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COVID-19: As Poker Rooms Reopen, It’s Okay To Be Selfish

by Greg Raymer |  Published: Jul 01, 2020


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Poker rooms around the U.S. are starting to reopen, and many are open already. None of them are business as usual, and we probably won’t see the old normal for quite a while.

All the poker rooms are doing enhanced cleaning of the tables, cards, and chips to reduce the risk of surface transmission. Most are also screening employees and customers for symptoms such as fever and coughs. Most are limiting the number of players at the table, some to 8, 6, 5, and even 4. Some are modifying the poker tables to include physical barriers between players and dealers (usually plexiglass, like the sneeze guards at buffets). Many are requiring staff and players to wear masks, and to engage in regular hand washing or hand sanitizing regimens. And there’s much, much more.

As we move through this process, it is important that we all do our best to keep one another safe. If you want, you can even be selfish, as even selfishness will guide you to the best behavior for everyone. The thing is, if you don’t follow these procedures, for whatever reason, you are increasing the chances of spreading this virus. And if these newly opened poker rooms become hotspots for virus transmission, they will be shut down.

While casinos are an important source of tax revenue for many states and local governments, poker rooms are not as important. If poker rooms are thought to cause spreading of the virus, you can say goodbye to your newly reopened poker room, and goodbye to live poker for a long time. If you selfishly want live poker to be available, then do what you have to do to help make it happen, and to keep it happening.

There have been some changes these last few months. We had been very concerned about surface transmission. In the last week or so, new research suggests surface transmission is actually not that common. As I write this, the leading cause of spread seems to be the microscopic water droplets we all expel when we breath, talk, shout, and sing; and especially when we sneeze or cough. Wearing a mask only appears to help a little in keeping you safe from catching the virus. However, if you happen to be a carrier of the virus, wearing a mask significantly decreases the chance you will infect somebody else. Wearing a mask dramatically decreases the amount of microscopic water droplets that you expel into the room. And with so many of the people who catch this virus being asymptomatic, you can never be sure you are clear. Even if you get tested, and are negative, you could be a contagious carrier just a few days later.

If you’re like me, you hate wearing a mask. It tends to be hot, humid, and uncomfortable. However, when I need to go out, such as to the grocery store, I wear it. Even though it is unlikely I have the virus, I can’t be sure. More importantly, when I’m out in public, I have no idea about anyone else, and the chance that one of them has this virus. Therefore, we all need to behave as if we have it, at least in public. It’s fine to not wear a mask outdoors, as long as you stay apart from others. All this mask-shaming in the media, and by individuals, of someone not wearing a mask outdoors, is stupid. If we don’t stand near one another for more than a brief period while outside, there is no real risk.

But indoors, even with social distancing, it is critical we all wear masks. There is a plethora of good research indicating that social distancing really isn’t enough when inside. If the room is small enough, compared to the number of people, then the microscopic water droplets we are all creating will tend to fill the space, and potentially infect others. In addition to size of space, air flow is also a big factor. In any indoor public space, you should take the new-normal precautions. Wash your hands regularly, and don’t touch your face. Most importantly, wear a mask, and avoid places with other people if they’re not wearing a mask.

There is nothing political about this. You are not on one side of the political spectrum, or the other, because you wear a mask, or refuse to. Yes, your political beliefs might be behind your decision, but that doesn’t mean the same is true for anyone else. The science of this disease indicates that mask-wearing is the best thing we can all do to reduce transmission. Sure, a vaccine would be better. But I can’t do anything about that. Nor can you. But you can do your part by following the current best practice guidelines from the CDC or other scientific and health organizations.

If you want your poker room to stay open, do your part, wear your mask, and follow their safety rules. This will make it more likely that you, the staff, and the other players don’t catch this virus. It will also make it more likely your poker room will remain open. Hard to have fun playing poker if the poker room gets closed. So, do it to be good, do it to be safe, or do it to be selfish, but wear your mask indoors (especially at the poker room)!

Good Luck, Be Safe, and Play Smart!

Greg Raymer is the 2004 World Series of Poker main event champion, winner of numerous major titles, and has more than $7 million in earnings. He recently authored FossilMan’s Winning Tournament Strategies, available from D&B Publishing, Amazon, and other retailers. He is sponsored by Blue Shark Optics, YouStake, and ShareMyPair. To contact Greg please tweet @FossilMan or visit his website.