Poker rooms slowly started to reopen at casinos in Pennsylvania nearly seven months after the casinos and, subsequently, poker games were shut down in March as a result of coronavirus.
Due to the social nature of the game, poker rooms were not permitted to welcome back players when casinos started reopening in June.
Five poker rooms reopened as of mid-November, with Parx, the state’s largest, set to return in December. The city of Philadelphia added restrictions including another shutdown of Rivers Casino Philadelphia until at least Jan 1, taking away another option for live poker.
One poker room continues to remain conspicuously quiet — Wind Creek Casino.
Wins and losses for Wind Creek
Wind Creek is one of the larger poker rooms in Pennsylvania with 26 tables. Located in Bethlehem, PA, it’s in a prime spot to attract visitors from New York City and northern New Jersey.
A representative from Wind Creek told PlayPennsylvania they had no update on when the poker room would open. On Nov. 18, Wind Creek opened the Betfred sportsbook. The sportsbook is the first for Wind Creek in the United States and the third US retail location for Betfred Sports.
Wind Creek claimed a number of honors from Casino Player Magazine in October, including being named best:
- Overall Gaming Resort
- Table Games
- Poker Room
However, it hasn’t been all good news at Wind Creek Casino. Wind Creek announced layoffs on Sept. 24 that affected about 20% of its workforce. Total revenue in October was $33.1 million, a 16.41% decrease from October 2019.
Wind Creek provided the following statement to LehighValleyLive regarding recent layoffs:
“With recent business volumes significantly lower than we had hoped, we were forced to make this incredibly difficult decision. The hospitality and gaming industries have been crippled by the COVID-19 pandemic. We believe that our reduction in workforce will, in the long term, positively affect our future success.”
In addition, Wind Creek announced the permanent closure of Emeril’s Fish House.
Wind Creek employee offers insight
A Wind Creek employee provided an update on some of the happenings at Wind Creek, including the poker room. The person agreed to share their insight based on the condition of anonymity.
“When Wind Creek shut down in mid-March, they could’ve easily had a mass layoff, but they didn’t. They continued to pay all employees until May 31, 2020. Even those that work on tips got an average hourly wage, and they continued to pay for benefits. Most casinos around the country just straight up laid off hundreds of dealers back in the spring.”
On June 1, the poker room employees were furloughed. They stopped getting paid, but the full-time workers could keep their health benefits as long as biweekly premiums were paid. On Sept. 30, all poker room employees were laid off/terminated and the poker room was made into a high-limit slots parlor.
“We were told it was being turned into a high-limit slots parlor for the time being. Obviously, a casino makes way more money on slot machines than a poker room, so I believe they’re focusing on that right now.”
The employee said it is their belief, along with other employees, that the poker room is not closed permanently and will eventually reopen.
“The plan is to reopen the poker room in the future. But who knows what the future entails considering what is looking like another round of closures? Wind Creek does see the value in the poker room, but I think right now they’re trying to recover from the major financial hit they took during the 3.5 months we were closed up. The client base of the poker room really enjoyed playing at Wind Creek. I know some of them think it’s closed permanently, but that isn’t likely the case.”
Poker pales in revenue comparison
In fiscal year 2019-20, poker accounted for $37 million in total revenue across the state’s 10 poker rooms. That number pales in comparison to the $607 million in total revenue by all other table games.
Casinos, trying to recover from an unprecedented financial hit as a result of COVID-19 closures and operating at reduced capacity, are likely allocating resources to games that generate more revenue.
In late August, PlayPennsylvania exclusively reported that Harrah’s Philadelphia would not reopen its WSOP poker room.
Pennsylvania poker revenue by casino
As you can see from the table below, live poker is not the biggest revenue earner for PA casinos (though it can help drive other verticals).
2019-20 fiscal year poker revenue in PA (figures from the PGCB):
|Rivers Casino Philadelphia
|Harrah's Philadelphia (now closed)