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State raises poker stakes

Come July 1, players can make bigger bets at parimutuel facilities.

By Scott Long, Times Staff Writer
Published June 15, 2007


Jim Rising (left) and Allen Lechner play poker in the crowded card room at Derby Lane. Small-stakes poker is being credited with saving dog and horse tracks from continually declining profits.
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[Times photo: David Zentz]
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While betting limits will jump to $5 from $2 in poker games with betting limits, one of the biggest changes is that "no limit" Texas Hold'em - the game popularized by TV shows such as World Poker Tour - is now allowed.

Poker stakes are going up in Florida.

Gov. Charlie Crist allowed Senate Bill 752 to become law on Wednesday without his signature, and the changes that take effect July 1 amount to the biggest expansion of poker in the state since betting limits were raised to $2 four years ago.

"Wonderful," Dick Ouellette of Lakeland said after learning the state will begin allowing bets up to $5 at rooms run by licensed parimutuel facilities. Casinos he visits in Las Vegas, Mississippi and Connecticut allow bets of $5 or higher and it's about time Florida upped the cap, he said.

"I thought that it was important that the Legislature had adopted it," Crist said. "You know, I'm not a big fan of gambling, so I thought it was appropriate to respect their work and let it become law."

The changes please David Tiano, chief operations officer at Derby Lane in St. Petersburg.

"We're going to offer similar to what we offer now, and expand other offerings based on the limits," he said.

While betting limits will jump to $5 from $2 in poker games with betting limits, one of the biggest changes is that "no limit" Texas Hold'em - the game popularized by TV shows such as World Poker Tour - is now allowed. Players may buy $100 in chips, but with no limit to how much they can win, they could soon be vying for pots worth hundreds of dollars.

"The $1-$2 no-limit is going to be the popular one," said Patrick Murphy, manager of Tampa Bay Downs' Silks Card Room in Oldsmar, which will move to the track's clubhouse from its smaller grandstand location.

Rules for tournaments, which have been contentious between card rooms and the state in the past, are spelled out in the bill and entry fees will escalate. Sam Minutello, who runs the One-Eyed Jacks card room at Sarasota Kennel Club, says his room will offer $225 qualifiers for the World Series of Poker early next month.

For Greg Geylon, vice president of finance at Tampa Bay Downs, the law means his room will be allowed to reopen July 1.

"It's good for all the workers," said Geylon, whose room was allowed to open only on live racing days, meaning a sporadic schedule between December and May and fewer employees.

"Every year when the season is over," he said, "I feel really bad when I see all the dealers and cocktail waitresses and bartenders and I say 'if you're still around in December, we'd love to have you back.' Now, with being open year-round, if they work the minimum number of hours, they'll be able to get health insurance."

Derby Lane will reopen its poker room on Sundays.

"We raced seven days a week, but it became a strain on our facility and employees," Tiano said. "But now that we can just open the poker room and the simulcast operations, we know we can run an efficient operation and won't have that strain."

Gambling rules at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino are set by the Seminole Tribe's gaming commission, which hasn't addressed raising the betting limit, said John Fontana, president of the Tampa facility.

"But we always want to be able to have the greatest array of offerings," he said.

Fast Facts:

Here's the deal
What Senate Bill 752 changes for licensed card rooms in Florida:
- Betting limits increase to $5 from $2 in limit poker games.
- Allows "no limit" Texas Hold'em cash games, but players can't be required to buy any more than $100 in chips.
- Allows for higher buy-in tournaments.
- Allows card rooms to open on nonracing days.
- Allows jackpots and other giveaways.
- Increases the fee that card rooms must pay to license poker tables.

Times staff writers Steve Huettel and Steve Bousquet contributed to this report. Times staff writer Scott Long can be reached at long@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8556.

[Last modified June 14, 2007, 23:07:50]


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