Shuffle Up And Wait: Poker Rooms Remain Closed in Ohio Casinos

Written By Martin Harris on January 27, 2021 - Last Updated on July 26, 2022

When the COVID-19 global pandemic was first declared in March 2020, casinos across the US acted swiftly. Every last one of the 1,000 or so commercial and tribal casinos shut down operations, many for two or three months.

Over the next few months, many of the country’s casinos reopened, including those in Ohio. However, poker rooms in the Buckeye State stayed closed. And they have remained shuttered ever since.

To employ a poker analogy, one consequence has been a lengthy, challenging downswing both for Ohio poker players and poker room employees.

Ohio poker shutdown negatively affecting staff, dealers

Gov. Mike DeWine followed Ohio Department of Health guidelines by announcing the state’s four casinos and seven racinos could all reopen starting June 19.

Those guidelines included a limit of 50% capacity, mandatory mask-wearing by employees and socially distanced slots. They also ruled out reopening poker rooms or staging any live entertainment.

Ohio’s commercial casinos rebounded relatively well. In fact, properties in July set a new monthly revenue record despite the restrictions.

Without poker, though, dealers and staff working in that part of the casino have remained largely on the rail.

Poker employees speak out

Last week, WTVG-TV in Toledo spoke with a few Ohio poker room employees about their plight.

One who deals at Hollywood Casino Toledo explained he was given the option to work in another area of the casino. But doing so would involve risk, as the casino could not guarantee his return to the poker room once it reopened.

A married couple working as dealers at the same casino shared how they had lost their poker room jobs in August.

The station reached out to DeWine’s office for information about when Ohio poker rooms will be able to open. However, no answer was provided.

Neighboring states open poker rooms

Ohioans in favor of reopening poker rooms point to operations doing so in other states.

Pennsylvania poker rooms

To the east, Pennsylvania casinos began reopening in June. However, it wasn’t until October that poker rooms received the go-ahead and began inviting back players.

By November, five different poker rooms had opened. Each offered seven-handed games, set up plexiglass dividers, and required players to wear masks.

While a winter surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths forced Pennsylvania casinos to close again in December, they reopened again this month.

Indiana poker rooms

To the west, casinos in Indiana reopened in June, though they kept poker rooms closed. Similar to those in PA, poker operations in Indiana received permission to reopen in October.

Today, the rooms at Caesars Southern Indiana, Hollywood Casino Lawrenceburg, and Four Winds Casino Lawrenceburg all offer short-handed, mask-mandatory games.

Michigan poker rooms

To the north, Michigan waited until last week to allow its casinos to reopen their poker rooms. So far, only MGM Grand Detroit and Odawa Casino have done so. None of the rooms in West Virginia casinos has reopened.

Few options for Ohio live poker

A few standalone poker rooms in Ohio have been able to operate at a limited capacity. Be advised that, though these poker rooms are operational, they aren’t exactly fully legal and regulated. Because the club owners keep membership private and don’t take a rake, they may be okay in the eyes of the law, but the Ohio Gaming Commission does not regulate them. With that in mind, play at your own risk, knowing there is no oversight.

In Columbus, players have had a couple of options, but be advised that these are not regulated and overseen by the Ohio Gaming Commission. The Shark Tank Poker Club reopened last June, and the Deep Stack Poker & Card Room welcomed back players in September. Over in Oxford, the Gemini Mansfield Poker Club reopened in July.

Live poker continues to present a challenge both in Ohio and elsewhere. Hopefully, the rollout of vaccines will hopefully prefigure a brighter future in 2021.

Photo by AP / Mark Duncan
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