Poker rooms have been shutting down and opening up frequently in the fast-paced gambling metropolis Las Vegas. Unfortunately more of the former than the latter. In the wake of Black Friday, twenty-eight poker rooms have shut their doors in Nevada since 2012. In 2018, five have closed in Las Vegas alone.
In recent news however there was finally a mention of a new or rather reopening poker venue on the Las Vegas Strip.
Sahara Las Vegas to reopen poker room: a glimpse of hope for Vegas poker?
The Sahara Las Vegas has gone through a lot over the past decades. Founded as one of the first casinos on the Strip in 1952 with a lot of mob and music history, it closed its doors together with its 11-table poker room in 2011. As opposed to most Vegas casinos that shut down, the Sahara was not demolished and instead reopened as the SLS Las Vegas (“Style, Luxury, Service”) in 2014.
The Meruelo Group bought the SLS four years later and rebranded it once again as the Sahara in August last year. This month it was announced that it would reopen its poker room at the end of January with seven 9-handed tables with $4 max rake.
There will still be the issue of the bad location at the north end of the Strip, but now that Las Vegas has ride-share options like Uber and Lyft that might solve that problem for the Sahara. Another factor that will revive this area of Las Vegas is the opening of Resorts World in December 2020.
Small and Medium Poker rooms struggle in Vegas
Poker rooms being downsized is often a first sign for an imminent closure. Many try special promotions or other marketing tactics to keep the rooms alive, but they often lose the fight against other higher-revenue gambling options that the casino operators favour. A slot machine in Las Vegas makes more money and takes up less space. Poker tables including chairs around it are a space killer and the same space could be filled with five slot machines instead and less operational costs.
It does take a good poker marketing team to navigate the many challenges and keep the smaller and medium-sized rooms in Las Vegas afloat while the “Big 4”, Aria, Bellagio, Wynn and Venetian, prove to be stable poker destination.
The legendary Sahara $75 tournament
Back in the days the Sahara poker room featured a very popular good value tournament with a very fair structure considering the buy-in. It attracted a lot of local poker players and is said to have been $60 + $15 rake and 20-minute blinds.
When the Sahara closed, this tournament was taken up by the Stratosphere poker room as a Friday special including pizza for all players during the first break. However, as the rake here was $20 while $55 went towards the prize pool, it basically was the players who paid for their pizzas themselves anyway.
The Westgate casino is the most recent location that actually made the news for opening a new poker room in recent times. And when the Stratosphere poker room closed in October 2019 the Westgate took over the old Sahara tournament, keeping it alive. It does stay at a $75 buy-in including a $19 rake and no pizza.
If the new Sahara poker room is going to demand back its original trademark poker tournament remains to be seen.