three months. Las Vegas was no longer a complete ghost town, but tourism was slowly returning. Initially, only about a third of all the casinos in the city, including the Strip, returned to service the weekend it reopened.
Las Vegas had 31 poker rooms open prior to COVID-19. Four of them – Venetian, South Point, The Orleans, and Golden Nugget – reopened the first weekend, but games were limited to five players per table due to nationwide health safety mandates.
The city saw mixed results in the first few weeks after the casinos reopened. Tourism has declined significantly compared to previous summers. During the weekdays, the strip still resembled a ghost town at times.
It got a little hotter on the weekends when tourists from California starved to leave the house and head east to Las Vegas away from the lockdown. But the restaurants on the casino floors were still not as full as usual, which was to be expected as COVID-19 spread across the country at an alarming rate.
Where things are
Nine months after the casinos reopened, Las Vegas has returned to some semblance of normal, but not entirely. There are currently 19 poker rooms open in the city, up from 31 prior to the coronavirus. And all but one large casino – Palms – have since reopened.
Face masks are a requirement in public at all times today unless they are eating or drinking. Poker is now played behind plexiglass partitions and players must wear face covers at the table. The days of nine- and ten-hand poker are over, but luckily so are the five-hand games from June. Most card rooms in town now offer eight-hand poker, which is quite refreshing compared to the days before Covid when players were crammed together at ten-hand tables on busy nights.
There is still a long way to go before the city and the poker industry return to normal. Tourism has increased compared to last summer but is still decreasing compared to a normal March. And coronavirus remains a health concern not just in Las Vegas but around the world. But as more Americans get vaccinated and COVID-19 cases continue to decline, the city of Las Vegas is on track to reclaim its crown as the world’s most exciting city.
Semi-pro poker player with 17 years of experience on the felt and more than five years of work as a professional poker medium.
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