As trend wanes, Vegas casinos fold on poker rooms

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 28, 2013 at 11:17 am •  Published: February 28, 2013
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"I think every company over the last several years have had to look at what they do and what makes money," he said.

Casinos across the country are making the same calculation.

Sam's Town in Tunica, Mississippi, closed its poker room in January, citing the economy. The Seminole Casino Hollywood near Fort Lauderdale, Fla., replaced its room with slots in September.

Indian casinos in states like Minnesota and the Dakotas are also pulling their rooms, according to marketing consultant Theron "Scarlet Raven" Thompson.

"What you're seeing is the mom and pop-sized poker rooms are closing. The larger properties are monopolizing the poker crowd," he said.

Several smaller Las Vegas casinos decided they no longer wanted to bet on the game in 2012, including Ellis Island, which closed its room just two months after opening it. Casino bosses also removed rooms from the Silverton south of the Strip, Aliante to the north, and Fitzgerald's, which eliminated its room when it rebranded as the D.

The Gold Coast, the Plaza and Tuscany casinos closed their rooms in 2011.

Poker has never been a high-profit game for casinos is because players exchange money with each other, not the house. Rooms must employ a dealer for every table and can only collect portion of what players put down, usually about 5 percent.

Yet at the height of the craze, casinos scrambled to install rooms for a new generation of fans.

The game's meteoric run is generally attributed to the rise of Internet gambling, new technology that let viewers see players' hidden cards in televised tournaments and a watershed moment during the 2003 World Series of Poker when an amateur with the unlikely name Chris Moneymaker claimed the $2.5 million first prize in front of a million television viewers.

After Moneymaker's win, the MGM Grand on the Las Vegas Strip reopened its poker room, which had been closed for years, and Caesars Palace announced plans to open its first room in more than a decade. The Venetian followed suit in 2006.

Mega-casinos continue to invest in the game. The Venetian added 17 tables to its room in September, making it the biggest game in town, Caesars Entertainment added a slot-style progressive jackpot element to its games earlier this year, and the expansive room at the Bellagio is still packed most nights.

Venetian poker director Kathy Raymond said the expansion, which was part of a larger casino floor renovation, has drawn more players to the already popular room.

"I think that the love people have for poker hasn't subsided," she said. "It may be part of the economic environment, but I don't think the interest has subsided at all."

She acknowledged that smaller casinos are struggling to claim their piece of the market.

"You really need volume to operate a successful poker room," she said. "The overhead can't be absorbed by just a few tables."

In the end, the very thing that made poker so appealing - its air of tradition and class - may be its undoing, at least on the gambling floor, William Thompson said. After all, casinos make their billions by giving people new and stimulating ways to lose money.

While slot machine developers can roll out a new "Family Guy" or "oodles of poodles" game ever few months, poker remains unchanged.

"With slot machines, you can keep reinventing them, so it's going to last longer. They're throwing new wrinkles in all the time," he said.

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Hannah Dreier can be reached at http://twitter.com/hannahdreier