Where have all the Fla. poker managers gone?

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The leaves fall, the seasons change and as time passes people move from one opportunity to another. That’s just how life works. But every once in a while, life seems to work in peculiar ways. And one of those times is now in the Florida poker world.

In the past year or so, no fewer than nine of the state’s poker rooms have welcomed new top poker executives. That’s nearly a third of the state’s rooms. If Florida had just three or four poker rooms, a 33 percent change wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. But when your state has 30 poker rooms, you raise both eyebrows.

And perhaps most surprising about this stat is that for the past seven months, Florida has enjoyed a new era of open poker. Finally allowed to deal any game at any limit, Florida rooms are garnering attention from players all over the country. They should be celebrating new freedoms, not sifting through resumés, right?

But maybe that’s it.

No doubt, some of the changes have been the type that come in the normal course of business (retirements, promotions, etc.). And others could have less to do with performance than other factors that cause companies to separate from employees. But taken in totality, it’s hard to ignore that despite the state’s rooms showing overall double-digit growth year-over-year in December 2010, some managers are out of jobs because performance didn’t meet new, loftier expectations from those with bigger titles.

Privately, that’s the theory shared with me from a few managers who still have jobs. It was easy to let one’s imagination run wild in advance of July 1 with just how big of an effect the law changes were going to have.

And, the Catch 22 of it was if you tempered your expectations so you would be pleasantly surprised, or at least not as disappointed, with the actual numbers, you left yourself and your room vulnerable if reality far outpaced those expectations and you didn’t have the staffing, space or equipment to adequately serve the bursting demand. In some instances, it’s possible poker room management and overall management saw the issue differently.

As an aside, most managers I spoke with leading up to July 1 projected an increase of 15 percent. How Nostradamus-like do they look now that December’s year-over-year numbers for parimutuel rooms clocked in at 14 percent? But staffing decisions are hardly ever based on state averages. The numbers that count most are the room’s own numbers, and the numbers of their most immediate rivals. And a handful of Florida rooms are off of 2009’s numbers considerably. And, yes, in some of those cases, their rivals are posting healthy gains.

But trying to figure out the how-and-why of this many personnel changes is a largely futile exercise. What’s done is done. What we should do, though, is look to the future to try to predict what it all means.

We know veteran room managers and directors from outside of Florida are hot commodities. Jacksonville Greyhound Racing, which runs the Orange Park Kennel Club and St. Johns Greyhound Park near Jacksonville, hired Deborah Giardina, most recently of Las Vegas’ swanky Wynn Casino, to run its poker operation (see profile on Page 12). And Dominic Niro left the Empress Casino near Chicago to lead the team at Daytona Beach Kennel Club.

Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood, just months from its biggest poker event in history, launched a nationwide search for a new director.

Ante Up has heard from managers in other states who have been contacted by Florida rooms about their openings, and we’ve heard from managers in other states who are contacting Florida rooms about their openings.

At the very least, we’re perhaps looking at a new era where leaders who earned their chops somewhere other than the old $.25-$.50 days of Florida poker will bring new ideas into the state that have worked well elsewhere. As Ante Up expands, we’re on the road a lot these days, seeing how things are done in very different poker jurisdictions. There is a lot Florida’s players can learn from other states, just as there’s a lot the rest of the country can learn from Florida.

Let’s mark our calendars to check back a year from now to see just how different Florida poker really becomes.

— Email Scott Long at scott@anteupmagazine.com.