When I first began writing the Miss Poker column, I worked in a poker room in West Memphis, Ark. Poker room staffs tend to get attached to “their” poker rooms, and I’ll always have a special affinity for the room over at the greyhound track. Arkansas boasts only two poker rooms, Southland Park Gaming and Racing in West Memphis and Oaklawn in Hot Springs. Despite hosting no major tournaments or circuit stops, both cardrooms keep solid cash games and regular nightly tournaments.
Live cards are not yet legal in Arkansas, so Oaklawn and Southland use electronic gaming tables by PokerPro. When an opportunity with a live cardroom in Tunica presented itself, I relocated to the cotton fields further south, but quite often find myself making the 30-minute trek to visit the poker room in West Memphis. The bad-beat jackpot at Southland had grown to near epic proportions and was worth the drive. At more than $160,000 with an exceptionally low trigger (aces full of jacks or better beaten by quads or better), even players with a preference for live cards would regularly test their luck on the tables in hopes of an $80,000 pay day.
For almost four years, thousands of hands that “almost” qualified taunted the players. Some believed it was never going to hit, but it didn’t stop them from trying. Near misses often became spectacles when regulars would routinely start calculating the shares everyone would have won if only the river card had been kinder. Every Friday, the ever-optimistic Fred Parker of Memphis would ask if we had the tax documents prepared and ready.
Then, on April 9, Pamela “Bizzi Bodi” Murray of Memphis was rewarded for her patience. When her aces full of queens lost to quad queens, she captured a 50-percent share of the largest single jackpot in Arkansas history. Nineteeen players, including the “winner” of the hand, divvied up the remaining funds amidst chaotic celebration.
I’ll admit, as someone who spent thousands of hours in that cardroom, I was a little sad to hear it had hit. The bad beat at Southland had become somewhat of a regional legend. Compared to Big Foot or the Loch Ness Monster, it was believed to be more unattainable legend than actuality. I can’t tell you how many times we were absolutely convinced it was going to hit, only to have the river card dash our hopes. Four years is a long time to wait for a paycheck. It seems like stubborn jackpots have a habit of triggering a few times in rapid succession once they finally hit, so I’m still hopeful for those who missed out on their long-awaited share of the monster pot.
If you haven’t been to Southland in a while, you might be surprised to find the former poker room abandoned. On April 1 they opened a new poker room upstairs, giving players closer access to bathrooms and restaurants, and a more enjoyable distance from the crowds and noise of the main gaming floor.
Crossing back over the state line into Mississippi, local players are gearing up for the Horseshoe Poker Classic in Tunica from May 13-22. The series will feature 20 no-limit hold’em tournaments, basically two each day (noon, 7 p.m.), highlighted by a $560 main event on May 21 at noon.
But a few of Mississippi’s finest won’t be in town for this series having qualified for the $1 million WSOP National Circuit Championship. This televised event will be at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas on May 27. Plenty of us will be heading to Vegas to show our support. We have high hopes for Bob Talbot of Tunica, Will “Poker Monkey” Souther of Biloxi, Tim Burt of Biloxi and non-resident but regular Tunica player, Sam Barnhart.
I’ll be in Vegas for this, and you’ll be able to find me anywhere the air conditioner is working overtime and cocktails are cold and readily available. Come by and say hi, and keep us posted on your successes.
— Jennifer Gay is a poker journalist, poker room supervisor and poker player local to the Mid-South region.She can be contacted at facebook.com/aceofjewels.