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WHAT’S THE DEAL? Atlantic City Poker Rooms Remain Closed as Unemployment Skyrockets

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) gave the green light for Atlantic City casinos to reopen over the July 4 weekend. That didn’t include poker and players speculated rooms would soon follow with limited capacity.

It’s now August and all poker rooms remain closed. Online poker has boomed in the state, but many players are asking when live games will return.

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A look at the Atlantic City poker scene

Atlantic city currently has five live poker rooms: Harrahs, Borgata, Tropicana, Golden Nugget, and Caesars. All five casinos have reopened but have not released any information on reopening the poker rooms.

USPoker reached out to the properties but didn’t receive any information on poker room reopening plans. Poker player Jamie Giunta recently visited the reopened Borgata shared a video on Twitter of the normally bustling poker room.

“I teared up, felt lost, like it wasn’t real,” she says. “It was really sad to see no bodies in chairs and no faces. Borgata poker was the forefront of poker in Atlantic City. It was disheartening to see.”

Poker rooms face several requirements before reopening

On July 2, Murphy released updated executive orders regarding the casino industry. Atlantic City’s guidelines allowed for poker rooms to be reopen with the following rules in place:

  • All table games must have Plexiglas or glass barriers between dealers and guests.
  • Casinos must adhere additional cleaning and disinfecting protocols.
  • Casinos are subject to the state’s gathering limits. These currently restrict indoor capacity at 100 people or 25% of a room’s capacity.
  • Properties must promote social distancing and hygiene by establishing spacing and appropriate signage.
  • Casinos must place sanitizer stations throughout the property.
  • Players must wear masks in all public areas. However, guests must briefly lower masks for cage transactions for surveillance purposes.

Many poker rooms in other states, including Nevada, have already opened poker rooms. At properties like Bellagio in Las Vegas, players can expect to wear masks and see Plexiglass dividers at the tables.

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A waiting game for live poker in New Jersey

Online casino numbers have skyrocketed, but Atlantic City casinos are feeling the pain of the financial downswing. According to MarketScreener, Atlantic City got hit the hardest with the worst unemployment rate in the country at 34.3%.

Live poker dealers account for some of these numbers. Pennsylvania and Delaware poker rooms are also closed.

Maryland Live! and MGM National Harbor are the closest open poker rooms for New Jersey players. However, there’s a 14-day quarantine travel restriction to Maryland.

For the time being, NJ poker players will have to enjoy playing online. Joe Shinn of Cherry Hill, NJ, plays both online and live, but is ready to head back to the real felt.

“Online poker is nowhere near as enjoyable, so the sooner the AC poker rooms can safely open, the better,” he says.

Others aren’t interested in state guidelines for short-handed play even if live poker does return.

“As much as I miss the juicy tourist cash games in the summer, I’m not sure I would enjoy playing four-handed,” Atlantic City cash grinder Charles Powell IV said.

When it comes to Atlantic City, poker tournament regular Marguerite Spagnuolo takes a libertarian approach.

“Get those dealers and floor people back to work,” she says. “Let the people choose to play or not.”

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