Know when to fold ’em: Poker tables de­creas­ing on casino floors

Austin American-Statesman - - VIEWPOINTS - By Regina Gar­cia Cano

When the Monte Carlo casino closes its eight-ta­ble poker room in about a month as part of a $450 mil­lion over­haul, the Las Ve­gas Strip will be down nearly a quar­ter of the tables it had a decade ago.

Casi­nos con­stantly ad­just their floors to meet cus­tomer de­mand. And un­like the boom years when they com­peted for card fans af­ter everyman Chris Money­maker won the World Se­ries of Poker’s main event in 2003, poker’s ap­peal in Sin City has been weak­en­ing this decade.

Some casi­nos have made their poker rooms smaller. Oth­ers have elim­i­nated them en­tirely.

“Casi­nos added more tables in re­sponse to pop­u­lar­ity, and once it be­came less pop­u­lar, they took away the tables,” said David Schwartz, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Gam­ing Re­search at the Univer­sity of Ne­vada, Las Ve­gas. The peak of the poker room was 2007.

In 2002, be­fore fans of Texas Hold ‘Em be­gan to rush to the Strip, casi­nos had 144 tables and made $30 mil­lion from the game. Five years later, casi­nos had more than tripled their poker rev­enue to $97 mil­lion with 405 tables. Last year, the game net­ted them only $78 mil­lion af­ter the num­ber of tables de­creased to 320.

The sit­u­a­tion is sim­i­lar across the state. Casi­nos had 907 tables and made $168 mil­lion in 2007. Last year, they took in $118 mil­lion from 661 tables.

Even the game’s pro­po­nents un­der­stand poker has never been a big money­maker for casi­nos. That’s be­cause in­stead of gam­bling against the stacked odds of the house as they do in black­jack or slots, play­ers wa­ger against one another and the casi­nos take a por­tion as a fee for host­ing the games.

Casi­nos were will­ing to do that to keep play­ers in their es­tab­lish­ments while the game’s pop­u­lar­ity soared. The boost was fu­eled by the rise of in­ter­net gam­bling and a wa­ter­shed mo­ment in 2003 when Money­maker, as an am­a­teur, won $2.5 mil­lion as peo­ple watched on TV.

The land­scape dras­ti­cally changed in 2011, when the fed­eral gov­ern­ment cracked down on in­ter­net poker and blacked out ma­jor sites — a mo­ment poker en­thu­si­asts re­fer to as “Black Fri­day.”

MGM Re­sorts In­ter­na­tional, the owner of the Monte Carlo, at­tributes its de­ci­sion to close the prop­erty’s poker room to an over­haul that in­cludes a full re­brand­ing with the launch of a new lux­ury ho­tel named Park MGM and a ver­sion of the widely ac­claimed No­Mad Ho­tel. The com­pany’s nearby Aria and Bel­la­gio prop­er­ties have poker rooms.

The Hard Rock Casino Ho­tel east of the Las Ve­gas Strip closed its poker room ear­lier this month. Other Ve­gas casi­nos that have shed their poker room since 2010 in­clude El­lis Is­land, Palms and Trop­i­cana.

Prop­erty of­fi­cials care­fully choose games for their val­ued space and are al­ways look­ing to max­i­mize their rev­enue per square foot. Mean­while, floors are gen­er­ally smaller over­all as casi­nos have mor­phed into full-ser­vice re­sorts with night­clubs, shop­ping ar­eas, restau­rants and other ameni­ties.

“Gam­ing has be­come a smaller por­tion of the over­all rev­enue mix and things like poker rooms are can­di­dates for fur­ther eval­u­a­tion as to whether they make sense or not at a casino prop­erty,” said Brian Gor­don, a prin­ci­pal at the Las Ve­gas­based re­search firm Ap­plied Anal­y­sis.

Cae­sars Palace, owned by the com­pany that owns the World Se­ries of Poker, re­lo­cated and down­sized its poker room by two-thirds in 2015. But the rev­enue it now gen­er­ates is much higher per square foot, said Seth Palan­sky, the tour­na­ment’s spokesman.

“We rec­og­nized the room was big­ger than it needed to be,” Palan­sky said. “You can make a lot more money per square foot with a night­club-day­club these days than you can with a poker ta­ble.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS 2013

Dealer Han Kim (cen­ter) gath­ers up chips af­ter a hand of Texas Hold ‘em in Cae­sar’s Palace in Las Ve­gas in 2013. Poker’s ap­peal has been weak­en­ing since its hey­day in the 2000s.

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