Borgata First In Atlantic City To Resume Poker Play

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It took seven months, but an Atlantic City casino finally is bringing back live poker to its table game offerings.

Borgata has announced that The Poker Room will reopen at 10 a.m. on Wednesday — with some COVID-19-related adjustments, of course.

“We are happy to welcome back our loyal players as we reopen Atlantic City’s market-leading East Coast poker destination,” Melonie Johnson, president and chief operating officer of Borgata, said in a statement.

The reopened room will feature 30 “spaced-out” tables, with the polycarbonate dividers between each player and the dealer that have become ubiquitous in casino table game areas across the U.S. Up to seven players per table are permitted.

No tournaments have yet been scheduled — it’s cash games only to start. But Borgata’s Bad Beat Jackpot is back, giving players the opportunity to lose their hand but win a prize of $100,000.

No food, no railbirds

Beverage service will be available inside Borgata’s poker room, but no food will be permitted at the poker tables.

In accordance with all New Jersey regulations, masks are required in all public areas of the casino, including The Poker Room.

Hand-sanitizing dispensers will be accessible throughout The Poker Room, with what Borgata officials promise will be “frequent disinfecting of high-touch points.”

Want to root a friend on? Sorry, spectators will not be permitted.

“We have made some changes to enhance our guests’ experience and are excited to reintroduce live poker and the Borgata Poker brand more safely,” Johnson said.

Borgata is asking that if a guest tests positive after visiting the casino for any reason, it be alerted via covid19@mgmresorts.com so that the casino can immediately report positive test results to the local health department and assist with contact tracing.

Why poker lags far behind other casino options

The move to bring poker back comes after recent comments by Steve Callender, regional president of Caesars Entertainment Inc. and president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, during a remote discussion with the Greater Atlantic City Chamber.

“It’s a challenge,” Callender told the organization. “I wouldn’t venture [to say]  when we’re going to see poker come back.”

Poker, as monthly casino profit reports show, is not the revenue-enhancer that other table games and slot machines are. And with added safety concerns due to the tactile nature of the game, it’s not clear if all Atlantic City poker rooms will gain clearance at this point.

Online poker has provided an alternative for New Jersey players during the pandemic, and whereas it typically produced revenue just below the $2 million mark each month pre-COVID, there was a significant uptick early in the pandemic. It reached a high of $5.1 million in April, but slipped back down to half that amount, $2.55 million, in September.

The undisputed leader of the brick-and-poker Atlantic City poker competition is Borgata, which before the pandemic offered 77 tables. Borgata, which has a branded online poker site as well, appears to be getting the jump on rival poker rooms at Golden Nugget and Harrah’s in the Marina District, as well as Bally’s and Tropicana on the Boardwalk.

Ocean Casino Resort has removed poker tables in favor of added space for high-limit slot machines.

Border wars a factor in Borgata plan

Borgata also is striking back against a potential poker player exodus to Pennsylvania.

Both Mohegan Sun Pocono and Mount Airy Casino Resort are reopening their poker rooms this weekend, which may entice some eager New Jersey players who don’t want to wait for Borgata to deal its first hand.

The Meadows Racetrack and Casino in western Pennsylvania is scheduled to join the club next week.

Maryland already has resumed permitting poker at its casinos, but neighboring New York, Ohio, and West Virginia have not.

The communal nature of poker means a large part of its appeal for many players can’t be replicated as easily online as other offerings such as slots or even blackjack. Poker is unique as a “peer-to-peer” game, with other players, not the casino, serving as the competition.

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John Brennan

John Brennan has covered NJ and NY sports business and gaming since 2002 and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2008, while reporting for The Bergen County Record.

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