Ed. note: This article was originally published on July 23, 2020. The information within has now been updated as per the above publication date.
In March of 2020, the Great Pandemic shut everything down in New England (New England is the northeast region of the United States and includes the following states: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont). Stores, schools, restaurants, businesses of all types, and even casinos locked down as we isolated in avoidance of the dreaded and deadly COVID-19 virus. People stayed home, worked remotely (if they worked at all), and largely changed their lives. We all wondered when and if things would return to normal, and many of us even turned to play online casino games as a leisure activity.
Though the virus still rages in much of the world and much of the United States, we in New England are seeing a marked diminishment of new COVID-19 cases, as well as a reduction in hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19. In general, New England is starting, slowly, to return to normalcy. Restaurants have gone from being fully closed, to open for take out and delivery, to open for outdoor dining, to now being open in many cases for in-restaurant dining – with some social distancing guidelines, and masks for servers. Businesses have started to open up, though often with restrictions on occupancy, and with customers and staff required to wear masks.
New England casinos, too, are starting to open – though it is a mixed bag with regard to poker. Though some of the New Hampshire poker rooms are open, the rest of New England has not been as fortunate with regard to poker. No poker rooms outside of New Hampshire are open. Here’s a status report on all remaining New England casinos with poker rooms, and the status of when those card rooms.
The poker rooms at Foxwoods Resort and Mohegan Sun are OPEN! They are playing with the following restrictions and precautions:
- Masks are required.
- Play is 7-handed, with plexiglass dividers between all players and in front of the dealer.
- Patrons in the room, but not seated, are required to stand at least six feet apart.
- Hand sanitizer is available for all to use – and players are encouraged to use it. A cleaner is assigned to disinfect all seating areas when a player vacates a seat.
- No food is allowed and no eating at the table is allowed. (Players may drink, but must remained masked before and after they drink beverages.)
The games go on as they did before the pandemic, with the same rake structure and the same excellent mix of limit and no limit hold’em and 7-card stud. When I called for this information on a Monday afternoon (typically the slowest time in a poker room) Foxwoods reported that they had $4/8 limit hold’em, $1-2 and $2-4 no limit hold’em, $2-5 PLO, and $20/40 7-card stud running. Mohegan Sun reported $1/2, $2-5 and $5-10 no limit hold’em and $2-5 PLO.
There are not yet any tournaments being scheduled. Both rooms are open seven days a week, while the hours of the two rooms differing slightly. Mohegan Sun is open from 10:00AM to 2:00AM, while Foxwoods is open from 9:00AM to 1:00AM.
The Hollywood Casino in Bangor, Maine, is open but their poker room remains closed. They report that they will definitely be reopening their poker room as soon as the governor declares it legal for them to do so. No one knows when that will be, but reports are that it will be soon.
Both the Encore Boston Harbor in Everett and the MGM Springfield are open but have not yet reopened their poker rooms. They each reported that they are waiting for the Massachusetts governor to allow them to open back up. Rumors abound about when that might be, but no date has yet been set.
Twin River Casino in Lincoln, Rhode Island, is open for business, but their poker room remains closed. They are waiting for the governor to allow poker. No word yet on when that will be.
Playing Poker During the Pandemic
Beyond the above-mentioned open poker rooms, there is an enormous amount of poker activity ongoing in New England. Let me give you a flavor of what poker life is like now.
Some players play poker online. Some do this by continuing to play on “rogue sites,” operating in seeming violation of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). But most of the players I know play online in home games on the play money version of large international sites like PokerStars. They monetized those games by agreeing to make payments to each other based on their results in the free games. This means that players only play with players they know and trust – typically friends from prior home games – and perhaps guests who would be vouched for – and whose action was covered. Most of this action is in tournaments, since it is much easier to monetize a play money tournament than a cash game.
Moreover, home games are reopening everywhere, and — as mentioned above — New Hampshire poker is going strong. Many players are starting to take poker trips to other locales, including Las Vegas, where many rooms have reopened. Even so, some of us are still being very cautious and not playing any indoor poker just yet.
I am not playing in any games yet, as I am waiting for the Center for Disease Control to say that it’s safe to do so. I’m hoping that by June 1st or so, a large enough percentage of our population will be vaccinated for indoor poker to once again be considered a safe activity. Until then, I am chomping at the bit — behind my mask!