Poker players get road map for new Florida poker limits

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Poker players anxious about the coming of true no-limit poker in Florida on July 1 now have a road map as to how the state’s Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering will proceed on regulation.

The Division held two information sessions on Tuesday at the Isle Casino in Pompano Park, Fla., – the first was an open session for players to ask questions and discuss concerns, while the second was for poker room managers and executives to ask questions about how implementation of Senate Bill 622 will be handled.

Senate Bill 622, signed by Gov. Charlie Crist in April, removes bet and buy-in restrictions on Florida poker rooms and extends operating hours. But with all new legislation, the Division, in consultation with poker rooms, further interprets the law through "rule-making" sessions. Since an official rule-making session is unlikely before July 1, Tuesday’s meetings were a way for the Division to communicate how it will regulate until rule-making is completed.

The Division told room managers that it will issue a memo within a few weeks clearly stating what is approved to begin on July 1 and what will need to wait for rule-making.

And while much of what was discussed on Tuesday remains fluid, and can change before July 1, a few things are set in stone:

NO LIMITS: "The statute is clear – no limits," Division director Milton Champion said, easing concerns of players and room managers that the state may impose some buy-in or bet restrictions. However, officials stressed that individual rooms are permitted to set their own buy-in limits. Every manager that Ante Up has talked with has said there will be a spread of minimum and maximum buy-ins on almost all of their games.

HOURS OF OPERATION: Rooms will be permitted to remain open 18 hours a day on weekdays and 24 hours on weekend, as the new law states. Pending further review, the guidance that the Division gave managers on this was that the weekend starts at 12:01 a.m. Friday night/Saturday morning, and ends at 12:01 a.m. Sunday night/Monday morning. Also, "holidays" means official Florida state holidays. Rooms are permitted to split their operating hours on a specific day, too, if they wish. Again, rooms are permitted to set their own operating hours within these guidelines. Few rooms that Ante Up has talked with plan to remain open the maximum amount of time, since maintaining a room when demand is low (for example, air conditioning and security) won’t make sense, though most plan to be open liberally on weekends.

NO CASH ON TABLES: Many high limit games in other poker jurisdictions allow players to play with cash, usually $100 bills. However, Senate Bill 622 didn’t change previous state law, which is clear that poker may only be played using chips. So you won’t see players with stacks of bills on Florida poker tables. And because it’s clearly stated that way in law, it’s not something that can be overturned in the rule-making process.

RAKE: The Division never has, and won’t now, have authority to set rake limits on rooms. Every room can set its rake at its own discretion.

The Division, short of announcing an official policy, also announced clearer direction on two other issues that players and managers have been anxious about:

PERMITTED GAMES: The Division has used the 1974 edition of Hoyle’s Rules of Games as the benchmark for what poker games could be dealt in the state. No more. Within the next week, the Division will solicit suggestions from poker room managers on what games they’d like to offer in their room. After verifying that the suggested games are not prohibited "house-banked" games, such as blackjack, the Division will post a list of "pre-approved" games on its website at www.myfloridalicense.com/dbpr/ dpw. Any room in the state will be permitted to deal any game on the pre-approved list without having to seek specific approval or updating their internal controls – the documents that govern the mechanics of running their rooms – with the state. The list of pre-approved games will be permitted without restriction on the betting style, so all of them can be dealt in a fixed, spread, no or pot-limit format. The Division stopped short of saying whether alterations to game formats, such as kill games or straddles, will be permitted on July 1, but appears to be headed toward a separate section on the website for those type of issues that will again provide blanket approval for rooms to use them.

TOURNAMENT CHOPS: Within the past month, the Division told rooms that chopping of tournaments is no longer allowed, and then amended it to say that chops among the final table of players would be permitted if the rooms specifically addressed it in their internal controls. Now, the Division is saying that fuller-scale chops will be permitted again, so long as rooms revise their internal controls again to specifically include them. Rooms can also amend their internal controls to allow for chopping of blinds in cash games, which has been a recent issue, too.

No timetable was set on many other issues raised by players and managers at Tuesday’s meeting, though the Division expressed a willingness to consider most every suggestion, including:

  • Amending rules on the use of temporary tournament tables, likely a necessity in order to hold a large-scale tournament, like the WPT, NAPT or WSOP, in Florida.

  • Allowing cash deposit boxes for players

  • Allowing dealers to play in the rooms where they work

  • Allowing rooms to hire proposition players

In addition, it remains unclear what level of regulation the Division will have in regards to the Seminole Tribe’s six poker rooms. Deputy Secretary of Business Regulation Scott Ross said that very soon he’ll seek a meeting with the tribe to discuss it, and that he hopes the meeting will result in a "memo of understanding" that will clarify the issue.

In the end, Tuesday’s sessions showed a willingness on the Division’s part to get ongoing feedback from players and managers. Nick Sortal of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel did a good job of summarizing Tuesday’s first meeting with players.)