An era of South Florida’s poker scene came to an end in late September as the poker room at the Seminole Casino Hollywood ceased operations after nearly 20 years. Not to be confused with its spiffy younger brother (Seminole Hard Rock) a half-mile north on U.S. 441, the room that became known as “Seminole Classic” had made a move to an area outside the bingo hall late last year in an effort to increase attendance. Apparently the demand for extra space required for additional blackjack tables and slot machines trumped the need for a cardroom short on fancy decorations.
The room had a definite niche in the area for years by allowing players to smoke at the tables, a fact which may have contributed to its demise. The facility embraced its perception in the market, calling itself Florida’s Smoking-Friendly Poker Room. For several years after opening in March 1993, this cardroom was the only game in town, before parimutuel facilities were allowed to add poker in 1997.
Players and dealers alike learned their early skills at that time and honed their craft over the next decade, when the poker explosion brought huge popularity to the game in 2003.
Many dealers have made their mark since those early years by moving into management positions, including Dave Litvin of Mardi Gras, Joe Rodriguez of Miami Jai-Alai, Wil Herrera of Palm Beach Kennel Club and Vinnie Gatto of the Isle. Michael “Grinder” Mizrachi got his start in poker as a dealer at the facility.
Classic employees were notified of the impending closure on Sept. 4 and, according to Seminole Tribe spokesman Gary Bitner, 60 of the 61 staff members have enrolled in blackjack dealers school to continue working at one of the tribe’s casinos, or found employment at another cardroom. Most customers have migrated to the Hard Rock or one of the area’s other poker rooms; however, now when they feel the urge for a smoke, they need to leave the table and go outside.
State-record bad beat hits at Palm Beach
The largest poker jackpot in Florida for one room ($504K) hit in late September at the Palm Beach Kennel Club when a regular customer named “Roy” took home more than $250K and helped the other players at his table score sizable paydays in a quiet Monday afternoon $2 limit game. Roy, who refused to allow the room to release his last name, showed the so-called “idiot end” of a straight flush, only to see another player win the hand with the higher straight flush.
After following all proper procedures, including a careful review of the tapes, poker room personnel paid Roy $252,415 for getting snapped off in a hand he’ll never forget, and certainly no one is calling him an idiot now. The winner of the hand collected $126,208 and six others at the table each received $21,036. Dealer Kevin Kerezman said there was little noise or excitement following a board that included the , not only because the group of elderly gentlemen (the youngest was 49) were unaware or stunned when Roy revealed a and his opponent opened up the , but also because the group, to a man, wanted no part of the attention and publicity that goes with such a monumental hand. Poker room manager Tim Wright told me that after the initial shock wore off, the players immediately cautioned Kerezman not to make a big commotion to keep players from coming over to the table.
So, two straight flushes go to a showdown, one of them comes out on top, and everyone at the table is happy; what happens next? The manager talks to the dealer, runs to the money room and brings out a half-million bucks to distribute unevenly to six patrons, right? As ESPN’s Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast, my friend!”
To me, this is one of the interesting aspects of the story, one that most regular players have no concept about; in fact, many ask “Why does it take so long to get paid?” Of course, management must be sure that no procedures were violated and that no cheating or collusion was involved to affect the hand, so upper management is immediately contacted to become involved in the review procedure.
If any part of the review doesn’t pass the test, the facility can refuse to pay the jackpot. There are many things that can produce this result, such as if a player has revealed his hand prematurely (physically or verbally), the dealer makes an error in the deal or spread, or even if the introduction of the deck into the game is suspect or procedurally incorrect.
After the hand is complete, the dealer must not move the cards, the supervisor must verify the hand in front of the players, seeking their input as to the results of the hand. Then, while the supervisor collects identification from everyone at the table, the manager proceeds to surveillance to review the tapes.
The Palm Beach room has three cameras focused on every table, and all three angles are reviewed multiple times to detect any possible abnormalities. This can take a great deal of time, and the wait for the players to be paid can be extended if the top managers required are not on the premises or if the amount of cash in the money room is not sufficient for the payoffs.
After all procedures have been confirmed and players have been properly identified, players are required to fill out the necessary tax forms and the money is distributed. Because of this extended waiting period, which often lasts more than two hours for a jackpot of this size, players usually continue their game in the interim.
This jackpot had been building since April 23 (154 days).
“I’m surprised it got as far as it did, but our numbers went up tremendously over that period, especially toward the end,” Wright said, “We went from an average of 15 tables playing at one time to over 25. If it had gone on much longer, we might have had times that we needed to open our second room for additional play.”
Several employees told me customers were coming in from all over the country to take a shot at the jackpot, and even regulars were showing up much more often.
Since the hit, business has dropped off some, but the residual effect has been positive for the room.
“We expected a bad hangover in the days following the payout, but we were only down a little,” Wright said. “The bottom line is it gave us the opportunity to show off our product and brought in a few new customers.”
And while cardroom employees from brushes and dealers to Wright and Noah Carbone (PBKC’s director of poker) would have enjoyed seeing it last a little longer, all good things must come to an end. I’m sure that counts double for members of the Rooney family who owns the kennel club, as they continue a campaign for the state to allow slots in Palm Beach County; a non-binding referendum is on the Nov. 6 ballot to allow slots to be added.
Owners, managers and employees of the business, located next to the Palm Beach International Airport, are wearing pro-casino buttons this month in hopes of a winning vote, thus sending a signal to Tallahassee legislators that Palm Beach residents want the same rights to gambling that their neighbors enjoy in Dade and Broward.
— Big Dave Lemmon is Ante Up’s South Florida Ambassador. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.