Arsenis takes over Miccosukee poker room

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When the poker rooms at Miccosukee Resort and Gaming and Seminole Classic opened in the mid 1990s, they were the only legal games in town. For most of 20 years, they were filled with poker players, and, unfortunately, filled with cigarette smoke. Last September, with the Hard Rock poker room flourishing next door, the Seminoles decided to close the smoky cardroom at the older brother, leaving only Miccosukee in South Dade as the only poker establishment in Florida where smokers could light up.

However, when Pete Arsenis brought his two decades of poker experience to Miccosukee in late November, he knew that was going to be his first change. He didn’t want to lose all smokers, so he reached a compromise: “What we did is offer our customers a choice; they could sign up for a particular game, smoking or non-smoking, and we would do our best to accommodate them,” he said.

Arsenis knew the will of the public would make a final decision easy, but he’d still bend over backward to try to make everybody happy. 

“Some of the higher limit tables do have several smoking players, so we put them off to the side away from the rest of the tables. But the rule is they can only smoke while sitting at that table, unless they go outside,” he said. “In the end, the response has been tremendous. More than 95 percent of our guests want a smoke-free room, so except for two or three tables in an entire week, that’s essentially what we are.”

And I’ll agree as the room is glassed in, so when you enter it from the smoky casino, the difference is noticeable.

“The main knocks on Miccosukee before I got here were the smoking and the lack of customer service. Not that staff was previously impolite, but they were restricted in what they could do and the dealers were forced to be the officers, enforcing everything the customer couldn’t do. They had so many rules and restrictions in this room that a lot of the clientele had been trying to overturn, and there was a negative vibe in here that needed to be addressed.”

A critical review of the room by writer Ashley Adams in 2008 enumerated some of the problems: “Let’s start with the plethora of restrictive rules. While playing poker in the Miccosukee poker room, none of the following are allowed at the table: reading, listening to music, talking or listening on a cell phone, eating, writing.”

Arsenis, who started as a dealer at the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City in 1993 before eventually working his way up to poker room director at the Hard Rock Hollywood in 2008, went right to work with the Miccosukee Gaming Commission and the chairman of the Tribe to relax some of these restrictions. The room now allows eating at the tables, providing the small rolling tables available at most rooms. 

“These were changes that I felt were minor, but were major to the customers and staff,” he said. “You need to listen to what your guests want to make them more comfortable. Another thing we have allowed is for players to use electronic devices at the table, not while active in a hand, but if out of the action. Before, if their phone rang and they answered it, their hand was immediately declared dead. To use an electronic device, they had to get up and leave the table. You couldn’t listen to headphones and that’s now a big part of the poker experience.”

As a result of the changes, business at the 32-table room is way up. 

“We are seeing many returning customers over the past few weeks as word gets out that the room is not so restrictive,” he said. “The first week that we made these changes, we saw an increase of 10 percent in revenue, which is huge.” 

He also credits his assistant director Sandra Avila for helping implement the recent improvements: “She is the pulse of the room; I couldn’t have made these changes without her.”   
So after hearing plenty of positive comments and having restored the morale of customers and staff, Arsenis has turned his focus to improving the game selection, starting with the introduction of new sit-n-go tournaments. 

“Previously, we used to get just a couple of SNGs a week, but I added three new levels, including a low-priced $45 buy-in and in the first two weeks we had 50 SNGs.”
Bolstered by this recent increase in players, Arsenis said he has heard the negative outlook in the past but will continue to promote the positives, and he ran them down for me. 

“People say we’re in the middle of nowhere, but we do have a nice location with easy access for Kendall residents, and we are the closest location for people in South Dade and the Keys. We’re not really a tourist destination spot; we cater mostly to the locals, but the marketing effort is starting to build as well. We know the competition is fierce, but we are starting to grow again. And we also have the hotel right on the premises and we do give lots of room nights away so we have a lot of positive things working for us.”

When I asked him about big tournament series and possible associations with the major poker tours, Arsenis expressed caution. 

“We haven’t had any MTTs in the last two years at all, so we’ll start there,” he said. “We have to take baby steps, like the additional SNGs. Our main thing is to get our guests comfortable, introduce them back into the tournament action and we’ll see what they ask of us and we will try to provide it for them.”

Good customer service is not rocket science; it just takes a caring focus on your customers, and Arsenis is off to a great start. As for the future, he said: “Everyone has their goals, but the sky is the limit: To be the No. 1 poker room in the world, like a Borgata (where he served as a shift manager from 2003-08), that would be a dream come true, but we need to start from the ground up.”

CHARITY AT PBKC: The Rooneys Golf Foundation’s third annual poker tournament raised $8,665 for local charities. The event saw 103 poker players participate on Jan. 19 at the Palm Beach Kennel Club as proceeds benefit the Autism Project of Palm Beach County, FAU Honors College, Pathways to Independence and Potentia Academy.

