Posts Tagged ‘Florida’

Florida Mayor Calls for ‘Decoupling’ of Racetracks and Poker Rooms

 Florida Mayor Calls for ‘Decoupling’ of Racetracks and Poker Rooms

The state of Florida has become a hotbed for poker. Whether it is tournaments or cash games, the thirst for the game is quenched in the casinos of the Seminole Indians and in approximately 15 card rooms around the state. For these card rooms to exist, however, they have to offer greyhound or horse racing and/or simulcasting for races across the country. But if a mayor in a local enclave has his way, greyhound racing will be ended and those tracks with poker rooms ‘decoupled’ from them.

Orange Park, FL, mayor Scott Land is calling for the action after the local greyhound track was hit with scandal. Bestbet Orange Park, one of the locations for greyhound racing in the Jacksonville area, has seen a trainer that has had 12 dogs under his tutelage test positive for cocaine in their systems. This brings the total number of such cases to 18 in the past four months alone. Even though Bestbet Orange Park (which is how Bestbet Jacksonville, the popular poker room that recently wrapped up the most recent World Poker Tour stop at the Bestbet Bounty Scramble, comes to be) has stated that the dogs are in good health and that “the system worked,” it hasn’t stopped Land for calling for the end of dog racing in the Sunshine State.

Citing the negative publicity regarding greyhound racing (and, in particular, this incident), Land says “it isn’t the image I want for the city.” He has already started talking with city leaders to redevelop the area should racing be closed but, with the current situation regarding the linking of racing and poker in the state, it would affect the economy of the area if both were closed. For some of the business in question, the only reason that there is a schedule of dog racing is for the ability to operate a poker room. Since that isn’t in the interest of the greyhounds’ health or well-being, Land is calling for the ‘decoupling’ of the two industries.

Since 2001, any poker room that has a card room license must have a full racing schedule offered (or offer simulcasting). If the races are offered, then 90% of the schedule must be run for the card room to keep its license. Over the past decade, however, there has been a significant drop in revenues from greyhound or horse racing that happens to coincide with consistently strong revenues from the card rooms.

For the Fiscal Year 2017 (which ended in June), the state of Florida saw gross revenues of $ 717,556,879 for the racing industry. While this may seem impressive, it is a drop compared to last year’s revenues ($ 740,622,947) and a drop of approximately 52% since poker started being dealt at the facilities in 2005. Poker room revenues were $ 156,311,014 at the close of the FY 2017, a 5.8% increase in year-to-year comparison.

Dog racing as a whole has seen a massive decline in the U. S. in the 21st century. Of the 19 tracks that are still in existence, 12 of them are in Florida and each of them has a poker room attached to them. There has been talk previous as to reducing the schedule of the dog tracks yet still allowing for the poker rooms to operate, but those discussions have proven to be fruitless. The state legislature is not likely to be up for another debate regarding gambling in the state, having recently come through a bruising battle with the Seminoles regarding their yearly payments to the state for exclusivity of casino gaming in the state.

With both industries pulling in significant revenues for the state, it isn’t likely that Florida legislators will be looking to put the kibosh on either one. Whether it is the dog racing that draws the poker players or vice versa (or perhaps each is separate?), for now the two industries will remain linked together. Should further malfeasance occur in the dog racing industry, however, that situation could change quickly.

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Seminole Hard Rock Tampa Poker Room – The Next Big Florida Poker Destination?

 Seminole Hard Rock Tampa Poker Room – The Next Big Florida Poker Destination?

Ever since the state legislature removed the limits imposed on its poker rooms, the poker industry in Florida has exploded. Those previous rules limited what stakes could be played for and limited how much could be on the table. In 2009, however, the legislature “uncapped” the poker rooms to allow them to play for pretty much any stakes they wanted. The result was a gold rush to the Sunshine State by poker players of all ilk.

Along with the major tournament circuits like the World Poker Tour (who now conducts their final three events in the state) and the World Series of Poker Circuit, expansion of poker rooms not only in tables but in ACTUAL number of rooms has been the norm. As of 2017, there are 24 poker rooms in the state, some associated with thoroughbred horse racing tracks, some in the Seminole Indian casinos and a couple (like bestbet Jacksonville) that stand alone while offering simulcast wagering on the ponies. In 2016, these rooms generated $ 147 million in revenues (a 231% increase over 2006 revenues); by comparison, the poker rooms in Nevada generated $ 117 million in revenues for the year.

