WSOP’s Immediate Future In Doubt As Vegas Mandates Masks Again

Florida casino indefinitely postpones World Poker Tour event
las vegas blackjack table

Las Vegas is back to requiring casino patrons to mask up, a move designed to curb the spread of the COVID-19 delta variant. The move comes just two months before the start of the World Series of Poker at the Rio Casino-Hotel, a Caesars-owned property located just off the Strip.

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, on Friday casinos in Glitter Gulch went back to requiring masks. The new mandate comes about two months after the previous mandate was lifted by the governor. While many in the country thought mask-wearing was a thing of the past for the vaccinated, the delta variant has prompted mask requirements for all, regardless of vaccination status.

The new mandate comes almost exactly two months before the World Series of Poker is expected to return to Las Vegas with live tournaments. The WSOP, which wasn’t held in-person last year, hasn’t said anything new regarding COVID-19 in the wake of the new mask mandate.

The hope is surely that the summer delta surge will subside as fall approaches. It appears a wave of the variant in the United Kingdom is slowing, which bodes well for no major interruption to the 2021 WSOP.

Then again, a prominent poker room in Florida just decided to postpone its World Poker Tour-branded tournament series. It’s unclear if a staffing issue was involved in the decision.

The live poker room at Encore Boston Harbor, one of the most prominent in the region, remains closed because of staffing shortages, the casino said. With thousands of participants, the WSOP needs hundreds of dealers, who typically come from across the country, to make its enormous tournament work.

Concerns among poker community linger

The new strain of COVID is still a fluid situation in the U.S., but some in the poker community are apparently opting to play it safe and skip the live tournaments, which will draw thousands of players into the Rio casino’s sprawling convention center a short walk from the main casino floor.

The WSOP is all in on its return this year, with a whopping 88 bracelet events and the final tournament expected to wrap up on Nov. 23. The fall schedule coincides with the NFL season, which should inject thousands of poker players into Las Vegas sportsbooks.

“Make no mistake, the 2021 WSOP will be the real deal and we’re preparing for a full house,” Ty Stewart, WSOP executive director, said in June. “Throughout the history of the WSOP, this year will be particularly memorable and we’re preparing for a poker reunion all players can celebrate. We’re beyond thrilled to offer a complete schedule of can’t-miss events, including all our flagships and the variety players deserve.”

Skipping a trip to poker’s biggest stage would be a tough pill to swallow for many, but some are already prepared to do it  without waiting to see what happens with the delta surge.

Chris Moneymaker, the 2003 WSOP Main Event champion, said as recently as late last month that he thinks it’s a coin toss whether the 2021 series takes place. That is probably one of the most pessimistic views out there in the poker world, but it’s far from crazy.

True to form, some of the game’s best players are looking to take bets on whether the series will happen live, though it’s unclear if any high-stakes wagers have been placed publicly. Poker pro Matt Glantz thinks there’s a possibility that the series is scaled back, which is a plausible outcome if the U.S. delta situation doesn’t improve in the coming weeks.

Image credit: Kit Leong /


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