Ebro doubles down on Double Hand Poker

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Texas Hold’em isn’t for everyone.

Following a trail blazed a couple of years ago by Palm Beach Kennel Club’s introduction of a jackpot-funded version of Three Card Poker, Ebro Greyhound Park has won a hard-fought battle to offer Florida players a player-banked form of Pai Gow Poker that plays similarly to the casino version.

And, in the process, the poker room in Florida’s Panhandle is altering the betting structure for poker in Florida.

“In traditional poker games, players may bet and raise their chips into a pot that the winner eventually takes down,” said Dennis Hone, a veteran of California cardrooms who has brought West Coast thinking to Ebro when he became director of poker operations more than three years ago. “Double Hand Poker is the first approved poker game in Florida that does not follow this traditional betting structure. Instead, players select the size of their wager before each hand begins and may only win or lose this pre-determined amount.”

In Double Hand Poker, players make their wagers and are dealt seven cards. They must set two poker hands – one with two cards and one with five cards, with the five-card hand always being the strongest. (Players may ask the dealer to set their hands for them using a predescribed “house way.”) After all hands are set, the hands are compared to hands of a “Designated Player” to determine who wins and who loses or whether players tie, which is common. The “Designated Player” keeps any money won, aside from a $1-per-$100-wagered rake, but also must pay out all the wagers that he or she loses.

The “Designated Player” is the other feature of the game that should appeal to players with big enough bankrolls, since the “Designated Player” has a built-in edge against all other players because they win when individual hands tie, or “copy.” In the casino version, this edge is 2.73 percent over the long haul, according to WizardofOdds.com. The right to be the “Designated Player” is offered to everyone and players can decline if they wish.

Ebro allows wagers from $10 to $1,000 per hand, so it’s an opportunity for a player who is willing to be the “Designated Player” a chance to win a lot of money quickly rather than grinding it out on the hold’em tables.

“The cardroom style of play is much better for the customers because the players have the edge that usually goes to the casino,” Hone said.
The fact that the game is player-banked, rather than house-banked, is what makes it allowable under Florida law (though Ebro had to clear potholes along its path to approval). The state’s Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, which interprets state law for poker rooms, initially approved the game, but then asked Ebro to shut it down while it investigated it further. The poker room was forced to sue to get the game reinstated.

Hone credits track owner Stocky Hess for his willingness to fight to make sure the game can be dealt, and he hopes the hard work the poker room put into approval will inspire other poker rooms to create similar versions of casino games that all poker rooms can share in offering. Several casino card games can be adapted to fit Florida law as long as they can be player-banked and follow normal poker hand rankings.

“This non-traditional betting structure gaining approval is significant because it gives each cardroom in Florida the possibility to add more games to their room; games that were not previously at their disposal,” Hone said. “More games means more choices for players, and an increase in employment in the surrounding area and an increase in revenue for the cardroom.”

— Email Scott Long at scott@anteupmagazine.com.

Double Hand Poker

Double Hand Poker is nearly identical to the casino card game Pai Gow Poker. It uses a standard 52-card deck, but with one joker added that can be used as an ace or to complete straights or flushes. Normal poker hand rankings apply.

• In the Florida version, players play against a “Designated Player” who bankrolls the game, not the casino. The poker room takes a rake based on the amount wagered.

• Players must divide their seven cards into a two-card hand and a five-card hand that is stronger than the two-card hand. If a hand is set incorrectly, it is reset according to the “house way” of setting hands.

• Each player compares his or her two hands with the two hands of the “Designated Player.” If the player’s two hands are better than the “Designated Player’s” two hands, then he or she wins the amount wagered. If both of the player’s hands lose, then the “Designated Player” wins the amount wagered. If one wins one hand and the other wins the other, it’s a push and players take their bets back. If one or both of the hands are equal in rank, the “Designated Player’s” hand wins.

• The opportunity to be the “Designated Player” rotates around the table so every player has an equal opportunity at the role. Players may decline the option, and if so, it will be offered to the next player until one player accepts the role.