The global COVID-19 pandemic sent live poker into lockdown virtually overnight. No chips being riffled at the poker tables, no queues for male restrooms around the world in casinos, no pictures posed with trophies at 3am.
Las Vegas, as we reported back in Spring, was turned into a ghost town. That was months ago, however. Since then, casinos have been steadily re-opening around America in particular, despite recent days of COVID-19 deaths still hitting over a thousand deaths in any 24-hour period.
Whether a case of economic pressure, staff protests or just plain greed, casinos have re-opened. We even write about Joey Ingram risking his own life to find out exactly what the experience was like. The crib notes on that are all good; Joey lived, he continues to make those YouTube videos you know and love.
Live poker and COVID-19, however, seem to go together as naturally as Joey Ingram and YouTube thumbnail clicks. The spread of the disease – or perhaps, more accurately, the failure to stop the spread – has been attributed this week to Las Vegas casinos.
This week, an article on a non-profit news website called ‘Pro Publica’ described how Las Vegas and in particular the casinos that are open (and there are plenty of them) are making it highly difficult for health officials in the area to trace infections and the rate of transmission.
In short, tracing a moving demographic like the nightly footfall at a bustling Las Vegas casino is like trying to juggle hungry squirrels.
Plotting mobile phone patterns, across May the traces of people moving around is minimal, after all, casinos were almost all closed. But in June and July as at-first sporadic then the more regular re-opening of casinos welcomed gamblers back to their games of choice, the patterns got denser, the numbers doubled and people got harder to trace.
With travel to Las Vegas also increasing, so to was the spread of COVID-19. Economic reasons to re-open the City came with a risk and that risk was losing the numbers game. The house can always win, but Coronavirus is a little like the house, if the R-rate is high enough. Infection can’t then be stopped, only slowed.
With recent innovations such as UV light sanitizing air-conditioned oxygen in Wisconsin casinos, hand sanitizers around all casinos and plexi-glass screens separating people as much as possible, establishments are doing all that they can to bring down the chance of anyone catching COVID-19. But in the world of poker, the home of gambling and everything that comes with casinos, it seems that there is only so much anyone can do to make the gaming environment as safe as possible.
For all the effort, ingenuity and hard work behind the scenes, it’s only slowing the snowball down on its path down the mountain. Eventually, momentum will build up speed and the problem will grow. It’s a matter of time and space, two things the casino never has a lack of.