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Where Is Live Poker Headed In 2020?

by Linda Johnson |  Published: Jun 17, 2020


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Linda JohnsonIt’s actually difficult to write for a poker magazine when pretty much all the cardrooms across the country are shut down due to Covid-19 concerns. This is the longest stretch of time since 1974 that I haven’t been in a brick-and-mortar cardroom, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it will probably be many more months before I am willing to venture back into another casino. I know that many cardrooms in the United States began reopening this past week, but Las Vegas still has its casinos shuttered as I write this column.

I’ve received emails, texts, and phone calls from friends asking me what I think is going to happen regarding the status of poker in the United States through the end of the year. Obviously, I don’t have a crystal ball or any “insider” information, so I can only guess. Here are some of my thoughts on this topic:

I predict that poker rooms in Nevada will not reopen any time soon. (In fact, the Wynn has already stated that the property will reopen without poker.) The Nevada Gaming Commission has approved guidelines recommended by the Nevada Gaming Control Board that limit the number of players at table games to three players for blackjack, six players for craps, four players for roulette, and four players for poker.

It would not be cost effective for any poker room to operate with only four players at a poker table. Many poker rooms were already operating in the red with a ratio of one poker dealer per table of nine or ten players. There’s no way they can afford to have one dealer for four players (it’s actually more than one dealer per table because dealers take breaks).

Also, there’s no way that any significant volume of players would be willing to play four-handed. From my experience, players at a full table often start to panic and get nervous when there are only one or two seats vacant. Cardrooms would not be able to take a full rake with only four players, basically making it impossible for them to justify spreading poker. Add all this up and you will see that reopening Nevada cardrooms won’t work as long as the current restrictions are in place. In other states where poker operators are able to seat six or more players at a table, cardrooms might be able to profitably reopen.

I predict that tournaments will not be offered in Nevada for as long as the Gaming Board restrictions exist. The World Series of Poker announced that it has postponed this year’s series, potentially until the fall. Sadly, my guess is that there won’t be a 2020 WSOP for all the reasons above, unless of course the restrictions for number of players are lifted in the next few months.

I predict that online poker will become much more popular over the next year. The reasons for this are obvious. Hopefully our lawmakers will legalize online poker in many more states as they realize that it is safer for people to be able to play in the safety of their homes, without physical human interaction and without the need to touch the chips and the cards.

I predict that the games will be a lot tougher when they do start again. Many “social” players won’t want to play under the restrictions or at minimum will take a while before venturing back to poker, leaving more serious players to battle it out. Also, people are creatures of habit and if they get used to not playing poker for recreation, they may adopt other pastimes and not be so quick to return to the tables where most of them have been losing players. Furthermore, serious players have had time during the isolation to study and improve their games.

I predict there will be many new home games. Players who love poker but don’t want to play short-handed will figure out that home games are an acceptable option until poker rooms get going again.

Only time will tell how this will play out, but I certainly miss the competition of poker, the social aspects of poker, and the travel associated with poker. I’m eager to hear your thoughts on the future of poker in the short run and the long run.

Please stay safe and healthy!

Linda Johnson is a WSOP bracelet winner and hosts tournaments, seminars, and charity events. In 2011, she was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame. She is a partner in Card Player Cruises, and invites you to cruise with her on any of the upcoming Card Player Cruises trips. Please contact her at with questions or comments.