Wednesday November 4, 2020 at 2:56 pm

MGM Grand made a tough decision to close the poker room at some of their Las Vegas Strip properties indefinitely. That bold decision includes the shuttering of the legendary poker room at the Mirage Casino, which at one time hosted the biggest cash games in the Vegas. In addition, the suits made a decision to shut down the Mandalay Bay and Excalibur, two low-level poker rooms that used to attract both tourists and locals alike.

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RIP to the Mirage Poker Room. It's truly the end of an era as the Coronavirus pandemic forced many mega-casino conglomerates to shut down some rooms that had yet to reopen and consolidate their other poker rooms that say a drop off in attendance.

2020 was looking like a grim year for poker before the pandemic hit. For the first time in almost 20 years, the number of poker rooms in Las Vegas were declining. The last vestiges of the glorious online poker room were gone as that tremendous tidal wave finally receded. Plus, when you have gaming corporations gobbling each other up, the "bottom line" comes into play and any suit with a rudimentary business degree could whip up a power point presentation to show that they can save money and boost year-end profits by getting rid of redundancies. If you are a mega-gaming-conglomerate that owns a dozen casinos and ten of them have poker rooms and only five are profitable, the greedheads will say get rid of the poker room and add slots because slots is the bread and butter of the gaming industry and old people on death's doorstep willing to donk off their social security checks is good for business, whereas silent kids in hoodies and old chatty guys with no shortage of bad beat stories is actually bad for business.

Toss in the pandemic, and you have a recipe for disaster because poker tables are just a petri dish of filth and germs. I was never a germaphobe until I moved to Vegas and watched how many players went to the toilet and never washed their hands and then rushed back to the poker table. From a public health standpoint, there should have done a much better job figuring out how to make a safer environment for poker players. But that costs money. Unless there's a cheap workaround (e.g. plastic partitions and reducing full-ring to shorthanded), then those beancounters don't see a profitable solution.

The casino biz has always been scummy. In the old days, you had to deal with the mafia element. But at least they tried to run a legit biz in the middle of the desert. Once they got all the mafia guys out of the gaming biz, it got even scummier. That's when the real criminals took over. Those white-collar types that could destroy lives with a single meeting. Like that scene in The Wire, "I got the shotgun, you got the briefcase."

Alas, it's the end of an era in Las Vegas with the shuttering of the Mirage poker room. The Mirage opened at the end of 1989 and it was the true personification of 1980s greed with a twist -- a vision by Steve Wynn to build a Polynesian-themed resort that included a volcano.

Of course, one of the coolest things Wynn did was position the sports book and poker room right next to each other. And both were somewhat close from the front door to Las Vegas Blvd.

In the early 1990s when I visited Las Vegas for the first time, the Mirage was one of the newest and posh resort and casinos on Las Vegas Blvd. I went to bet on sports and sweat my bet in their massive sportsbook, which at the time, I had no other comparison aside from mission control room at NASA. When I caught the poker bug in college, I wandered over to the poker room and just watched in amazement. I was too chicken-shit to take a shot then and didn't quite understand the "Texas Hold'em" variation when I was a classic stud player.

By the late 1990s, the movie "Rounders" came out and all of my friends became quick experts in the "Cadillac of poker" and we played nonstop in home games and local Indian casinos in the Pacific Northwest. When it was time to return to Las Vegas, I finally had the balls and the bankroll to take a shot at the Mirage Poker Room in the late 1990s.

By then, the luster began to fade. Once the Bellagio opened and its swanky new poker room, most of the high-stakes action migrated down the Strip to the Bellagio. Gone were the days of the nosebleed games, but it was still a stalwart in the poker community.

When I moved to Las Vegas in 2005, the Mirage was well-past its prime. They had a couple of mid-stakes games but that was very territorial and the local pros in that came would eat you up. But for low-stakes fun, the Mirage was still a place that you can play cards and think about the ghosts in the room and all those amazing games that were played in the corner where some of the biggest cash games in Vegas went down.

Even KidPoker summed it up best, "That's where I grew up."

Negreanu, Erik Seidel, and Phil Ivey cut their teeth at the Mirage. Anyone who was anyone in the 1990s that played big-time poker had to step foot at the Mirage if they wanted a shot at the big time. That's where the sharks were circling. And now, it's nevermore.

Whenever I was in the middle of a losing streak, down on my luck, or just feeling blue... I'd drive over to the Mirage and play low-stakes poker. I called it my "Slumpbuster" casino or a spot where I could refocus and get back to basics. It's also a place where I could take friends that just wanted to have some fun and not worry about anything too serious. In short, it became just another spot to check out when life in Vegas got too crazy, or got a little stale.

That's all gone now. The virus wiped out the profits and in turn the gamblers stayed home. When the casinos reopened, some of them did not reopen their poker rooms. The Mirage was one of those properties that were open to gamblers, but not poker players. That's when a suit made the bottom-line decision to shut it down. They didn't care about the memories, or the ghosts of gambling past, or what the Mirage meant in the bigger historical construct of modern poker.

Vegas destroys its past and there's very few "historical landmark markers" on display. Vegas literally implodes itself and its past and rebuilds on top of the old spot. Ghosts on top of ghosts. I'd like to think that sometime in the future, some suit will have the courage to reopen the poker room and pay homage to the historical significance of the room. Isn't it pretty to think so?

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