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Is It Time For The WSOP To Relocate From The Rio To Another Casino?

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At a little after 11 p.m. on Monday, the lights went out at the Rio. A storm was rolling through Las Vegas, and not only did it zap the power in parts of the casino, but a leaky roof was leaving some tables wetter than a suited Q-J-10 flop.

There was about an hour of play left for the night in the World Series of Poker Main Event when darkness fell at the Rio. After tables completed one hand by cell phone light, organizers decided to send everyone home and bump the rest of the action to Tuesday morning.

Stuff happens. Any casino could lose power at an inopportune time, whether because of a thunderstorm or because Danny Ocean just put a crew together. But this moment represented a possible new high-water mark (pun somewhat intended) in Rio rockiness after years of poker players complaining about the venue.

The 14-year itch

Nothing lasts forever. Binion’s Horseshoe was home to the WSOP from the very first Series in 1970 until 2004. But then the event outgrew the half-century-old downtown Vegas venue and found a new home just off the Strip, in the giant convention area at the Rio.

The WSOP has by no means outgrown the Rio after 14 summers there, but it’s worth asking whether the time has again come for a change.

The list of complaints from players over the years include the Amazon Room being too cold, a lack of functioning bathrooms near the poker pavilion, WiFi issues, and a Starbucks that won’t stay open past 11 p.m. Some are significant. Some are trivial.

“Players complaining? Is that news?” challenges Las Vegas Advisor President Anthony Curtis. “People will find a way to complain about anything. Plus, there will be situations legitimately worth complaining about no matter where you go. I think the Rio works. It’s easy access and good for the public to wander around. And it was a big-time resort at one point, so there are plenty of decent amenities — even if it has seen better days.”

What are the alternatives?

Parent company Caesars Entertainment certainly has other options in Las Vegas besides the 28-year-old Rio:

  • Bally’s
  • Caesars Palace
  • The Cromwell
  • The Flamingo
  • Harrah’s
  • The Linq
  • Paris Las Vegas
  • Planet Hollywood

Some of them don’t have the space to handle the thousands of poker players (not to mention the railbirds) descending upon the tables any given day over the course of seven weeks. But a few could accommodate the crowds and are either more recently renovated or more conveniently located than the Rio.

Caesars Forum, a 550,000-square-foot conference center, seems a reasonable candidate to host the WSOP…after it opens in 2020.

For now, though, Curtis isn’t convinced that any of these locations make as much sense for the WSOP as its current home does.

“There are other Caesars Entertainment properties that have the space, but I doubt that they want to deal with all the poker disruption over almost two months,” Curtis says. “The Rio is really very well suited to this type of event and probably benefits from it more than any of the others would. An important consideration is the big outside surface-parking area at the Rio, which eliminates parking problems that could materialize if held elsewhere.”

The World Series of Poker left the Horseshoe after 35 years not because poker players were in the mood for something new but because the building was in steep decline and logistics forced the WSOP out. There’s no urgent need for poker’s biggest annual event to find a new home just yet, even if some players have grown weary of spending their summers at the Rio.

But after 14 years, we’re surely nearer the end of this partnership than the beginning. We might be only a few power outages, holes in the roof, or busted thermostats away from shuffling up and out and dealing elsewhere.

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