If people are flocking to your business, it is only natural to want to update those surroundings. The Seminole Hard Rock Tampa isn’t as acclaimed as its brethren in Hollywood, FL, but it is making a name for itself as a poker destination. First came a massive renovation that saw the poker room move away from the casino floor into a special area of the casino. Those renovations were completed in January and they have made a great difference in the potential future success of the room.

Walking into the room on a Friday night around 7PM, I was expecting about half the 46 tables around the room to be in action. Imagine my surprise when every table – even the two tables in the “High Roller” lounge – was full of action. Sure, there was a tournament going on – a $ 200 buy-in event with a $ 10,000 prize pool guaranteed that eventually fielded around 70 entries – but there was no other explanation for the room to be as packed as it was. Walking to the board to pick a game, I saw why the tables were packed.

The Hard Rock Tampa spreads a list of games, with Texas Hold’em (limit and no limit) as the most prevalent game but Omaha has a strong presence. If there were to be a call for some Stud games, I got the impression that they would spread that, too, IF there were enough people calling for it. There was also a wide array of stakes, from the $ 1/$ 2 for No Limit Hold’em to $ 2/$ 2 Pot Limit Omaha, a $ 2/$ 5 spread game (Hold’em) all the way up to what looked like a $ 30/$ 60 game (this was going on in the separate “High Roller” room). Having a game for everyone’s bankroll is key to bringing in the players, a fact not missed by the Hard Rock Tampa poker room staff.

Everything about the Hard Rock Tampa poker room was top notch. From the chairs at the table (plush and comfortable) to the amenities around the room, you could certainly tell that the Seminole Indian tribe spared no cost in improving its offerings. And it isn’t like they’ve jammed a bunch of tables into a room and put everyone elbow to elbow. The Hard Rock Tampa poker room has a full-service bar, a snack bar (burgers, sandwiches, and other offerings) and 40 HDTVs arranged around the room. Waitress service is quick and there’s even massage service for the players grinding away on the felt.

The Seminole Hard Rock Tampa has hosted some WPT DeepStacks events in the past, but they are deserving of a higher profile tournament schedule. Perhaps a WSOP Circuit roster of tournaments or maybe even a full-fledged WPT Main Tour stop (and where the hell are the smaller tours like the Heartland Poker Tour and the CardPlayer Poker Tour?) would be well-served to come to the poker room for a spell. The Seminole Hard Rock Tampa poker room is a must-play stop for players who come to Florida; with the wide array of games and stakes, the plush surroundings, and its ease of access (Tampa International Airport is nearby), the poker world is really missing something special.

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State of Florida, Seminole Indians Reach Gaming Settlement

 State of Florida, Seminole Indians Reach Gaming Settlement

Ending a debate that has raged in the halls of the state capitol, Tallahassee, since early last year, Governor Rick Scott of Florida, his gaming enforcement board and the Seminole Tribe of Florida reached a settlement that will have a sizeable effect on gaming in the Sunshine State.

The new agreement will influence table games, which have started springing up in some of the poker rooms around Florida. Under the agreement signed by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation and the Seminoles, the table games – which included blackjack and other “banked” games (games in which players played against the house rather than each other) – and slot machines will be immediately closed in the poker rooms where they were operating. That closure gives exclusivity for table gaming and slots in the state to the six Seminole properties owned and run by the tribe for the next 13 years of the compact between the two entities.

“The DBPR is glad that the state of Florida has reached an agreement to resolve the ongoing litigation between the state and the Seminole Tribe,” DBPR Secretary Jonathan Zachem noted in a statement reported by Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald. “The agreement ensures the continuity of the current Seminole compact and does not allow for any expansion of gaming.”

What was the driver of the deal? For the state of Florida, it was the money. Under the new agreement, the Seminole Tribe will continue to contribute a monthly revenue sharing program to the state, in part due to the enforcement of the table game and slot ban on non-Seminole operations. That totaled $ 220 million in revenues that the Tribe put towards the revenue sharing over the past couple of years (and an estimated $ 120 million per year), but had been held in escrow while both had lawsuits pending in federal court.

In 2010, the Seminole Tribe and the state of Florida agreed to an exclusivity agreement, giving the Seminoles complete gaming rights in the state. That five-year deal expired in 2015 and, as might be expected, the various dog and horse tracks and poker rooms in the area wanted to find a way to get into that area of gaming. The Seminole Tribe called foul, as the renegotiation of the compact was ongoing with state officials, and the Seminoles brought a federal case against the state of Florida for not enforcing the regulations. The state didn’t roll over, instead filing their own countersuit that stated the agreement had expired and that the Seminole Tribe, in fact, was violating Florida gambling laws by being in operation.

