Monte Carlo, one of Las Vegas’ most storied and revered sites, is planning on closing its 8-table poker room by the end of April. Though this plan is nothing new, and has been in the works for some time now, it is a part of a larger, growing trend amongst Las Vegas casinos—one that is seeing the total number of poker tables on The Strip grow increasingly smaller. In fact, according to the Las Vegas Review Journal, there are now 25% fewer poker tables than there were 10 years ago.
It may seem like a silly decision for a casino to get rid, or decrease the size, of their poker rooms, but this is not something totally new. Casinos have always been in the business of changing up their floor plans—sometimes quite regularly—in order to capture the most money from patrons. Nowadays, poker has become much less of a draw than it was shortly after the turn of the 21st century.
You see, back in 2003 when a relatively unknown Chris Moneymaker was crowned champion of the World Series of Poker’s (WSOP) Main Event, poker—especially Texas Hold’em—was extremely popular. After Moneymaker’s win, you could seldom find room at a poker table at peak hours in Vegas. Since the early 2000s, however, the aura surrounding poker has faded quickly. Monte Carlo is not the only casino to get rid of their poker room, and those casinos that still have poker rooms, many of them have downsized considerably.
Director of UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research, David Schwartz, commented on this situation by saying, “Casinos added more tables in response to popularity, and once it became less popular, they took away the tables.”
If you took a time machine back to 2002, before Texas Hold’em reach peak popularity, you would notice that there was not such a huge emphasis on poker at Las Vegas casinos. Back then, Strip casinos played host to a total of less than 150 poker tables. Over the next 5 years, that number tripled and by 2007 there were just over 400 tables on the Strip. From 2007 and on, however, the money being raked in by casinos’ poker operations began steadily decreasing. It did not take long for casinos to notice this dip in revenue, and by 2010 there was a fairly large movement which saw casinos become less and less interested in poker tables and events.
It isn’t just Las Vegas, either. The entire state of Nevada has been moving in this same direction since 2007. Back then, there were just over 900 poker tables across the entirety of the state. Now, there are just over 650 and that number will likely be even smaller come this time next year.
While decreasing popularity is partly to blame for poker’s disappearance, the decision for the casino to axe poker operations is made easier when you consider that the game is not a huge money-maker. As opposed to blackjack, roulette, and other traditional casino games, which see players compete against a house edge, poker games see players take on each other. The only money being brought in by casinos via their poker operations are the fees charged to players in order for the casino to host poker games. Being that there is no real way to maximize poker revenue unless poker is wildly popular, it makes sense that casinos are axing poker in exchange for games that offer more revenue while taking up less floor space. Perhaps we will see a poker renaissance somewhere down the road that will see casinos up their total number of tables, but until that happens you can expect the total number of poker room seats in Las Vegas to continue decreasing.