No matter what a person’s standing in life may be, the changing of the calendar offers new hope and optimism, and certainly that’s true for poker players, not to mention poker executives. But Noah Carbone, director of poker at the Palm Beach Kennel Club, barely can contain his excitement when he thinks about what 2016 might bring. While preparing for the sixth year of the World Series of Poker Circuit’s 12-day event at the greyhound track, a busy Carbone counted off a few of the positives.
“With a bad-beat jackpot passing the $275K mark, our numbers are way up so far this winter and we have some of the biggest games we have ever seen going on daily,” he said in mid January. “If it hasn’t been hit when the WSOP Circuit gets under way on Feb. 4, we may have a hard time finding a place at the tables for everyone.”
Of course, he realizes it could all end at any time, but even a half-million-dollar payout shouldn’t diminish the growing popularity of a room that has created a high-stakes area (three tables), full most of the time with players buying in for $2,500 or more. Carbone has staffed the area with a host, Willie Meila, to help facilitate filling those tables.
“It’s just crazy how busy it has been,” Carbone said. “On a Monday afternoon, we had 31 tables going at one time and I don’t think that’s driven just by the bad beat.”
One attractive promotion is the consistency of the high-hand giveaways across all game levels, $200 for each 20-minute period from noon to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, doubling to $400 at the top of the hour. On Saturday and Sunday, the jackpot payouts double to $400, $400, $800.
Also in the back of everyone’s consciousness is the possibility that slot machines could be added at PBKC this year or next, depending on the ratification of the state’s gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe by the Florida Legislature, a deal Gov. Rick Scott signed in December. This would satisfy the wishes of Palm Beach County residents, who voted for slots in a special referendum in 2012.
And while this is the closest PBKC has come to joining their parimutuel brethren in Dade and Broward counties as casino operators, Carbone knows it’s far from a done deal.
“I think we have been around this situation long enough to realize that we need to see something more definite before we start celebrating,” he said.
Until then, Carbone will maintain his focus on hosting another successful “12 Rings in 12 Days” circuit event, which will bring in some of the best players from around the country.
The series opens with the popular Monster Stack at noon on Feb. 4, with its $365 buy-in and is followed at 5 p.m. by the HORSE event. A $580 NLHE re-entry event features four opening sessions on Feb. 5-6, while the $1,675 main event has opening sessions at noon on Feb. 12-13 and will hit the final table on Feb. 15. Peter Vitantonio is the defending champion for the main.
HIALEAH PARK: It hasn’t reached a final resolution, but the investigation by the Florida’s Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering into complaints about Hialeah Park’s handling of its second anniversary tournament has reached the confirmation stage that several violations occurred in the $200K guarantee from late August.
The division issued a report on Dec. 29 accusing the poker room of 11 violations of procedures and internal controls, most of them related to poor accounting. Players accused the floor staff of inserting friends into events without collecting buy-ins, then placing them in advantageous positions at the felt.
At press time, the state was giving the facility until Jan. 18 to respond to the charges and file an appeal, and when the process is concluded, the division could levy fines or other penalties, all the way up to license suspension.
Management declined to respond to inquiries regarding this story and the DBPR cited state regulations that would not allow them to comment on an active investigation.
Several management personnel have since left the property, including poker director Nelson Costa and assistant Daniel Sierra. Costa said he felt his main responsibility was to raise the revenue numbers, which he accomplished without question, but he acknowledged management held him accountable for misbehavior of the employees he was supervising.
He denied personal involvement, but said, “There was a theft that occurred, but it was nowhere near the amount that people were talking about. I thought I did a good job there and to get let go because of one incident was a bit harsh.”
Costa has been replaced by Angelo Garcia, the director of compliance for the facility, though it’s unclear whether Garcia will remain in that position long-term.
DANIA POKER ROOM: The Casino at Dania Beach was expected to be open at press time after a year-long hiatus for building improvements to the facility, so look for a review of the 30-table room in the next issue. Elio Molina, an employee of the Magic City poker room in Miami for nearly 10 years, has been named the director of poker, but many details of the room have yet to be revealed.
HOLLYWOOD CASINO ST. LOUIS: Poker players can reach the Executive Producer tier (the equivalent to Diamond in Harrah’s Total Rewards), which usually would be unattainable at a casino by playing nothing but poker, by logging 350 hours of live play now until June 30.
HARD ROCK TAMPA: On three consecutive weekends, the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino’s poker room in Tampa knocked out large buy-in guarantees.
The first was the $350 buy-in $150K guarantee, which ended up at $220K-plus. The trophy went to Steven Bennett, who outlasted 741 runners for $24K.
The second weekend ($560, $200K) surpassed a $315K prize pool. Michael Laake, a dealer and professional player from the Tampa area, took home the trophy and $54K.
The $1,650 main event more than doubled its $300K guarantee ($642K) and went to John Templeton, who earned a whopping $134K.
DERBY LANE: The St. Petersburg property is hosting an anti-bullying charity event Feb. 21 with Blind Side star Quinton Aaron, who portrayed NFL star Michael Oher. There will be a plethora of celebrities in attendance, including current and former Buccaneers. Buy-in will be $120 and you can follow
@anteupandrew on Twitter for live coverage.
NAPLES-FT. MYERS POKER AND RACING: The poker room announced its popular Naples-Ft. Myers Poker Championship for March 18-20. The series opens with a $550 PLO Championship on March 18 at noon and is followed by the two-day $1,100 no-limit hold’em championship on March 19 at noon. The NLHE event sports a $100K guarantee. For more info, call 239-992-2411.
