ROCKFORD -- Bad news for lovers of Texas Hold 'em, seven-card stud and Omaha Hi-Lo: Hard Rock Casino Rockford is not planning to offer live poker.
Poker remains a popular game and can rake in millions, but, unfortunately for poker players, it doesn't make as much money as slot machines or other table games, said professor Anthony Lucas of the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
In recent years, Lucas said, casinos in Las Vegas have downsized and even eliminated poker rooms that managers increasingly view as a gaming amenity -- a casino game that produces marginal operating profits compared with other games that form the critical profit centers on a gaming floor.
"A casino floor is a war for space," Lucas said. "There is a finite amount of it and there is an ongoing turf war. Everyone is jockeying for more space. And they do it by saying, 'This is the profit per square foot I can produce.' You start weighing all these possible uses of space against one another and the poker room is one of those things that doesn't do so well in the conversation."
Hard Rock International, in partnership with a group of investors under the banner of Delaware-registered Rockford Casino Development LLC., has been certified by the Rockford City Council to move forward in the casino license approval process. Hard Rock plans to apply for the single available Rockford license from the Illinois Gaming Board before a late October deadline.
If approved, Hard Rock plans a $310 million development that will include a 65,000-square-foot casino, a Hard Rock Café, and a 1,600-seat Hard Rock Live venue at the location of the former Clock Tower Resort on East State Street near the entrance to Interstate 90. Plans call for 1,500 slot machines and 55 table games including standard games like blackjack, roulette and craps.
Most casino games of chance pit the player against the house, and the house always has at least some advantage. Poker is unusual among casino games because it is a competition of skill and luck that pits players against one another and not against the casino. The casino makes money by taking a "rake," a fee charged to players on the wagers they make against one another.
In a 2014 paper published in the UNLV Gaming Research & Review Journal, Lucas concluded that "poker players seemed to lack interest in slots and table games." And he argued that although poker draws players into the casino, they don't seem to generate much business for other areas of the casino.
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A typical Las Vegas casino poker room with 20 tables generates about $3 million a year in operating profits, Lucas said. Replacing those poker tables with 200 slot machines would be expected to generate nearly $15 million a year.
"I love the game and I wish they had a poker room because it's fun," Lucas said. "But a lot of places aren't going with poker."
One poker lover who isn't sad that Hard Rock will open without a live poker room is Rockford Charitable Games Association President Jim Kasputis.
Charities throughout northern Illinois hire his company to stage poker nights. Kasputis said the company, founded in 1984, originally offered casino nights with games like blackjack and roulette. The problem with those games, however, was that if the players won big, the charity could be left with little to show for the evening. Poker guarantees that the charity will benefit from every event because it takes a percentage of tournament buy-ins and pots.
Every Friday, the company stages a poker hall someplace in Rockford.
Even though Hard Rock will open without a poker room, Kasputis said, he thinks that it will add one if and when it expands. He points out that Hard Rock hosts large poker tournaments at its properties in Florida.
"Right now, a casino in Illinois can only have 2,000 gaming positions, and a poker table is 10 positions," Kasputis said. "You need to give up 10 slot machines to have one poker table. The math is not good. A casino is going to make more money with 10 slot machines."