The cardroom at the Isle Casino at Pompano Park is the “big dog” when discussing poker rooms in Florida among the parimutuels. It has the best ambience with its high ceiling, nearby views of the casino floor and the massive harness track, a huge and inviting bar next to the poker action and a great restaurant just steps away on each side. Looking at total gross receipts, the room has been the top revenue producer each year since 2007 among the Florida parimutuels, and battles on a relatively even basis with the Seminole Hard Rock, 16 miles down the road (tribal cardrooms are not required to post revenues).
But the competition is getting tougher. If you got an opportunity to read Scott Long’s excellent cover story about poker tournament guarantees in last month’s issue, you have a feel for the difficult decisions managers must make. Failing to cover the guarantee is a dreaded reality for even the most successful rooms, and Mike Smith of the Isle is the latest manager that experienced a tournament that fell short of the guarantee in March’s Battles at the Beach main event, even though the damage was minimal.
With 164 players posting a $3,300 buy-in, the event fell three players short of the $500K guarantee, with the casino being forced to pull $8,000 out of the house fees to cover the shortfall. The light turnout could easily be attributed to several big events around the state that same weekend, including a WPT Regional event at Derby Lane in St. Petersburg.
“No question that made the difference, as we usually get 30 or 40 players from around the state that probably decided just to stay near home,” Smith said.
Though there’s some concern any time a smaller-than-expected turnout ends up cutting into cardroom profits, Smith is not prone to panic attacks and emphasized the Battles at the Beach was another solid event.
The winner was Vitor Coelho of Tampa, who passed up the bay area WPT event to make the trek to South Florida. Coelho, who earlier in the week captured the $2,200 six-handed event at the Isle and the $41,000 first prize, took home $115,000 and the main event trophy after negotiating an uneven three-way chop with Joe Johnson and Jason Popkin (both of Hollywood), based on chip stacks.
Of the 18 players who cashed, 15 were Floridians and 12 of those were from South Florida. Notables in that group included Raj Vohra (fourth), 2011 Ante Up Player of the Year Darryll Fish (sixth), WPT final-tabler Mike Beasley (ninth) and Danny Schiff (17th), the recent champion of the Isle Classic in January.
I thought it was a bit strange that there would be any sort of chop in a prestigious event with a big trophy at stake, but Smith said it was not all that unusual.
“We haven’t seen a chop in the last four or five major events, but before that, it was fairly commonplace,” he said.
Next up for the Isle is the Florida State Poker Championship in July, which last year concluded with a $5,300 main event that boasted a $1-million guaranteed prize pool. Smith is unsure whether he will repeat that scenario, telling me he “needs a little more time to think about it.”
PPC: Between now and then, Smith will embark on a little work/vacation in Aruba, as he will serve as tournament director for the inaugural Players Poker Championship from May 3-7 at the Westin Resort in Aruba. The Isle has developed a strong relationship over the past couple of years with All-In Free Poker, a bar league founded in 2005 by Sandy Swartzbaugh and Bryan Oulton, going so far as to host the league’s quarterly championship tournaments. The two poker entrepreneurs are branching out with their first effort at a big-cash tournament to promote the six-event Aruba series, headlined by the $3,300 main event, slated to begin May 4.
At press time, the Isle was preparing to host three Sunday mega-satellites in April with a $520 buy-in to give South Floridians and others the opportunity to earn their way into the PPC main event in Aruba. Numerous mini-satellites throughout the month for as low as $60 were under way to gain entry into one of the megas.
While it’s challenging to promote such a large event, Swartzbaugh and Oulton have been assisted by a PPC advisory board, which includes South Florida pros Matt Waxman, Darryll Fish and Hayden Fortini, who will also play in the event.
“These guys are multi-million dollar winners who know the game inside and out and understand what players want from a tournament,” Swartzbaugh said. “They’ve been so helpful with the tournament structures and promoting the event from a player’s standpoint.”
Also expected to play are big names T.J. Cloutier, Kathy Liebert, Todd Brunson, Linda Johnson and Jan Fisher, who among others will be serving as instructors for a WPT Boot Camp at the Aruba Westin preceding the PPC.
CRYSTAL CARD ROOM: The salsa music was blaring, the ladies were dancing in the middle of the casino floor, the dominoes were clacking on the wooden tables and every poker table was full as Casino Miami Jai-Alai celebrated a day-long party to officially open the gorgeous casino and Crystal Card Room.
Chino Rheem, a former Miamian who recently captured the inaugural Epic Poker League event, headlined the excitement in the poker room, greeting players all afternoon and sitting in for few hands at every table.
There were $2,000 high-hand giveaways each hour and when I arrived just after midnight, nearly every parking spot of the massive lot across the street from the casino was occupied and every poker table was still in action. Bad beat of the day had to go to the guy who posted a club royal flush in the midnight-to-1 a.m. hour, only to see his prize split in half by a final-minute diamond royal just before 1 a.m.
— Big Dave Lemmon is Ante Up’s South Florida Ambassador. Email him at email@example.com.
Battles at the Beach, Isle Casino, Pompano Park, Fla., March 1-26
Event 1 • $330 Re-entry
Entries: 1,210 • Prize Pool: $363,000
Stuart Greenbaum, $36,536*
Event 2 • $350 Bounty
Entries: 147 • Prize Pool: $47,040
Loni Harwood, $3,831*
Event 3 • $330 Re-entry
155 Entries • Prize Pool: $46,500
Christian Bigler, $9,361*
Event 4 • $200 PLO w/rbs
Entries: 70 • Prize Pool: $37,400
Kevin Spires, $12,838*
Event 5 • $550 NLHE
Entries: 112 • Prize Pool: $56K
Justin Conley, $18,480
Event 6 • $550 NLHE
Entries: 242 • Prize pool: $125K
Angelo Miele, $23,430*
Event 7 • $1,600 Bounty
Entries: 84 • Prize pool: $126K
Maurice Hawkins, $25,200*
Event 8 • $330 NLHE
Entries: 124 • $Prize Pool: $37,200
Jason Mullen, $11,494*
Event 9 • $550 NLHE
Entries: 117 • Prize Pool: $75K
Aaron Massey, $21,996
Event 10 • $220 NLHE
Entries: 109 • Prize Pool: $21,800
Randall Cohen, $1,213
Event 11 • $400 NLHE
Entries: 440 • Prize Pool: $158,400
Anthony Ruberto, $41,820
Event 12 • $2,200 6-Max
Entries: 48 • Prize Pool: $100K
Vitor Coelho, $41,000
Event 13 • $330 NLHE
Entries: 152 • Prize Pool: $45,600
Bryan Hyden, $12,765*
Event 14 • $550 NLHE
Entries: 191 • Prize Pool: $95,500
Malcom Bennett, $21,218*
$3,300 Main Event
Entries: 164 • Prize Pool: $500K
Vitor Coelho, $115,336*
* denotes chop