By Christopher Cosenza
It’s no surprise the eyes of the poker world are transfixed on Florida. With major attractions, some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, no state income taxes and more than 30 poker rooms, the Sunshine State is a poker player’s dream.
The folks at the new bestbet Jacksonville room, led by veteran executive director of poker Deborah Giardina, experienced an unprecedented feat in building a complex from the ground up, as no Florida poker room has had to start from scratch. When Florida poker started in the late ’90s, parimutuels scrambled to find room for tables in their current facilities, squeezing them in where they could, and then most remodeled those buildings.
Daytona Beach Kennel Club built a new facility in 2008, moving its existing business into that building. The complex at bestbet Jacksonville not only had to build from scratch, it had to attract new players. Yes, bestbet is a triumvirate of poker rooms all in the Jacksonville area (bestbet St. Johns, bestbet Orange Park), so it does feed from its established player base, but adding 70 tables (easily the state’s largest poker room) to the mix and striking a balance with all three properties was a delicate maneuver.
“We’re set up pretty well here. We get a lot of business from just over the border, too,” said Giardina, referring to the states north of Florida, especially Georgia and Alabama.
As you enter the foyer of the new facility, wall waterfalls with projected video flank your trip to the receptionist (a third waterfall is behind this area). From there you’ll be directed to the brush stand on the left. The waiting area is comfortable with plenty of Ante Up magazines and at least 100 flatscreen TVs throughout the property.
Games run the gamut, from $1-$2, $2-$5 and $5-$10 no-limit hold’em to limit hold’em, Omaha and even $3-$6 stud or stud/8 (they had smaller stud tables installed). And you’ll get plenty of hands in per hour as automatic shufflers do the work. There’s a second tier in the poker room, usually reserved for the bigger games, and then there’s the frosted-glass-walled high-stakes room. This elevated room, which has oversized leather chairs for the high rollers’ posse, is enclosed for privacy. The smallest game spread there would be $10-$25, and even that’s low for what usually gets going.
Speaking of comfortable, the chairs throughout the poker room make sitting for long sessions easy, and there’s plenty of space in between tables, so you never feel cramped, especially as you eat scrumptious sushi tableside from the bestbet grill.
The cashier is in the back of the room, as is the tournament area (daily events and promotions are highlighted on our Where to Play pages). If you’ve been to a banquet facility for a function, you no doubt are familiar with those large sectional doors that slide from side to side to create larger or smaller rooms, to better serve the size of the party. Bestbet Jacksonville has this amenity, able to open up larger tournament rooms for bigger events. You’d never know it if someone didn’t point it out to you, but in an instant the poker room can be transformed to an intimate setting or a large tournament floor.
On the opposite side of the poker room is a huge open area, which was used for the World Poker Tour set recently. This area is almost as big as the poker room, and could easily house another 50 tables (or slots and table games, should that be legal in the near future). At the back of this area is the parimutuels room, which is state-of-the-art and resembles some of the finest sportsbooks in Vegas. There are 18 huge jumbo screens plus 60 intimate carrolls, each with a personal TV for up-close viewing.
If your dream is to play poker in Florida, bestbet Jacksonville is most definitely worth the trip.