Over the past two weeks, states have started re-opening business and social opportunities. While the vast majority of poker rooms in the United States remained closed, many, including some of the Las Vegas rooms are planning to test the waters shortly.
Leading the pack in reviving live poker is the grand peninsula of Florida. Many poker rooms in Florida (excluding most of South Florida/Miami area), have re-opened. They give us a taste of the new normal for live play in the coming months. Whether Florida is viewed as poker’s Pandemic Pioneer or its Canary in the Coalmine likely depends on your view of what kinds of social endeavors should resume at this point. Either way, Florida is providing a robust test case of how, and whether, live poker can thrive while the country deals with COVID-19.
It is fascinating to see what measures appear to be universal and which vary room-to-room. The practices which seem to be universal are having dealers wear masks, maxing out at 50% capacity, and reduced player limits per table. Beyond that, we see vastly different practices across rooms.
Number of players
Initial discussions in Las Vegas talked of limiting tables to 4 players. Florida rooms have generally had a minimum of 6 players. Some rooms, like One-Eyed Jacks in the Tampa area, was up to 8 players in a tournament over the weekend. Derby Lane has a standard of 6 players, but if players agreed to make the table a “private” table and limit the movement of players coming and going, that could be extend to 7 players.
Several rooms installed plexiglass dividers between players and dealers. One of the most full-scale versions was seen at the Seminole Hard Rock Tampa where there was plexiglass not only between players and the dealer, but in front of every seated participant as well. Other rooms had just dividers on the sides of players. Some rooms, like Derby Lane, had no dividers at all.
Masks for Players
Mask usage requirements vary quite a bit. Some rooms, like Seminole Hard Rock Tampa, have mandated them no matter what other safety guidelines are in force. One-Eyed Jacks requires masks only if there is no plexiglass divider between players. A photo on Facebook of one such table showed that no visible player was wearing a mask. Some reports have also indicated that in some rooms where masks are required, enforcement is shaky.
Other Safety Measures
BestBet in Jacksonville was providing hand sanitizer and taking players’ temperatures as they enter. Oxford Downs not only announced they’d take players temperatures but also mandated that all players complete a health screening questionnaire about systems or exposure in the previous 14 days (luckily poker players never lie!). Some rooms were limiting the movement between cash tables.
Certainly improved and frequent cleaning procedures are in place in most rooms (e.g., wiping down are when a player leaves, cleaning chips more regularly), although the specific procedures vary widely. Perhaps the most creative idea was in a couple of rooms, Derby Lane included, where a bottle of hand sanitizer was used instead of a dealer button. The idea is that the player on the button would avail themselves of the sanitizer.
Did Anyone Play in Florida in Week 1?
So what was the net effect of re-opening poker rooms in Florida? Unsurprisingly, for better or worse, poker players came back in large numbers. Bigger rooms like BestBet and Hard Rock Tampa were bustling. At one point over the weekend, Hard Rock Tampa had 21 cash tables active and late into the evening had a waitlist of 130 players for $1/$2.
While some assumed tournaments would be well behind cash tables to return, several rooms quickly moved to hosting tournaments. One-Eyed Jacks snared 52 players for a Saturday tournament with a $220 buy-in, and this week has a tournament five out of seven days. Daytona has one to two tournaments per day scheduled through June.
Scorecard on Florida Man
Florida poker rooms seemed to re-open with enthusiasm and success in their first week. The Covid-19 situation will be a marathon, not a sprint, so how advisable and successful the opening has been will have to wait for a longer-term evaluation. Florida’s experience will now serve as a model for many other rooms across the country. Of course, larger rooms with more financial resources like Seminole Hard Rock Tampa can afford more protective equipment and may have a leg up. But procedures like mask-wearing, restricted numbers of players, and good cleaning protocols may likely be universal. Las Vegas is likely next up, as they have announced openings as early as next week.