When Will Live Poker Rooms Reopen in Pennsylvania?

Posted on August 25, 2020

Pennsylvania casinos closed in mid-March to slow the spread of coronavirus. They remained shuttered for over three months. When the casinos reopened, they did so with health and safety guidelines from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board which included key points such as: 

  • Employees and guests must wear masks
  • Markings on the floor to promote social distancing
  • Enhanced cleaning throughout the facility

Another major stipulation upon reopening was that poker rooms could not operate due to players handling cards and chips. The plan at that time was to continually monitor and adjust according to guidance from the CDC and the Pennsylvania Department of Health. 

Poker rooms in PA

Poker players have taken to Twitter, email and even picked up the phone to ask when live poker rooms in Pennsylvania will reopen.

PGCB Director of Communications Doug Harbach gave this update to Play Pennsylvania today:

“There has been no alteration to the casino reopening protocols released by the Gaming Control Board in May in which poker rooms were not authorized to operate. At the same time, this guideline can be reexamined based on health experts’ guidance. Should casinos wish to explore reopening a casino room, it would need to provide plans to do so safely which would be reviewed by the Board on a case-by-case basis.”

A spokesperson for Rivers Philadelphia and Rivers Pittsburgh said that plans for reopening poker rooms are yet to be determined.

All PA casinos now open

Rivers Casino Pittsburgh and The Meadows were the first casinos to reopen on June 9. Social distancing decals marked the floors. There were fewer chairs to promote social distancing at slot machines, or plexiglass barriers between slots. They added hand sanitizing stations throughout the floor. 

At the reopening of Rivers Pittsburgh, Harbach said poker rooms present a different type of challenge since people are sitting close together in a room.

“The casinos want to walk before they run and make sure they are getting the venue open and then move on to opening up other areas once they know the protocols are working well.”

The following images are from Harrah’s Philadelphia in July.

Poker a small part of revenue pie

All twelve of Pennsylvania’s casinos are operating at 50% capacity. Since July 8, there has been a temporary ban on smoking, eating and drinking on the gaming floor. 

During the 2019/2020 fiscal year, PA’s ten poker rooms produced a combined $37 million in revenue. That number pales in comparison to the $583 million in revenue from other table games.

Parx is home to the largest live poker room in PA with 48 tables. Harrah’s Philadelphia has 27 tables and Wind Creek Casino has 26

Casinos are understandably focusing on safety and the unprecedented challenges COVID-19 has brought. Perhaps that is taking priority above reopening poker rooms.

Poker rooms in other states

All live poker rooms in Atlantic City, New Jersey also remain out of operation.

In Las Vegas, the MGM Grand poker room opened in early July with plexiglass dividers between players to allow six-handed play. Other Vegas rooms have followed and a few – The Orleans, Venetian, and South Point – are also running small-guarantee tournaments with plexiglass dividers and/or mask requirements.

Here’s a look at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida which restarted poker on June 12.

At MGM National Harbor in Maryland.

Online poker in PA

Online poker in PA arrived in November 2019. Since then, PokerStars has been the lone operator in the state, however it looks like they will get some competition in the fall with partypoker.

Play Pennsylvania monitored poker traffic which reached 3,616 seats filled on March 22. PokerStars PA had its best month for revenue with $5.3 million in April. Since that peak, poker revenue is back down to earth but still healthy, bringing in $3.0 million in July.

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Katie Kohler

Katie Kohler is a Philadelphia-area based award-winning journalist. She covers the Pennsylvania gambling industry with an emphasis on sports betting, online casino/poker and the lottery.

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