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While we’ve been paying close attention to the maneuverings of online gambling legalization at the state and federal level a somewhat alarming trend has slipped under the radar: The closure of brick & mortar poker rooms across the United States.

While somewhat alarming, these closures shouldn’t be too concerning or considered a sign that poker’s star is waning. Reason being, there were probably too many poker rooms.

Nearly every casino rushed to open a poker room following Chris Moneymaker’s 2003 World Series of Poker victory in an attempt to get in on the subsequent Poker Boom that occurred. The idea of poker tables on a casino floor went from a waste of space to a worthwhile player acquisition model virtually overnight. Many of these casinos that attempted to cash in on the Poker Boom with some hastily crafted and poorly run poker room are now being forced to shutter their card rooms.

Most of these properties that have closed their poker rooms simply weren’t in it for the long haul. Rather, they just saw a chance to catch a wave and rode it as long as they could. As you’ll soon see, only one or two of the nearly 20 poker room closures I’ll list in this column were what I would term serious efforts.

So, even though poker is not thriving as it was during the mid- to late-2000’s, the game’s popularity and the number of venues where someone could sit down at a poker table are still well above the pre-2003 levels.


Atlantic City loses casinos and poker rooms

One of the most recent, and perhaps the most well-known poker room closures was the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. The Taj Poker Room was once the top poker spot on the East Coast, and was forever etched into the poker annals when it was given a place of honor in the 1998 movie Rounders.

The Taj Poker Room is supposed to reopen in July (following renovations) but a number of people feel the room may never reopen with poker tables.

In addition to the Taj, Atlantic City lost several other poker rooms (and casinos) in the past 18 months, along with four casinos – Atlantic Club in January 2014, Showboat in September 2014, Revel in September 2014, and Trump Plaza in September 2014.

The troubled Revel Casino shuttered its poker room in August of 2013, well before the casino closed its doors in September of 2014.

When Showboat Casino closed in September of 2014 its poker room was added to the list of now-closed poker spots.

However, The Taj and Atlantic City hasn’t been the only casualty of the final days of the Moneymaker-induced Poker Boom.


Las Vegas down to 39 poker rooms’s John Mehaffey has been diligently reporting on the numerous closures of Las Vegas poker rooms since 2012, a list that has now reached a baker’s dozen:

  • Tropicana – September 2012
  • Ellis Island – September 2012
  • Aliante Station – November 2012
  • Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall – January 2013
  • Riviera – June 2013
  • M Resort – August 2013
  • Circus Circus – September 2013
  • El Cortez – December 2013
  • Palms – May 2014
  • Sunset Station – May 2014
  • Texas Station – August 2014
  • The Linq – January 2015
  • Hooters – March 2015

Brian Pempus of Card Player Magazine adds, Gold Coast, Tuscany and Fitzgerald’s to the list of shuttered Las Vegas poker rooms. Pempus also notes that there are now just 79 poker rooms in Nevada, the lowest number since 2004 – while Mehaffey notes the app lists just 39 active poker rooms in Las Vegas.


New poker rooms still opening

Enough with the bad news, let’s move on to some positive poker news.

The good news is that while some smaller poker rooms have gone the way of the dodo, a number of casinos still see value in opening poker rooms, and a number of these venues are doing things the right way; making their poker room a centerpiece of their marketing efforts.

Whether it’s the soon to open poker room at Philadelphia’s Sugarhouse Casino, or the thriving rooms at Parx Casino (Pennsylvania), the Seminole Hard Rock (Florida), or Maryland LIVE!.

Add it all up and there seems to be plenty of interest in casino poker, provided the room is well run and well maintained.

Other recently renovated poker rooms include two branded rooms, one in Las Vegas at Caesars Palace and the other at Harrah’s Atlantic City, point towards an attempt by Caesars to converge their online and live poker products. And then of course there is the potential $10 million PokerStars branded room that might soon become a reality at Resorts Casino in Atlantic City.

Steve Ruddock

Steve is veteran of the the poker industry, first as a player and now as a writer focusing mainly on the regulated U.S. markets and the politics of poker. Follow Steve on Twitter @SteveRuddock and at Google+.