A step toward real poker in Orlando

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Ask any conventioneer looking to wash away the boredom of his mind-numbing conference with some high-action hold’em, and they’ll confirm the unbelievable — you won’t find legal poker for real money in Orlando.

Oh, it’s not for a lack of trying. Orlando Jai-Alai and Sanford-Orlando Kennel Club have been unsuccessfully working for years to get the green light from local authorities. A well-organized opposition snuffed out the hopes of entrepreneurs seeking to bring poker to the nearby town of DeBary. And Mayor David Yeager even lost his job trying to do the same in Minneola.

But Sanford-Orlando Kennel Club, ever tenacious, has grown more creative in its quest to persuade officials in the city of Longwood or county of Seminole to say yes to what the state has approved, allowing poker in parimutuel facilities.

Teaming with All In Poker Series, one of the many free poker leagues that fill the void in the Orlando poker market, the kennel club has begun offering free poker on Tuesday nights.

“We’d been considering hosting amateur poker for almost two years,” said Victor Harrison, general manager of the greyhound track. “The free poker games present an opportunity for us to dip our toes into the pool and show that this type of offering can be a major positive for Longwood and Seminole County.”

All parimutuel facilities in Florida are permitted to operate cardrooms, but all must first gain approval from a local government. Sanford-Orlando and Orlando Jai-Alai are the only two in the state to not yet complete that crucial second step.

So Harrison secured approval from the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering to offer the free games, in which players put up no money but earn points and prizes for their play. The track will start slow and let the games build, offering play initially only at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays, but is open to adding games on other days if demand warrants. The bar and kitchen will be open during games, as will simulcast betting windows.

“The goal of offering free poker is simply to have the community associate us with being a fun and entertaining place to play poker,” Harrison said. “We’ll continue the regular weekly amateur poker until such time that people realize that poker is a natural part of Sanford-Orlando Kennel Club’s total entertainment package.”

Harrison said his company’s research shows a real-money poker room at his track would create at least 100 jobs, generate several hundred thousand dollars in revenue and encourage owner, Penn National Gaming, to upgrade the facility.

Mangers at other cardrooms in Florida have suggested to Ante Up that a poker room in Orlando, which aside from its dense population level also welcomes millions of visitors each year, could easily be the state’s largest, perhaps even hitting 100 tables.

In the meantime, Harrison is looking forward to seeing what excitement All In can provide for his patrons.

“I am so happy with All In,” he said. “From the get-go, Rebecca (Sanborn) has been professional and enthusiastic. She’s answered all of our questions and is totally compliance-minded. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner.”

Sanborn said it was an honor to be chosen to operate the games.

“With the scrutiny we will be under, it will prove that we take pride in what we do and have nothing but the best interest of our clients in mind,” Sanborn said.
For more info visit allinpokerseries.com or sanfordorlandokc.com.

Dania cuts the rake . . . in April When you bring people in by the hundreds for your tournaments, but just can’t seem to get them to play cash games, what do you do? If you’re Dania Jai-Alai’s new poker room manager, Frank Famiano, you leave no possibility unturned, even the drastic step of cutting the rake. Famiano, who came to Dania from the Venetian in March, dropped the rake to $2 per hand for the month of April.

“We need to get the cash games going,” Famiano told Nick Sortal of the Sun-Sentinel. “The per-hand average will go down but if we get five cash games rather than one, it’s a step in the right direction.”

Dropping the rake to $2 may seem drastic, but more than half of Dania’s poker revenue comes from tournaments, perhaps one of the most disproportionate ratios of any room in the country. While poker rooms offer tournaments to get people in the door or for prestige, they make the bulk of their money from cash games. Being a tournament-only house is not a sound long-term business model.

Many Florida managers have long fretted about a “rake war,” saying if one broke out it would do permanent damage to the industry. It will be interesting to see how Dania’s many South Florida competitors react if Dania keeps the rake-cut in effect past April. It’s unlikely any will match Dania, but if Dania succeeds in siphoning market share, other rooms will be forced to find another answer, whether it’s more creative promotions, improved customer service or a more modest rake reduction to keep their regulars from doing anything more than simply window-shopping at Dania.

— Scott Long is co-publisher of Ante Up. Email him at scott@anteupmagazine.com.