Next up is a charity tournament near and dear to my heart. I will be playing in the third annual “Tyler’s Team” charity classic on March 24 at PBKC. The hold’em fundraiser will offer players a $2,500 guarantee and first place earns a cash prize as well as a seat at the 2014 World Series of Poker Circuit at the PBKC.

The Tyler McLellan Foundation started after the Kevin and Karen McLellan lost their 15-year-old son in a plane crash in Tampa on July 17, 2008. Since then, they have done everything they can to raise money for youth sports in South Florida. The foundation is geared toward rewarding perseverance and not allowing a family’s finances to hold players back.

Join us to honor his memory and raise money for several worthy causes. The tourney starts at 1 p.m. and will offer all players a complimentary buffet and soft drinks from at noon. Buy-in is $50 with $20 rebuys, and will feature some of South Florida’s hottest poker stars.

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

Isle Classic, Isle Casino, Pompano Park

Event 2 • $330 NLHE
Entries: 1,098 • Pool: $200K
Jeff Kessler, $42,558*
Event 3 • $200 Rebuy
Entries: 70 • Pool: $26,400
Maurice Hawkins, $7K*
Event 4 • $330 NLHE
Entries: 141 • Pool: $42,300
Lawrence Hawkins, $10,360*
Event 5 • $200 PLO
Entries: 64 • Pool: $30,220
Cory Blum, $6,490*
Event 6 • $100 NLHE
Entries: 1,861• Pool: $167,490
Milana Nosikovsky, $14,363*
Event 7 • $230 NLHE
Entries: 119 • Pool: $20K
Fabian Forbes, $5,800*
Event 8 • $350 Bounty
Entries: 158 • Pool: $30K
Eric Beller, $9,551*
Event 9 • $330 NLHE
Entries: 160 • Pool: $48K
Fernando Halac, $7,576*
Event 10 • $1,100 6-max
Entries: 69 • Pool: $69K
David Bell, $21,780*
Event 11 • $1,600 NLHE
Entries: 72 • Pool: $108K
Marc Bebergal, $14,500*
$2,500 Main Event
Entries: 131 • Pool: $300K
Chris Bolek, $96K
* Denotes chop or deal.

Lucky Hearts Open, Hard Rock Hollywood

Event 1 • $125 NLHE
Entries: 1,898 • Pool: $189,800
Jose Baeza, $32,844
Event 2 • $240 NLHE
Entries: 95 • Pool: $9,500
Theo Lawson, $2,612*
Event 3 • $150 NLHE
Entries: 135 • Pool: $16,200
Michael Glick, $5,183
Event 4 • $150 NLHE
Entries: 158 • Pool: $18,960
Don Proctor, $4,788*
Event 5 • $240 O/8
Entries: 76 • Pool: $15,200
Mike Moed, $4,180*
Event 6 • $300 NLHE
Entries: 144 • Pool: $37,440
Mike Sullivan, $11,981
Event 7 • $560 NLHE
Entries: 74 • Pool: $22,200
Daniel Davis, $4,180*
Event 8 • $150 NLHE
Entries: 166 • Pool: $19,920
Alex Miller, $2,982*
Event 9 • $240 PLO/8
Entries: 69 • Pool: $13,800
Rob Wachtel, $1,725*
Event 10 • $150 NLHE
Entries: 124 • Pool: $15K
Travis Gangoo, $3,257
Event 11 • $350 NLHE
Entries: 924 • Pool: $277,200
Courtland Twyman, $36,489
Event 12 • $150 NLHE
Entries: 158 • Pool: $18,960
Michel Barrios, $6,068
Event 13 • $560 6-Max
Entries: 76 • Pool: $38K
Darren Stablinski, $13,300
Event 14 • $300 NLHE
Entries: 130 • Pool: $33,800
Nigel Murray, $7,763*
Event 15 • $240 Seniors
Entries: 112 • Pool: $22,400
Don Hagen, $3,900*
Event 16 • $150 NLHE
Entries: 197 • Pool: $23,640
Ed Medoff, $7,329
Event 17 • $1,100 NLHE
Entries: 100 • Pool: $100K
Maroun Akiki, $32,500
Event 18 • $150 NLHE
Entries: 116 • Pool: $15K
Sheila Semander, $3,898*
Event 19 • $560 NLHE
Entries: 95 • Pool: $50K
Brian Raik, $13,750
Event 20 • $150 NLHE
Entries: 114 • Pool: $15K
Maurice Simard, $2,400
$3,500 Main Event
Entries: 369 • Pool: $1.2M
Matthew Giannetti, $298,304
Event 22 • $240 NLHE
Entries: 116 • Pool: $11,600
Marc Kropf, $2,051*
Event 23 • $150 NLHE
Entries: 97 • Pool: $9,700
Abdulaziz Alshowaier, $3,393
Event 24 • $240 PLO
Entries: 57 • Pool: $11,400
Brandon Navarrete, $4,446
Event 25 • $150 NLHE
Entries: 126 • Pool: $32,760
Christian Rojas, $10,812
* Denotes chop or deal.