Number of Poker Tables in Nevada Drops to a Ten-Year Low

The number of poker table in Las Vegas casinos continues to decrease. In the last decade, Nevada’s casinos have seen a 20% decline in poker tables.

The closing of the Monte Carlo’s poker room next month is the latest sign of Texas hold’em’s decline in popularity. Casino floors evolve all the time, so it is nothing new. But a decade ago, it would have been hard to predict such a dropoff in the popularity of the game synonymous with the rise of online gambling.

Drop in Poker Rake from 2007 to 2016

In 2002, before the Poker Boom began, Las Vegas casinos had 144 poker tables and made about $30 million revenue from the rake. In 2007, the number of tables had risen to 405 tables, while the poker rake was $97 million. In 2016, those numbers dropped to 320 poker tables and a $78 million rake.

Those numbers reflect the statewide trend. In 2007, the number of poker tables was 907 and the total revenue was $168 million.

By 2016, the number of tables had declined to 661 and total revenue dropped to $118 million.

The Poker Boom in America

Only ten years ago, the “Poker Boom” was ending in the United States. When Chris Moneymaker won the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event, Texas Hold’em became a phenomenon. Better put, the televised replay of the WSOP Main Event on ESPN made Chris Moneymaker a pop culture phenom.

Because Moneymaker won his way into the WSOP Main Event from an online poker satellite tournament on PokerStars, he had the everyman quality which gave other card players hope. American gamblers began signing up at online poker rooms in record numbers. PokerStars vaulted from second or third in the pecking order to the world’s number one online card room. Televised Texas hold’em became a mainstay, with shows like the World Poker Tour, Celebrity Poker, and Poker After Dark becoming well-known to the TV audience.

That fueled huge numbers of signups at the World Series of Poker, especially the WSOP Main Event. Well-to-do players and high rollers were willing to plop down $10,000 for the entry fee. Everyone online poker site worth it’s salt offered free entries. As the year’s biggest poker event exploded in popularity, card players flocked to poker rooms in casinos across the United States.

UIGEA Is Passed

The Las Vegas Strip was the main destination, both for high rollers and low rollers. Everyone wanted to see if they could match Chris Moneymaker’s feat, or become a poker brat like Phil Hellmuth Jr. 2003 to 2006 was the heyday for poker in America. Then came the UIGEA in September 2006, which assured that online poker would become illegal for American residents on December 31, 2006. All the attention drew interest from the politicians, who decided online poker was a danger to Americans worthy of a 50-state ban.

Early 2007 therefore was the time when Americans’ fascination with live poker was probably at its highest. In the ten-plus years since, Nevada casinos have seen the number of poker tables decline. Many casinos have closed their card rooms altogether. For the next few years, poker remained a highly visible game online. In the wake of the 2011 Black Friday scandal, the top poker sites in the US market were blacked out and many of their executives were indicted. Without the free promotion of online poker, live poker simply isn’t as popular in the United States.

Baccarat, Virtual Sports, and eSports

The shrinking number of poker tables has to do with other gaming and non-gaming factors on the local economy. Most casinos are adding more baccarat tables, because baccarat is the most popular game with Asian tourists. The vast expansion of the Chinese economy over the past ten years thus has had an impact on the gaming options in Las Vegas.

The economic impact of millennial tastes also have an effect. Millennials are less interested in gambling than previous generations. The millennial generation is now the largest demographic in America, so that has an effect. Poker is still relatively popular with the millennials, because many see it as a game of skill and not a game of chance. Though that impact is felt more in slot machine gambling than the poker tables, it is still a factor.

Non-Gaming Revenues in Las Vegas

Casinos on the Las Vegas Strip market themselves differently than in past decades. Non-gaming attractions are a much bigger part of the gameplan than in previous decades. It’s a trend that’s been building since the 1990s at the least, when semi-permanent shows like Siegfried & Roy and the Cirque du Soleil shows became huge attractions. In the 21st century, integrated casino-resorts have become a mainstay, as nightclubs, restaurants, and retail stores became a huge part of the draw. That trend gathered speed after the 2008-2009 Global Recession, became discretionary spending like gambling took a big hit.

Today, non-gaming revenues account for 60% of the revenue on the Las Vegas Strip. Brian Gordon of Applied Analysis, a Las Vegas research firm, said of the impact of gaming revenues on the Las Vegas Strip, “Gaming has become a smaller portion of the overall revenue mix and things like poker rooms are candidates for further evaluation as to whether they make sense or not at a casino property.”

David Schwartz on Vegas Poker

David Schwartz, the UNLV Center for Gaming Research director, gave a simple summation of the decline of poker in Vegas Strip casinos. Mr. Schwartz told the Las Vegas Review-Journal recently, “Casinos added more tables in response to popularity, and once it became less popular, they took away the tables.

About Cliff Spiller

Cliff Spiller has been an online writer for 14 years. He worked for Small World Marketing for a decade, where he covered topics like gaming, sports, movies, and how-to guides. Since 2014, he has blogged about US and international gambling news on BestOnlineCasinos.com, USPokerSites.com, and LegalUSPokerSites.com

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