Nevada Regulator Quickly Relaxes One Safety Measure for Las Vegas Poker Rooms

  • South Point, The Orleans, and The Venetian were the only Las Vegas poker rooms to reopen
  • All three poker rooms asked the NGCB to increase max per table from four to five
  • Poker rooms felt that the four-max rule would keep players away
Aerial view of Las Vegas Strip
After asking the Nevada Gaming Control Board, poker rooms at South Point, The Orleans, and The Venetian casinos were all permitted to increase their poker table capacities from four to five players. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Poker rooms asked, NGCB answered

As locals and tourists visited Las Vegas casinos over the weekend for the first time in more nearly three months, the Nevada Gaming Control Board (NGCB) already started loosening safety requirements. In a minor decision, the NGCB permitted three poker rooms to increase the number of players per table from four to five.

The South Point Hotel Casino & Spa was the first to get the green-light to increase its maximum table capacity. It was soon followed by the poker rooms at The Orleans Hotel & Casino and The Venetian. The rest of the casinos in Las Vegas are still dark.

licensees may submit alternative plans for approval by the Board”

There was some confusion in the poker world as to how the poker rooms could expand their seating capacity by 25% in the first weekend, particularly because the NGCB’s guidelines say that there should only be “four players per poker table.”

The guidelines also say, however, that “licensees may submit alternative plans for approval by the Board,” and this is exactly what the casinos did. South Point replied to some questions on Twitter the day before casinos reopened when it looked from pictures like games would be five-handed, saying that the casino specifically asked the NGCB for the leeway.

Money was the motivator

As mentioned, this is a rather slight relaxation of the NGCB’s health and safety guidelines, one that may not seem to be of much significance. In terms of health, it likely is not; four players are not all six feet apart at a poker table, so five will not change much.

It is important to the poker rooms, though, for the simple reason that poker players are much more willing to play five-handed over four-handed. As South Point said, “That did seem an unrealistically small number of players.”

Poker players, particularly those at lower stakes, tend to be more comfortable playing against more opponents. The typical “short-handed” table has six players, which is already tough for many, so dropping down to four is a challenge that poker players often do not want to take on. With that few players, blinds come around faster and lesser hole cards are stronger than normal, forcing most poker players to play more hands than they would like. If they are not comfortable, they will not patronize the poker rooms.

Poker is much more dependent on player traffic than are other games, since poker is player-versus-player and not player-versus-house. While casinos could get by with fewer, high-volume customers at games like slots and blackjack, they cannot feasibly run a poker room with minimal player traffic, as it is a low-margin game.

Las Vegas enters “new normal” stage

Nevada casinos were permitted to reopen on Thursday, June 4. According to those on the scene, things were somewhat slow at the outset, but Las Vegas looked much more like pre-pandemic Las Vegas during the weekend.

Videos from inside casinos show most visitors feeling very comfortable returning to their favorite gambling venues. The vast majority of guests did not wear masks or abide by social distancing guidelines. All employees of Nevada casinos, however, are required to wear face coverings.

Not all casinos have reopened; most gaming companies are reopening in phases. Caesars Entertainment, for example, reopened Caesars Palace and the Flamingo on Thursday, followed by Harrah’s the next day after the company experienced high demand. MGM opened MGM Grand, Bellagio, and New York-New York, with Excalibur set to welcome back gamblers on June 11.