Gulfstream poker, Poole ready for big year

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Many of this country’s longest-running cardrooms have been attached to casinos, away from the distractions of the casino floor. In Florida, poker rooms were allowed at existing parimutuels as an addition to their betting operations beginning in 1996. So to maintain the attraction to their races and jai-alai games, TVs displaying that action remained a big part of the new cardrooms. Later, with the addition of slot machines to some of these facilities, much of the promotional focus has shifted to the casino operation and away from the races, which were at one time the centerpiece of the tracks.

However, that’s something you won’t see at Gulfstream Park, which opened for its annual meet on Dec. 3, one month earlier than the traditional start of the season after the first of the year.

“Horse racing is what we’re all about; we are a thoroughbred race track, with slots and poker and other added entertainment,” Gulfstream director of poker operations Scott Poole said. “We’re not a slots parlor with racing; that’s what has happened in some places around the country. We all understand where we fit.”

The excitement that live racing brings, especially the quality of the racing this facility attracts at this time of year, has created a bump in poker business that Poole has anticipated with great enthusiasm. During that busy opening day, he said, “We see our biggest bump after the second race and we’ll hold that through the dinner hour. I’d say we’re up today about 30 percent.”

Many of the additional patrons may not be avid poker players, but instead “a horse player who comes inside the building looking for a comfortable place to sit and something fun to do while he’s betting horses; it’s just added entertainment.”

But one man’s entertainment can be another man’s irritation, as the races on the screen can sometimes disrupt the flow of the game, especially in their latter stages. Poole laughed as he told me, “When the horses hit the stretch, the excitement is noticeable. Occasionally I’ll see a game grind to a halt with every player looking up at he screen and most of them screaming and yelling.”

But you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

“We do have people that feel the distractions slow the games down and get frustrated,” he said, “but if you want to blend the two, and we absolutely do, we think we have it set up well.”

Much of the responsibility falls on the dealers, who are well-trained at Gulfstream to avoid problems and keep the games moving along.

“It’s an added awareness that we have trained our dealers to have that you may not need dealing poker somewhere else; they must watch what the players are doing because occasionally their focus will be on the TV screens.”

This skill also extends to the walk-around bet tellers on the poker floor.

“We have at least one on the floor every day, two on our bigger days, so that people that are interested in betting don’t have to get up from the table,” Poole said. “Our regular girl has an excellent knowledge of poker, so she knows when to back off as she sees the flow of the game.”

So steps are made to balance the distractions and keep the action of the poker games consistent, but only to a certain point.

“We certainly don’t want to discourage people from betting; again, everything we do supplements the horse racing,” Poole said, “and our players understand that.”

The onus remains with the players to be courteous and keep the disruptions to a minimum: If you are a horse player (or dog player or jai-alai fan), don’t hesitate to deal yourself out of a couple of hands to get up from the table to focus on your races. Chances are you’re not going to miss out on pocket aces.

GULFSTREAM CHALLENGE: The Gulfstream Park poker room wrapped up its Tournament Challenge Series on Dec. 4 with the Jeep Road to Winning Challenge, captured by Sara Azmi of Lauderhill.

Azmi held off a strong charge from second-place finisher Martin May of Plantation and third-place finisher Rolando Wong.

Azmi, Gulfstream Park’s first female Challenge Series champion, chose the cash option of $19,000 in place of driving away in a 2012 Jeep Wrangler Sport. Here are the final results:

1. Sara Azmi, $19,000
2. Martin May, $5,000
3. Rolando Wong, $2,500
4. Lewis Rutstein, $1,500
5. Jorge Hernandez, $1,200
6. Claudio Benedetti, $900
7. Khampetch Seignarack, $700
8. Zion Mesika, $600
9. Joseph Duchman, $500
10. Dusan Kipicic, $500

SEMINOLE CLASSIC’S NEW ROOM: The 10-table poker room near the bingo hall has been dubbed “Florida’s Smoking-Friendly Poker Room” as smoking is permitted. Seminole Casino Hollywood (Fla.) dedicated its updated poker room on Nov. 23.The room officially opened on Dec. 1 with high-hand promotions on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, bonus high-hand promotions on Tuesdays, spin to win on Saturdays, cash back on Sundays and a promotion modeled after the TV show Card Sharks on Thursdays.

Four large cigarette vending machines are on the nearby casino floor with every brand imaginable for $8 a pack.

— Big Dave Lemmon is Ante Up’s South Florida Ambassador. Email him at bigdave@pokeractionline.com.