It was a sad day for me today when I learned that the Choctaw Casino in McAlester had closed its poker room. You see, for years I’ve been visiting McAlester where my gal’s mother lived. Once a month, or every-other month, we’d drive down from Tulsa for a visit. Mom was no stranger to the casino, being an enthusiastic slots player herself. So we often went together to play our favorite games.
I never had any big nights at their tables, mind you. I’d win or lose a hundred or two in the couple hours Mom spent pushing buttons on the machines. The poker room wasn’t really a room at all–merely three tables laid out in a triagle formation in the middle of the gaming floor. On my first visit nearly three years ago, all three tables were full and in the midst of a tournament. But when the third table broke a cash game began, and I eagerly took a seat. The game was lively, with plenty of action, and friendly and talkative players. The game was light-hearted and good-natured. Even if you happened to be losing, you were still likely to be having a good time.
It was at one of these tables that I was part of the only bad-beat jackpot of my life (but hopefully not the last–fingers crossed). I don’t precisely recall all the action, but one player managed to get all-in on the turn against two opponents, with the other two all-in on the river. When the hands were exposed, the first player had pocket Aces. The second player had quad sixes. The third player had rivered a straight-flush. My part of the jackpot came to $160, which I managed to give back to another player when his KT cracked my QQ with an unfortunate turn card.
We lost Mom in January of this year so my visits to McAlester have been fewer and farther apart. My last visit was three months ago, I believe, and I went to the casino in search of a game. The night’s tournament was still in progress so I put my name on the cash game list. To my surprise, player after player busting out of the tournament left the premises without opting to sign up for a cash game. Thirty minutes went by, then an hour, and they still didn’t have enough players to open a table. After ninety minutes had gone by, with only 3 players left in the tournament, I asked the floor how many players were on the list. Five, he said, but three of those had been on the list since 4pm. I was astonished, but chalked it up to a fluke.
My gal does IT work in the banking industry, while my endeavors benefit the federal government–which is to say we both were blessed with a day off for Veterans Day. We decided to take advantage and make a trip down to Mom’s house to resume packing up her things and caring for the property. Naturally, I trucked over to the casino after a long day of bubble wrap and boxes. But there I was informed they no longer offered poker. The blackjack tables are still open, but poker has been shut down.
This isn’t the first poker room to close at a casino in NE Oklahoma this year. And I fear it won’t be the last. When I received the news that Choctaw was no longer spreading NL Hold’em, I drove an hour north to Muskogee to check out the Creek Casino there. Chris, a former River Spirit floor man is the table games manager there now. I knew they had a good sized poker room, 10 to 12 tables, so surely they’d have a few tables going on a Friday night.
I arrived at 10:30pm. They had only one game going and it was 8-handed. The remaining tables all sat empty.
It seems as though poker players in rural areas will soon be without a local poker room unless said rural area happens to be near a border with another state that doesn’t permit casinos to spread poker (Quapaw and Thackerville spring to mind). The shutdown of online poker brought an influx of new players to my games in Tulsa, but only a handful have stuck around.
Is this the future of live poker in Oklahoma? A slow and steady attrition of the player pool until only the major metropolitan areas can afford to host a game? It could be. With the economy putting the pinch on everyone, it’s certain there is less disposable income available for people to gamble with.
Forbes recently ranked Tulsa as tied for third place among the U.S. cities with the highest expected job growth in 2012. (Edmond, OK was also high on the list.) I hope they’re right about that. And I hope it translates into more games in more places with more people than we are seeing now. Otherwise, well, you’ll just have to commute to Tulsa.
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