When Will Atlantic City Poker Return And Why Is It Taking So Long?

Barbara Nathan Updated on October 6, 2020
atlantic city poker rooms open

Three months have gone by since Gov. Murphy gave the executive order for the Atlantic City casinos to reopen. Although attendance limited to 25 percent of capacity and social distancing remain in effect, players can choose virtually any game they want. The one holdout is Atlantic City poker.

You can still play poker to your heart’s content at NJ online casinos. But all of the people who miss and prefer live poker keep asking when will the Atlantic City poker rooms reopen.

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If you’re wondering why it is taking so long for Atlantic City poker to make its reappearance, this article will explain the various reasons.

Why haven’t any the Atlantic City poker rooms reopened yet?

Five Atlantic City casinos currently have poker rooms: BorgataBally’s Wild Wild WestHarrah’sTropicana, and Golden Nugget. Ocean Casino Resort also had a very small poker room for a while but closed it and replaced it with a high-end slot parlor.

On March 16, 2020, when all nine AC casino properties received the order to close, of course, the five poker rooms closed, too. As of this writing in October, they remain closed.

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Meanwhile, casino poker rooms have reopened in other jurisdictions such as Las Vegas with additional safety protocols, including reducing the number of players at each table and inserting polycarbonate dividers between players.

NJ regulations would permit doing the same at poker tables here, as at other table games such as blackjack. But so far, no Atlantic City poker rooms have done so. According to an Oct. 1, 2020 article on ThePressofAtlanticCity.com, offering poker at this time is viewed as being too risky.

But it is partly a business decision, too, because poker contributes only minimally to the casinos’ bottom line.

Steve Callender, regional president of Caesars Entertainment Inc. and president of the Casino Association of New Jersey recently told the Greater Atlantic City Chamber the following:

“Poker is tough. It’s a challenge. I wouldn’t venture (to say) when we’re going to see poker come back.”

Poker is nowhere near as profitable for the casinos as slots and table games

According to Bob Ambrose, who is a gaming industry consultant and professor of casino management, live poker does not contribute significantly directly to the bottom line.

However, it does add to the bottom line revenue for other casino property amenities such as restaurants and bars. When poker players visit the casinos, they also play other games such as slots, so that is another way their play improves the bottom line.

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Even so, Ambrose regards poker primarily as a marketing tool for visitation. For example, major events such as the Caesars Entertainment-owned World Series of Poker bring more visitors to the properties.

But compared to slots and other table games, they don’t contribute a lot to gambling revenue per se. That is because poker players wager against one another rather than the house. The casino collects a small commission (the rake) and charges a buy-in fee for tournaments. But otherwise, poker is offered primarily because players want it, not because it is a moneymaker for the casino.

Which AC casino has produced the most revenue from poker?

As reported in ThePressofAtlanticCity.com Oct. 1 article, Borgata has been far and away the biggest market leader for poker by far. Borgata also has the largest poker room of any of the Atlantic City casinos.

Here are the gross revenue figures–from highest to lowest–for Atlantic City poker in 2019 reported by each of the casinos offering it:

  • Borgata: nearly $17.95 million
  • Caesars (Bally’s and Harrah’s combined) $4.925 million
  • Tropicana (now part of Caesars): just over $2 million
  • Ocean (no longer offering poker): $1.386 million
  • Golden Nugget: $1.037 million

Atlantic City poker will return eventually

Based on the lackluster figures for poker compared to other games, combined with the fact that the game is best suited for full tables, it is understandable why the Atlantic City casinos are in no hurry to reinstall it.

But rest assured, although we cannot project a date, it is only a matter of time before Atlantic City poker returns–at least to some extent.

According to Ambrose:

Many serious players like the slower pace and methodical experience of a live game,” Ambrose said. “The poker footprint in the casino is a must-have for diversification of gaming product and experience for the player.”

In other words, poker is an important part of being able to offer guests the full casino resort experience. So it will be back eventually.

As soon as we learn more, we will report it here on NJ Online Casino. Meanwhile, be patient, enjoy the other Atlantic City casino games, and check out the exciting array of cash games, tournaments, and special promotions that NJ online poker rooms have to offer.

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