A Las Vegas institution is heading towards extinction. For years, 1-5 spread-limit seven card stud was the most widely played game in the city. As recently as three years ago, you could find more 1-5 stud games than any hold ‘em game at any specific limit. The game could be found everywhere from the large and luxurious Bellagio poker room to the three-table and hidden-in-the corner room at the Frontier which has since been closed. On any given day, 1-5 stud would compose 20% to 40% of all poker games on the Strip. Today, there is only one poker room on the Strip that has regular 1-5 stud games and they make up between 1% and 2% of the total games.
1-5 stud wasn’t just widely spread but also very profitable for the poker rooms. The game usually had a maximum rake of $5 compared to $3 or less for hold ‘em games. The larger rake and popularity of the game made it a key to any poker room’s financial success, particularly the smaller rooms. I’ve been told a story of mid-limit players complaining to a manager at one of the bigger rooms about service and comps. The manager responded by saying he’d be more than happy to get rid of all middle limit games and replace them with 1-5 stud if he could. In days gone by, 1-5 stud was the poker rooms’ cash cow.
The new poker boom was well underway in Las Vegas by the fall of 2003. Waiting lists at the two big rooms on the Strip, the Bellagio and Mirage, were excessively long without a single empty table in the room. But, the new breed of poker player, inspired by the World Poker Tour, internet card rooms, and especially Chris Moneymaker’s celebrated win at the World Series of Poker, were not interested in 1-5 stud. They wanted to play hold ‘em, especially no-limit hold ‘em which was never regularly spread at small stakes cash in Las Vegas before the boom. The poker boom has, somewhat ironically, led to the demise of Las Vegas’ staple poker game.
On a recent Saturday, I went for a very long walk which took me into every card room on the Las Vegas Strip. I surveyed all the games and questioned a floor person in each room. In more than 10 rooms that have opened in the past couple years, I was told they have never spread a regular 1-5 stud game. Both large rooms including the MGM Grand, Wynn, and Caesars Palace as well as smaller rooms including Bally’s, Paris, Tropicana, Harrah’s, and Treasure Island rarely even get requests for the game. I was told repeatedly that if a game ever goes, it’s only because a group of people come in together specifically to play 1-5 stud.
Older rooms have watched their games slip away. The Bellagio first started losing their games when their daily tournaments squeezed out playing room early in the day. By the summer of 2004, the Bellagio had seen the last of their regular 1-5 players. Smaller rooms such as the Luxor, Circus Circus, and Stardust held onto some regular games into 2005. Mandalay Bay hasn’t seen a game since last Labor Day weekend even after efforts to encourage more action by adding an ante. Management there said all their stud players simply moved to the 1-2 no-limit hold ‘em games. The Monte Carlo and Flamingo held onto a game until early in 2006. The Excalibur, a much larger than normal small stakes room, lost their last regular game early this past spring.
That left the Mirage as 1-5 stud’s Alamo. The Mirage is the last place on the Strip to hold onto a regular 1-5 game. They can usually get a couple games going a day. But, the games are filled with the same players a lot of the time and those players are considerably older than today’s typical poker player. Seeing those games reminds me somewhat of the 30-60 lowball game at the Commerce I played years ago. In a room filled with high stakes hold ‘em games, the Commerce lowball game was a relic from a dead era in California poker before hold ‘em was legalized. It was obvious then and obvious now that I was witnessing the last game of its kind.
It’s hard not to conclude that the death of 1-5 stud will also be the final nail in the coffin for stud in Las Vegas overall. Small stakes games are feeders for middle stakes games. Middle limit stud games have already shrunk during the recent boom. In 2003, you could find 4-8, 5-10, 10-20, 15-30, 20-40, and 40-80 games every day at either the Bellagio or Mirage. Today, the Bellagio still has two regular 20-40 games and a regular 50-100 game. But, the Mirage’s stud action has been dead for quite some time. Without 1-5 stud providing a small stakes option for those interested in playing stud, the middle limit games have little hope of long term survival.
It surprises me that the poker boom would cause the death of 1-5 stud, or even stud in general. There’s certainly plenty of room for all the games. It’s a testament to the powerful influenced televised tournaments have. Even in the minds of players who have been around for years, they’ve redefined poker to mean just hold ‘em and perhaps, eventually, just no limit hold ‘em.
The extraordinary changes over the past three years should be expected to continue in some way. Just like draw games died in California two decades ago and stud in Las Vegas recently, today’s games could also be gone within just a few years. The death of 1-5 stud is a sign that any game may have a limited life. Limit hold ‘em games have been shrinking compared to no-limit for a couple years now. In the internet card rooms, no-limit seems to be more popular than limit as well. Perhaps more interestingly, short-handed 6-max games are outnumbering full ring games on the internet. It’s hard to envision Las Vegas card rooms without limit hold’em or to see 6-player tables replace full ring games. But, the remarkably quick demise of 1-5 stud suggests to me that any change is possible.