BESTBET ORANGE PARK: Ha Vu won the December $30K guarantee, which had a $150 buy-in and garnered a prize pool of $44,447, continuing the poker room’s streak of beating its guarantee. Jermaine Gerlin, known as “Lion” by local players, is a seasoned tournament player who has plenty of final tables and heads-up battles on his resumé, but finished second. For Ha’s effort in besting a field of 387, the local poker dealer earned $10,666, his largest cash in his career.
BESTBET JACKSONVILLE: The Mid-States Poker Tour returns at the end of this month. The $1,100 main event will have a $200K guarantee. As usual, satellite entries can be won via high hands. The satellites include 10-seat guarantees on Feb. 13 and Feb. 20 for $480 as well as 20-seat guarantees on Feb. 18 and March 3. The MSPT regional is $350 with a $100K guarantee and runs Feb. 25-28. The main event is March 4-5.
DAYTONA BEACH KENNEL CLUB: The Great American Poker Tour will be Feb. 14, the Monday after the Daytona 500. Satellites ($85) will run until the start of the event, taking the top 20 percent of each field into the GAPT main event.
Recently, DBKC has listened to one of poker’s key demographics and begun running a monthly 50-plus seniors-only event. The $110 buy-in event will run the first Monday of every month and, so far, the event has been a success with a field of more than 100 seniors have turned out to play.
SCARLET PEARL: New and exciting things are going on in South Mississippi poker. Starting with the Scarlet Pearl, officially up and running almost two months now, there are plenty of fun promotions to check out. The new room boasts 10 tables, all with USB chargers, plenty of room between them and especially comfortable chairs. The room offers free wi-fi and advertises NLHE, Omaha, Big O, stud, razz, badugi, lowball and Chinese Poker upon request. Business is good and there’s almost always several games going. Stop in and say hello to poker room manager Karen Kaegin, formerly of Gold Strike Tunica.
Promotions at the Pearl include Aces Cracked every Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. as you can win $50 when your rockets fail to win. Every Wednesday from 3-9 p.m., there’s a $75 splash-the-pot promotion, along with a Super Senior tourney. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 10-2 p.m. and 6-10 p.m. all hold’em games feature a high-hand promotion that awards $100 an hour. In any Omaha game, if you get a two-card royal you win $200.
The Pearl likes to keep it interesting, too, by offering unique promotions such as “Paid in Spades.” Sunday through Wednesday at the top of the hour from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m., a random table is selected. At that table, all active players will be dealt one card. The highest spade will win $100. If a player receives the ace of spades, they win $200 and every other player at the table wins $50. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, the top of the hour has a hot-seat drawing worth $100. You need to be seated and playing for 30 minutes to be eligible.
The newest room in Biloxi features a full tournament roster, each with buy-ins capped at $100 every day except Sunday. Each tournament features unlimited re-entry during the first level, except the Super Senior on Wednesday.
The tournament lineup looks like it will draw a crowd with a variety of choices and structures, including deepstack and value-added options. You can get more information by downloading the Bravo app or checking out the room online at scarletpearlcasino.com.
BEAU RIVAGE: Poker room manager Johnny Grooms and shift manager Michael Williams are leaving for different properties (in other states) within the MGM family.
Speaking of the poker room, it has moved to where the Memphis Q restaurant used to be, which is a much more convenient location. The room also was upgraded as part of a multimillion-dollar renovation. Be sure to check it out.
As for tourney news, look for a report from the Million Dollar Heater and Tunica’s WSOPC stop in next month’s issue.
ISLE LAKE CHARLES: The eight-table room, which is in the Grand Palais Casino and opens at 10:30 a.m., features a variety of cash games, including the usual no-limit hold’em ($1-$3, $2-$5, $5-$10), $4-$8 limit and $2-$5 and $5-$10 pot-limit Omaha.
HORSESHOE BOSSIER CITY: The popular $100 Aces Cracked and $50 Splash Pot promos run daily and tournaments are Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
HARRAH’S NEW ORLEANS: Did you know this 20-table poker room accepts call-in reservations? If you call 504-533-6043, you can reserve a spot on a list as long as the call is made 30 minutes before your arrival. Also, don’t forget the World Series of Poker Circuit makes its final stop of the season here May 12-23.
ELDORADO SHREVEPORT: Any player holding quad eights or better that’s beaten in Omaha will win $1,500 for the table. The bad-beat hand wins $600, the high hand wins $300 and the remaining players split $600. Only one of these bad beats will be paid per day per table. The main bad-beat jackpot in hold’em has a qualifier of quad fives. Players earn $2 an hour in comps.
Meet Johnny Pham
Johnny Pham was born in San Jose, Calif., and poker has been in his blood since childhood. His mother and stepfather were managers at Bay 101 so poker is in his blood. He’s tournament director at bestbet Jacksonville.
What made you get into the tournament scene? I was attending college and hit a big tournament in L.A. and moved to Las Vegas when the Wynn opened. I started working up through the ranks under the tutelage of Jesse Hollander and Deb Giardina. I don’t just respect them as the industry’s best leaders and as my bosses, but also as individuals. They groomed me for my position and I credit their inspiration.
When the last card fell in the inaugural Bounty Scramble, which you helped create, how did you feel? It felt like the culmination of all my years working in this business. I put my whole body into, taking all that inspiration from every last individual who helped me get here. … After eating, sleeping and breathing poker for 12 years straight, I felt validation.
What’s next for Johnny Pham? Bigger and better. There’s a saying that goes, “Everything under the sun has been done,” and that just means go farther, because the sky is the limit. — Charles Allison