NSW Cracks Down on Covid Breaches But Allows Poker

The state of affairs in 2020 is still one of confusion and ever-changing conditions.

When the coronavirus pandemic first swept across the world, Australia was quick to shut down all nonessential businesses to prevent the spread of positive Covid-19 cases. That months-long shutdown was rough for many people and businesses. The government and health officials began to lift some restrictions in June and July, more in August, though there were spurts of positive cases that forced them to adjust restrictions regularly.

Those adjustments continue.

In places like New South Wales, though, officials and regulators take the safety orders very seriously.

For those in unique industries, like poker, working with Liquor & Gaming NSW is key to reopening their businesses properly and avoiding penalties.

Poker and Its Post-Covid Challenges

Gambling was a unique industry that required special care in reopening after the coronavirus shutdowns.

Sports betting handled itself, requiring little in the way of in-person contact.

Pokies and other gaming machines, however, require physical contact. People touch the screens and buttons and then move to another machine to do the same. So, when pubs, clubs, and casinos wanted to reopen, they had to maintain very strict sanitary protocols to keep the machines clean after use. Sometimes, this meant providing players with gloves or stylus pens, and it always meant putting space or plexiglass barriers between the machines.

Table games in casinos were a bigger challenge. Anything from blackjack to roulette requires players to sit or stand around the table and handle chips. However, casinos made adjustments to those games, such as fewer players at the tables, dealers handling chips for players, and sanitary requirements for chips and cards.

Poker was a different beast altogether.

In order to play a reasonable game of poker, there must be at least six players at the table, in addition to the dealer. Players must hold their own hole cards. And though the chips can be handled by dealers in some situations, the players must still stack their own piles of chips.

Poker tournaments are even more complicated, as many tables must be used. To space them properly and in accordance with Covid-19 regulations, a tournament requires massive areas in which to hold the players and tables. The chips and cards remain a problem as well.

Fighting for Poker

Poker tournament operators, casinos, poker leagues, and everyone wanting to host poker action were kept out of nearly every reopening plan across Australia.

In NSW, in particular, Liquor & Gaming NSW didn’t approve any poker activities. The regulator went as far as to order all live poker leagues and tournaments paused immediately.

Poker organizers like the National Poker League (NPL) and Australian Poker League (APL) began working together to find solutions and present them to NSW for approval.

Their ultimate move was to collaborate and form a collective. Along with the APL and NPL, the WPT League and others joined as well. “Poker NSW is a cooperative containing a large group of poker operators that represent >90% of the poker events that are conducted in NSW hospitality venues,” the website read.

They developed a safety plan that the NSW Police approved. It means that operators can begin running poker events that include live tournaments, shootouts, SNGs, and satellites.

Play Safe, Says Poker NSW

The NSW Police approved the latest edition of the Covid Safety Plan from Poker NSW. While officials can and may require adjustments based on the direction of the pandemic in the coming months, the following is a current rundown of the safety plan.

As for tables and players in tournaments:

  • 8-max poker on oblong tables or 6-max poker on round tables
  • Maximum 300 people in one room or 1 person for every 4 square metres (lesser of the two)
  • Multi-table tournament restricted to 10 people
  • No multi-tabling between tournaments or SNGs
  • Players can only sit at one table per night
  • Final tables may not take place on the same day at the same venue
  • No food at tables
  • Sanitize hands every 20 minutes
  • Players must wear masks when seated at poker tables
  • One-hour of registration before tournaments
  • Tables spaced at least 1.5m from each other
  • Registration includes information for contact tracing if necessary
  • No mingling, remain seated at all times


Obviously, this is going to be difficult for tournament operators. It remains to be seen which ones will be able to arrange something that incorporates the plan and enables an event resembling a traditional poker tournament.

Another part of the safety plan is the equipment that each tournament director must possess:

  • Hand sanitizer for each table and at registration locations
  • Disinfectant spray
  • Antibacterial wipes
  • Temperature gun or no-touch thermometer
  • Masks for everyone in case they do not bring their own
  • Gloves to wear while cleaning equipment

Tournament directors must participate in the Infection Control Training from the NSW government, obtain a completion certificate, and display that certificate at registration. They must also contact the Covid-19 Safety Hygiene Marshall for the venue before that event takes place to ensure cooperation and approval.

He or she must perform a speech prior to the start of the tournament. The tournament director must go over the rules regarding masks, social distancing, sanitizing, washing hands at breaks, and all obligations for players. They should also obtain a sign with the rules to display in the registration area and offer paper copies of the rules for every player.

The staff at the tournament must check every person’s temperature upon entering the tournament area. That temperature must be below 37.6C. The player may request a second test.

Someone must use the anti-bacterial wipes to clean the outer rims of each table before the tournaments, at every break, and each time a player moves from a spot at a table. They must sanitize the chairs before the event and prior to any player seat changes.

Cards and chips must be sprayed with anti-bacterial solution before and after each tournament and during each break.

Scheduling to Come

The National Poker League already put the information on its website, as did the WPT League. No tour has yet made an announcement regarding how they will apply the new rules to organize events.

The NPL also wrote a note to its players to explain what happened with Poker NSW. “What this means for players is that POKER WILL BE BACK!” Team NPL wrote. “We are working hard to bring you a great night of poker entertainment so stay tuned for more details! We can’t wait to see you back on the felt soon!”

Don’t Breach!

The poker operators are being so careful due to the extra eyes of the Liquor & Gaming NSW on the poker community. In addition, they have seen the consequences of various establishments breaching the rules and safety measures.

Just in the past several weeks, Liquor & Gaming NSW took action.

The Phoenix Hotel in Woollahra didn’t ensure social distancing rules and received a $10,000 fine.

The Bondi Bowling Club faces $10,000 in fines, as Liquor & Gaming NSW officials called it the “worst venue to date” for Covid breaches on September 8. Some of the notes from inspectors included witnessing multiple group bookings, patrons mingling while drinking alcohol, no social distancing in bar queues, dirty cups and plates on tables, not enough safety signs, and staff members unwilling to enforce the rules.

One day later, the regulator shut down the United Hall Hotel in Balmain for one week and issued a $10,000 fine. The venue hosted two birthday parties one day after receiving a warning and one month after receiving a $5,000 fine.


Rose Varrelli avatar
Rose Varrelli
Senior Casino & News Writer

Hi there! I’m Rose, and with nine years behind me in the iGaming industry, I craft engaging narratives at CasinoAus. My education in Communication across Europe has sharpened my skills in fintech, casino legislation, and digital marketing. Backed by a strong foundation in SEO, storytelling, and cross-cultural communication, I’m passionate about creating content that resonates globally and educates our audience.

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