The Casino File: Why you can’t play poker yet in Atlantic City or Pennsylvania; Guy Fieri inks deals with new Philly and Pittsburgh casinos

America’s favorite card game continues to suffer from COVID-19.
Guy Fieri, The Mayor of @flavortown, announced projects in casinos on either side of Pennsylvania
Guy Fieri, The Mayor of @flavortown, announced projects in casinos on either side of Pennsylvania@GuyFieri on Twitter

As one who is charged with keeping an eye on the action in Atlantic City and Pennsylvania gambling dens, I have been asked more than a few times why, if you can play slot machines, blackjack et al, poker rooms are dark, and when will the cards be “in the air?”

The answer to the second question is: Most likely when life has returned to at least a semblance of pre-COVID normalcy (that is, when the chances of transmission between people are considered extremely-rare-to-non-existent). As for the first query, the answer is a little more involved, but no less understandable.

Even with serious precautions in place (as there are throughout casinos), poker is potentially a “superspreader” activity. First of all, you have as many as 10 people sitting in close proximity for extended periods, all of whom are well within six feet of other players and the dealer. Then there is the matter of the constant touching of cards and chips, which are circulated among players on a continuous basis.

But economics play a role as well. Unlike the games offered on casino floors, poker is not mathematically engineered in favor of the house. Instead, casinos make their money by taking a cut of the pot, with the “rake” limited to a maximum $5 per hand in Pennsylvania and $4 in AyCee—a far cry from the hundreds, thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars that can be won on a single hand of blackjack or baccarat. This is why reducing the number of players at a table, as has been done to casino-floor games, makes little financial sense.

As such, poker—in Atlantic City, Pennsylvania and elsewhere—is viewed by the industry as an amenity, that is a bonus customer lure rather than a serious revenue generator (although it is true poker players add to bottom lines by eating in casino restaurants and staying in hotel rooms). Thus, it is likely that a good deal of time needs to pass before it’s time to “shuffle up and deal” once again.

Fieri planting flags in Philly, Pittsburgh

Celebrity restaurateur Guy Fieri may be known as the “Mayor of Flavortown,” but it seems he’s angling to become governor of “Flavorvania.” The Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives star has, over the past couple of weeks, announced projects in casinos on either side of the state.

Live! Philadelphia Casino-Hotel, currently being built in Philly’s stadium district, will showcase two casual-dining outlets, Guy Fieri’s Taco Joint and Guy Fieri’s Burger Joint. On the left-hand side of the Keystone State, look for American Kitchen + Bar—another informal outlet—to feed guests at Live! Casino Pittsburgh.

The Philly complex is expected to open its doors in the first quarter of 2021; the Pittsburgh outpost is slated to debut next month.

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