Poker’s Popularity Waning in Vegas

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 Poker rooms on the Las Vegas Strip have been permanently closing their doors at an alarming rate. Recently, TI announced that their card room will close for good following similar actions taken by Hard Rock, Luxor and Park MGM. Poker was even moved out of the room that made poker famous at Binion’s for a new, smaller, home near the sportsbook. 

The shuttered poker rooms aren’t exactly the center of the poker universe, but the closures do cast doubt on poker’s long-term relevance in Las Vegas following a surge in popularity which was the result, in part, of Chris Moneymaker’s WSOP title in 2003.  

We thought it would be a good time to dig into Nevada Gaming Control Board reporting to gauge what the current state of poker is in and around Las Vegas. Is poker falling out of favor with players?  Will Vegas remain a vibrant poker hub? 

First, we’ll look at the total number of poker tables in Clark County, which includes casinos on the Las Vegas Strip and Fremont Street.  

The explosion in popularity following Moneymaker’s 2003 WSOP win is easy to spot and casinos were quick to add tables to accommodate the increased demand. However, following a peak of 739 poker tables in 2010, we’ve seen a steady decrease in active poker tables as casinos devote the square footage to alternative activities.

In a similar graph (below), we can see that poker revenue in Clark County casinos exploded in the early 2000’s, peaking in 2007 at over $146 million dollars. While the casino’s haul from poker operations has come back to Earth since, there does seem to be recent market support as 2015, 2016 and 2017 saw a consistent win of around $107 million annually. In fact, there was year over year poker win growth (albeit small) in both 2016 and 2017.  

Reasons for the decreased poker demand, table count and revenue generated from poker can be attributed to any number of things to include waning interest in the game and card room expansion nationwide.  Poker has also become less accessible to everyday folks around the country following the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 which made it much more challenging for US players to deposit money on poker websites (targeting payment processors). The biggest blow to the game of poker though came in the form of the federal government’s 2011 crackdown on popular online poker sites FullTilt, PokerStars and Absolute Poker. This action has likely kept thousands of would be poker players on the sidelines, stunting the games growth. 

Ultimately, the surge in poker popularity was driven largely by a generation inspired by an “everyday guy” in Chris Moneymaker win the World Series of Poker. Eventually the fad faded and, as we are seeing now, poker table count and revenues are normalizing at Pre-Moneymaker levels. Hopefully, as states continue to evaluate and pass legislation legalizing online poker, the game of poker can regain some swagger. 

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