Federal judge Robert Hinkle ruled last year in favor of the Seminole Tribe, affirming that the state didn’t shut down the “banked” games in the non-Seminole operations per the compact between the two, violating the agreement. After Hinkle made his ruling, the Florida legislature considered expanding gaming in the state – and was unable to come to any agreement – while the Seminoles considered the option of withholding their revenue payments outright until the state enforced the law.

The new agreement, while ensuring that the Seminole Tribe continues its revenue payments in exchange for exclusivity on table gaming and slots, also has an effect on another area of debate in the state. The expansion of casino gaming in Florida, which had seen consideration of new casino operations in Miami and even in the family oriented Disney area of Orlando, is now dead. For the next 13 years (the end of the overall compact between the Seminole Tribe and the state of Florida), there will be no further discussion of expanding gaming inside the state, keeping powerful casino gaming operations out of the Florida market and in the hands of the Seminole Tribe.

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Florida Politicians Discussing Gaming and Poker, But Lack Consensus

 Florida Politicians Discussing Gaming and Poker, But Lack Consensus

While many pay attention to the ongoing battle regarding online poker – both at the state and federal levels – there are sometimes those governmental moves that influence casino gaming and poker more significantly. In Florida, state legislators are looking to freeze gaming growth in the state, with the House of Representatives passing the first bill to do just that last week, but there is plenty of dissention on the Senate side of Tallahassee towards expansion.

Per the Tampa Bay Times journalist Mary Ellen Klas, legislators in the Sunshine State are looking to freeze gambling expansion in the state for the next two decades. The House bill, HB 7037, would not allow for any of the locations around the state – most have looked towards Miami for casino expansion, but Orlando’s pristine jurisdiction (courtesy of the Disney Corporation) has also been discussed – but would have a far-reaching effect on other gaming outlets in the state. The bill’s top goal would be to allow for Governor Rick Scott to negotiate a new agreement on behalf of the state with the powerful Seminole Indian tribe that operates two Hard Rock Casinos in Tampa and Hollywood and four others spread across Florida.

It is in looking a bit deeper into the bill where some problems might arise from poker players. Recently some of the poker rooms in the state (allowed to exist at the myriad of dog and horse racing tracks operating 24/7) have begun to spread player-banked card games, previously only the domain of the Seminole casinos. The House bill would also cut dormant pari-mutuel permits (what allows for simulcast betting on horse and harness racing) and clean up language in the current laws that could be construed as allowing for future gaming expansion.

The House bill would kick up the yearly contribution by the Seminoles for their “exclusivity” on casino operations. Instead of the current $ 250 million a year that the Seminoles contribute to the state from their casino operations, they would pay $ 325 million per year. HB 7037 would also give the Seminoles the exclusive rights to the operation of blackjack in Miami-Dade and Broward counties and could also lead to full-fledged slot machines being installed in their casinos.

HB 7037 is already moving through the Florida legislature. Although Representative Michael LaRosa has stated that “the bill provides much needed certainty and predictability for years to come,” the members of the committee he chairs, the House Tourism and Gaming Control Subcommittee, don’t entirely agree with him. HB 7037 passed out of the subcommittee by a slim margin, 11-7, along a strict party line vote with Democrats opposing the action.

The Senate has their own bill, but it is a world away from what the House is envisioning. The Senate bill, SB 8, would open Miami-Dade and Broward counties for casino gaming, granting the locations one new casino each but not giving the rights to the Seminoles. The Seminoles would get an additional casino outlet to go with their previous six and horse and dog tracks would earn the right to operate slot parlors beyond their poker rooms. SB 8 isn’t set in stone, however, as Klas reports that Senator Bill Galvano has stated the Senate has met with Seminole leaders and there are “changes” that could still be made to SB 8 before it heads to committee.

While the Florida government is talking about how to shape gambling for the near future, what does the Seminole Indian tribes at the center of the discussion think? According to Klas, the tribe has already sent messages that neither the House nor the Senate bills are acceptable at this point. Marcellus Osceola, the chairman of the Seminole Indian Tribal Council, sent a letter to the leaders of the Florida government (Scott, Senate President Joe Negron, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran) loudly disagreeing with their actions.

