[Editor’s Note: Danielle Adams Benham is a sponsored poker player, author, and radio personality. She is a front-running advocate for Australian poker and women in poker and is fondly known by her peers as “The Hot Aussie Chick.”]
What are the Effects of the Coronavirus on Poker?
For poker players who scour social-media news feeds, google alerts, and trusted news sites, the virality of posts and articles on the coronavirus is evident. Seriously evident! The world wide web and social-media platforms are more viral with details on COVID-19 than is the virus itself. Media, politicians, and civilians alike are detailing what’s happening in their areas, as well as the state of the situation on a global scale. It’s also conveyed how the virus is impacting global trade, the stock exchange, tourism, and people in general at a more local level. Panic buying has commenced, borders are closing, and travel bans have already been put in place in some countries. Expected quarantine is upon us if we travel and travel insurance itself is letting us down. What isn’t being widely discussed, however, are the current immediately visible and potential future effects of the coronavirus on the casino gaming industry. Lets take a good hard look.
Macau Casinos Take a Massive Hit
As with anything, its always a good idea to start right where the story begins. If you don’t already know, and you should, this story begins in Wuhan, China. As such, most parts of China are in complete lockdown as I write this, or, are just re-opening for business. This lockdown includes, but is not limited to, stores, businesses, export and import shipping, and casinos. China, being a communist country, doesn’t allow gambling. But then there’s Macau, which has more than 75% of its casino patrons coming from China. This resulted in disaster. All of the Macau casinos were forced to close. The two-week closure was unprecedented and came at a cost of billions of dollars. Wynn Casino Macau alone claims to have lost $2.5 million daily and Wynn is but a small portion of the approximately $36 billion-per-year industry there. The Macau province is very different when it comes to revenue raising in casinos, with only 10% of its revenue contributed from food sales and accommodation. Regardless, it was stung and stung hard! Stocks dropped and the mass losses were incurred over a period of just 15 days. It doesn’t end there!
Following the re-opening of Macau’s casinos, it’s reported that they’re still hurting, with Chinese citizens who, again, make up a large portion of its patronage, still in lockdown. Then there are the travelers from farther away who aren’t coming due to regulations and/or a fundamental fear of catching the virus. Projecting from Macau’s woes, the coronavirus’ expected impact on the rest of the world’s adult gaming hubs doesn’t look bright, or does it?
Poker is Hugely Affected Globally — Bans, Cancellations, and De-Contaminations
In gambling, my forte is poker. Hence, it makes sense for me to report what I’ve seen on the poker front to use as an example for expected overall casino effects. Poker is a worldwide sport and we’re already seeing cancellations of tournaments and decreased numbers in cash games and daily deepstacks on a global level.
As the official “radio chick” for the World Series of Poker on behalf of 888 in 2017, I had the privilege of announcing the partnering of the WSOP with Kings Casino. I’ll start here with the restrictions (or radical new policies) Kings Casino has put in place amid the caronavirus threat. Kings has declared that no one from Italy may enter its tournaments (and no doubt Iran or China), given that Italy is one of the three most highly impacted countries. This “country of origin ban” will be in place for an undetermined amount of time. One would imagine that WSOP 2020 will follow suit with various travel bans put in place, at least for the hardest-hit regions. It only makes sense. This is based on the assumption that the virus isn’ t contained by the start of WSOP 2020. The WSOP’s Seth Palanskey indicates that the situation continues to be monitored.
Kings, the largest poker room in Europe, took the first unprecedented step of any casino globally. Let’s be realistic and honest, this was needed: Poker rooms are a cesspool of germs at the best of times, as are all other casino gaming areas. Players sit close to each other and throw chips back and forth across the tables. If you tell me you’ve spent a summer in Las Vegas without seeing a single poker player get ill, I’ll tell you you’re walking around with your eyes closed. Since Kings’ move, there have been so many tournament cancellations I can’t keep up!
Closures and Cancellations
The next step (beyond banning certain players from entering casinos) is a complete closure of casinos, a la Macau, or a cancellation of events, such as poker tournaments and conventions. There has already been an unfortunate number of poker events that have been canceled before they started, due to the outbreak. This has left poker players betting on the complete closure of the 2020 World Series of Poker. These are the tournaments that have been canceled so far (and these aren’t all of them):
- Triton Poker Super High Roller Series, Jeju, March 2020
- Wynn Las Vegas (all tournaments canceled)
- The 2020 Malta Poker Championship
- Asia Poker League, DaNang, February 2020
- World Poker Tour (WPT) Vietnam, March 2020
- Bounty Poker Tour Estonia
- The Irish Poker Open
- World Poker Tour Amsterdam
- Golden Gates CPT Series
- 888 Poker Live Bucharest
- WPT Maryland Deepstacks
- Venetian Las Vegas (cancellations day by day)
- Nevada State Ladies Poker Championship
I’ll stop there — you get the idea. Poker rooms are next — Wynn Las Vegas has just announced that its room will close temporarily. And let’s not forget the NBA, NHL, MLB, PGA, March Madness, NASCAR, the Motor Grand Pre in Australia, Disneyland, and large-scale gatherings in general.
De-Contiminations and Coronavirus Testing at Major Poker Events
The lower grade method of dealing with a possible outbreak during a poker event can be seen at the Asian Poker Tour (APT), which I’ve worked with a number of times. Due to that affiliation, I can attest first hand that they usually take the health and well being of their players very seriously. However, a statement released yesterday may indicate otherwise. The APT series has landed in Tawain, and the following statement was made on social media this week:
“As we welcome everyone, we also make sure that proper precautionary measures are being taken during the event.
To ensure the safety of the players and staff, APT and CTP are taking daily practice of preventive actions like temperature checking and also provide complete prevention supplies like hand sanitizers, tissues, disposable masks, and hypochlorous acid water generator that serves as room anti-bacterial sterilizer and deodorizer”.
The statement included pictures of tournament play in action and the new APT pre-game warm-up (aka, let’s see if you’re sick before we let you in and test everyone’s nerves in the line while we do so). These pictures show just how alarming and terrifying the thought of stepping into any highly affected country’s poker room would be. Its something I never imagined I would see in my lifetime and I’m guessing you’re thinking the same.
Expected Impact on the Gaming Industry
Where does this leave the gaming industry as a whole? I have to say, in my opinion it doesn’t look great until the virus is contained. For starters, there were already people avoiding casinos like the plague. At least many of my poker friends were. Insurances for travel to the USA are being denied for anyone with pre-exisiting health conditions and do not cover coronavirus in most instances. This means we don’t figure to see many Chinese nationals, Italians, Iranians, or Europeans transiting to U.S. casino areas anytime soon with borders closed.
The impact the coronavirus will have on casinos in Las Vegas, other than initial small declines, is very much dependent on the magnitude of a global domino effect. As countries become coronavirus hot spots, they will likely be travel-banned. As fear increases from more deaths and increased media hype and speculation, people will be less likely to travel and even lesser likely to go into crowded places such as casinos. With all of this being taken into consideration and looking back on the effect on Macau, one has to worry to a certain degree.
Online Casino Gaming Brings Safety
Before concluding, I would like to stress that this situation offers another good reason to advocate for the complete globalized legalization of online casino gaming. Let us play online if we want to. Online poker and blackjack tournaments could experience a renaissance amid the chaos. They could in fact be replacements in times like this. Imagine if the WSOP does have to cancel for 2020! What’s left? Online events only. Bring back the easy access to online casinos — poker and blackjack, at least.