Playground Poker Closes Again, WPT Montreal on Hold

Covid-19 strikes again.

Playground Poker followed official orders from the government and public health officials to shut its doors in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. After finally receiving approval to reopen in September, even with very limited capacity and no poker or alcohol, Playground happily opened its doors.

On October 4, a resurgence of positive Covid-19 cases in and around Montreal forced Playground Poker to close again.

Closing and Opening by the Book

There is little more that a company can do but abide by the orders surrounding a pandemic. A business that relies on people being together and playing games together is at the mercy of government officials, even more so during a worldwide health crisis.

Playground followed orders at every step.

In early March, Playground staff tried to abide by health orders to keep the doors open. They made hand sanitizing mandatory, cleaned poker chips daily, rotated chip sets, provided disinfectant wipes to staff, and increased the depth and scope of custodial services. Soon after, they suspended poker tournaments and massage services, began taking customers’ temperatures, and started a contact tracing procedure.

It wasn’t enough. By no fault of Playground, the establishment had to close on March 13.

As Covid-19 cases began to subside, Playground requested permission to reopen from the Kahnawake Gaming Commission. Quebec officials had already allowed many businesses to reopen in some limited ways. Gambling establishments were low on the list of priorities for the government, but their time came in late summer.

Playground opened again on September 4 with all permissions in place.

The Kahnawake Covid-19 Task Force directed Playground Poker to implement many new procedures, including health questionnaires for every customer, mask mandates, and three-hour time limits.

The staff spread out the electronic gaming machines to abide by social distancing requirements. They maintained strict cleaning protocols and capacity limits. And then banned – temporarily – smoking, alcohol, valet services, and poker.

High Hopes for Poker

Playground’s CEO boasted that poker would be back as soon as health officials and regulations allowed. “It’ll be bigger than before,” he said confidently.

Players conceded that masks would be a part of the new normal for the indefinite future. They may need to play short-handed, without nine or ten players at a table. They may be restricted to cash games before tournaments could resume. But they were ready for whatever poker they could get.

The reality of tournament poker in 2020 became clearer in late September when the World Poker Tour and PartyPoker broke the news about WPT Montreal.

While the WPT and PartyPoker had been cancelling live tournaments around the world since March, players and Playground held out hope that the WPT Montreal could happen. It was set for October 29 through November 8. They all hoped beyond hope that they could make it work.

However, they could not. Covid-19 simply won’t allow it. Playground Poker officially announced the postponement on September 29.

“We want to thank the poker community for their continued support and rest assured we fully intend to host the festival at a later date.”

Closing Again

Last weekend, Playground Poker closed its doors again. The Kahnawake Covid-19 Task Force mandated it, starting at 12:01am on Sunday, October 4. They weren’t even allowed to finish out the weekend.

The reason was the elevation of the pandemic status from orange to red. That actually happened on Thursday, October 1. Quebec Premier Francois Legault mandated that three regions in southern Quebec, including Montreal, revert to red status due to a “critical” rise in the number of positive cases. Officials deemed this the second wave of the pandemic.

At this point, the red status will be in effect for one month and affect approximately five million people.

Legault also said that the government is working to find financial compensation for businesses affected by the new closure. This includes restaurants that are reduced to takeout service only again, bars, libraries, museums, movie theaters, and all places where people could gather.

The change was a response to a surge in cases in Quebec.

All in the Data

Since last week, the number of positive cases rose even more dramatically. Per data from Johns Hopkins University, Quebec is now recording more than 1,000 new cases per day.

Legault made the decision to elevate to red status when there were 750 new cases per day. In the days that followed, the numbers rose significantly to a high of 1,364 new cases on October 6 alone.

Covid chart - Quebec October

To date, Covid-19 has claimed 5,915 lives in Quebec.

Quebec’s cases are surging more dramatically than other places in Canada. The national rate shows 4,623 positive cases per one million people, while Quebec is more than double that with 10,103 cases per one million people.

With the consistent rise, Quebec placed more regions in the red zone this week.



Jennifer Newell

Jennifer Newell

Jennifer Newell has been writing about poker and gambling since 2004. From her days in the WPT offices to covering summers of WSOP tournament action, she also followed gambling legislation to Washington D.C. and women-only poker to the Bahamas. Meanwhile, she lived in Los Angeles and Las Vegas for many years before moving back to her hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. Now, Jen travels less, writing about poker and online gambling from her home with her two dogs watching her every move. In her spare time, she follows politics, works on her never-finished novels, and learns Italian in the hopes of retiring to Italy someday.

If you want to know more, you can follow Jen on Twitter @WriterJen


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