Osceola points out to the Florida leaders that both bills as they are currently written would look for the tribe to pay more out each year to the state, but they would also lose a great deal of the current monopoly the tribe holds, making the increased payments ludicrous. “Unfortunately, both the Senate and House bills would require dramatic increases in the Tribe’s payments without providing increases in the Tribe’s exclusivity sufficient to justify those higher payments,” Osceola’s letter plainly stated.

The state of Florida has been negotiating with the Seminoles for changes to the current casino industry for the past few years. To this point, Scott nor the Seminoles have been able to reach a consensus on just how far to take any expansion of gaming (if there is to be one), how much influence (if any) the Seminole Indians would have over that expansion and, perhaps most important to the state, the continued influx of millions of dollars into the state’s coffers from the Seminole gaming operations. It appears that the Florida legislature cannot come to an agreement either on which way to move forward.

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In Florida, Poker Isn’t the “Add On” That Was Originally Thought

 In Florida, Poker Isn’t the “Add On” That Was Originally Thought

Poker in the state of Florida has had a tricky history. Since laws regulating poker were passed in the state, the idea was that the poker rooms offered by the different dog and horse racing tracks and jai alai frontons was supposed to supplement the incomes of those businesses. However, the biggest determinant in what is driving the businesses – the bottom line – shows a different story.

Per Don Jensen of the Tampa Bay Times, statistics from the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering show that, for the fiscal year 2015-2016, poker set all-time records as to gross revenues and tournament receipts. Over the span of the year that ended on June 30 (the end of the fiscal year in the Sunshine State), poker earned $ 147,298,438 at the 24 different poker rooms that are offered throughout the state. This was an increase of 8.4% over the previous fiscal year and, as previously stated, a record in the state and a 231.5% increase from when it was first offered during fiscal year 2005-2006.

While they have more profits overall, the businesses that were supposed to use the poker rooms to supplement their revenues have seen their main business decline. Combined wagering on dog and horse racing (encompassing quarter horses as well as thoroughbred events) and jai alai frontons brought in $ 740,622,947. Although this is quite impressive, it is almost 5% under what was brought in during the last fiscal year and has dropped 51.1% since poker came on the scene.

So, which rooms are driving poker in Florida (it must be mentioned that this does not account for the powerful Seminole Indian operations at their various casinos such as the Hard Rock in Hollywood or Tampa)? Leading the way for poker is the Jacksonville Kennel Club, which offers their bestbet Jacksonville location and another simulcast outlet in Orange Park. The JKC brought in $ 20,627,676 in gross revenues in the last fiscal year, vastly outpacing their competition.

Second place in the Florida poker race goes to the Palm Beach Kennel Club, which has been a popular stop for the World Series of Poker Circuit events. The PBKC pulled in $ 14,253,989 during their 12-month fiscal year to edge out the Daytona Beach Kennel Club (another popular WSOPC location) for the runner up spot. The DBKC, in settling for that third-place slot, pulled in $ 12,615,313 in revenues for Fiscal Year 2015-2016. The harness racing venue Pompano Park ($ 11,925,829) and the Derby Lane Greyhound Track in St. Petersburg ($ 8,836,454) round out the Top Five for live poker rooms in the state of Florida.

The competition for the poker dollar (outside of the Seminole Indian operations) is quite a fierce battle. While the greyhound racing operations have pulled in most of the money ($ 108,137,305) the harness racing operation at Pompano Park and the three quarter horse racing facilities at Gretna, Hialeah and South Marion (with South Marion just opening their poker operations in May 2016) were neck-and-neck for the place slot. Pompano Park’s $ 11,925,829 in revenues barely outpaced the quarter horse track’s take of $ 11,093,560.

One thing that has helped the Florida poker industry – and perhaps has kept their revenue records (10 of the last 11 years have seen an increase) intact – is changes over the years to the regulations in Florida regarding poker. Before 2010, strict regulation on the poker rooms allowed for only limit play and very low stakes such as $ 1/$ 2 or $ 2/$ 5 games. In 2010 the Florida legislature expanded the offerings for poker rooms, including no limit play and removal of restrictions on the stakes that could be offered. One year later, Florida legislators removed the restriction on horse and dog racing tracks that they could only offer poker when there was a racing schedule being conducted. These changes have seen people flood the Sunshine State to play poker from Jacksonville to Hollywood, cash games have thrived since the changes were instituted and poker tours have come to the state for major tournament schedules.

It isn’t likely that the revenue from Florida poker rooms will ever surpass the amount earned from the actual physical racing that is occurring at the dog and horse tracks around the state. But it is obvious that poker isn’t the “add on” that was originally thought when it was legalized in the mid-2000s.

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