SPECIAL REPORT: Florida primed to rock the poker world

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If you want to know what Florida poker might look like this time next year, cast your eyes west to California.

The Golden State and the Sunshine State have much in common: great beaches, sunny weather, millions of people. … and coming July 1, a “poker is king” mentality to gaming.
With the shackles removed from Florida’s poker rooms (no more $100 max buy-ins, no more $5 bet limits, no more shooing customers out the door at midnight), the state will finally be able to rival California, where poker is top dog. The biggest rooms there offer 100 tables of poker action, with plenty of space for hard-to-find games like deuce-to-seven triple-draw lowball. Like California, Florida has treaded lightly toward the full casino experience. And while the state’s gamblers and parimutuel owners may be upset with the Seminole Tribe’s near exclusivity on slot machines and table games, poker players should recognize that the new compact and the continual decline of the state’s day-cruise industry mean more gamblers will be sitting at the poker tables, and playing higher limits.

So what does this mean for Florida?

Cautious optimism

You might be surprised by this, but many poker directors I’ve talked with are cautious about the effect. No doubt a few will be very aggressive in taking advantage of the new freedom, but many worry their players’ bankrolls may be at great peril, and that there won’t be enough new players to replace them while they replenish their rolls. It’s a legitimate concern, so look for most, if not all, rooms to still have limits on some games. This won’t be the Wild Wild West.

Bigger cash games

And hopefully a wider variety of games. I’m a long-suffering limit player, so selfishly I’m hoping for a good full-kill Omaha high-low game near my house. Pot-limit games can be offered now, which is a big void in the current lineup.

Bigger tournaments

Expect to see a World Poker Tour event come to Florida. Perhaps even a World Series of Poker circuit event, since it appears Harrah’s is considering extending them to properties it doesn’t own. And, hopefully, we’ll see better structures. Managers now are hamstrung by the operating hours. If they can go 24 hours there won’t be the double-edged sword of giving players good play vs. finishing before Cinderella turns into a pumpkin.

More competition

Generally, Florida rooms are dominated by cash games, tournaments or promotions, with most doing well in two or three of these categories. But the disparity between rooms will become more prevalent now. 

We may see some rooms cater to the low-limit players that grind out consistent rake, while others will go for the splash of big games and events. I’ll be curious to see what this means for rooms that have gone to a $2 jackpot rake. Will they still need that extra dollar now that they can do new things, and if so, will players mind it less when the dealer pushes pots to them in the thousands rather than the hundreds?

And the competition isn’t just room vs. room. The big question: How many new players will we see in Florida rooms? If Internet and home-game players materialize, they’ll be tougher players, as will be the influx of out-of-state pros that have set forums ablaze with intentions of feasting on Floridians who have been conditioned to play with a $100 max buy-in.

But the effect of Florida’s changes should reverberate across The South.
Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas — the states with the easiest commutes to Florida — likely will see their players make the trek more often. They’re also the most ardent states against gambling within their borders, particularly Alabama, where the governor is in the midst of an intense crackdown. Don’t be surprised if some poker-playing residents pick up and move south to enjoy Florida’s zero state taxes now that they can play real poker there, too.

Mississippi and Louisiana stand to lose the most as they are the closest destinations with real poker. They’re also states that draw heavily from the region for the bulk of their players. Now that there’s a viable alternative, will they bump up their marketing efforts to keep their players from flying south? They have an ace in the hole, however. They can offer what not even the Seminole casinos in Florida (no craps or roulette) can offer: the complete casino gaming experience.

Arkansas, Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia are the most insulated from the Florida changes, and aren’t likely to be affected much. West Virginia, however, faces a challenge this summer when poker rooms start popping up in nearby Pennsylvania.

In the end, it’s the Florida poker rooms that will define how big of a poker tsunami the new laws are in the state and around the country. What players desire more than juicier games is an enhanced experience. It’ll be fun to watch how this hand plays out.

— Email Scott Long at scott@anteupmagazine.com.

THE NEW LAWS
Barring last-minute developments, here is what Florida law on poker will look like starting July 1 at all parimutuel and Indian poker rooms:

NO LIMITS
Gone are the $5 bet limit in limit games, the $100 max buy-in in no-limit games and the $800 max tournament buy-in limits. There will be no limits on bets or buy-ins, though rooms are free to impose some if they wish.

LONGER HOURS
Gone is the 12-hours-a-day limit. Parimutuel rooms may stay open 18 hours a day Monday through Friday and 24 hours on Saturdays, Sundays and some holidays. Indian rooms can remain open 24 hours a day every day.

MORE ROOMS
Palm Beach Kennel Club is permitted to convert its unused jai-alai permit into a greyhound racing permit, thereby allowing it to build a second poker room. Also, new quarterhorse tracks meeting state restrictions can open a room after its held at least one day of racing. Hialeah Park has already held racing, and a number of other licenses have been granted for quarterhorse tracks, though none appears ready to open imminently.