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Florida Poker Scene

In my opinion, after Nevada, California, and Oklahoma, Florida is now the fourth best state for low-limit poker. It has not always been so. In 1996 Florida legalized poker-sort of. They allowed games of minimal stakes, so small that the size of the entire pot could not get above $10. Players would bet 25 cents or 50 cents until the pot grew to $10; and then all betting would cease, with the dealer dealing out the remaining cards with no betting.

It was pretty silly, and the rake was an enormous percentage of the pot. Serious players stayed away.

Then, in 2000, the state increased the stakes to $2 per bet. This made the games somewhat more tolerable but still pretty poor when compared with other places where poker was legal. Poker continued to limp along, but there was no boom. And then, wonderfully, in July of 2007-less than one year ago-Florida's legislature agreed to raise the betting limit to five dollars per bet. They also agreed to allow no limit poker, with a cap of $100 on the initial buy-in (with no limit to the number of these $100 buy-ins). When combined with the ability of poker rooms to offer poker tournaments with a maximum buy-in of $800, it made for exciting poker indeed. At last count there were 27 poker rooms in the state.

To be sure, there are still some serious limits on the games. The biggest limit poker games are $2-$4 and $3-$5. Though some rooms are open all night, many don't open until noon and close at midnight. The rake is uniform and fairly steep-at 10 percent with a $5.00 maximum. There's usually a bad beat or high hand jackpot of some kind-also newly allowed under the July 2007 law. Though some players love the jackpot, it amounts to an additional $1.00 drop from the game. That's a pretty heavy tax for a relatively low limit game.

Still, within those limits, there's some surprising variety. I stumbled across some limit stud, limit hold'em, limit Omaha/8 and no-limit hold'em. Though the buy-in for the no-limit game is limited to $100, the blinds vary: $1-$2, $2-$5, and even $5-$10. I even heard reports of ambitious high stakes players skirting the maximum buy-ins by agreeing to have the entire table go all-in repeatedly and re-buy until each player had $1,000 in chips on the table for the $5-$10 blind game. I recently returned from a trip to Florida where I sampled about a dozen rooms in the southern and central part of the state. Let me end here by giving you an overview of what I found.

Florida rooms are broadly divided into two categories: state-regulated gambling venues and Indian casinos. The successful Seminole tribe pre-dominantly runs the Indian casinos. They have enormous resources and just purchased the Hard Rock chain-inserting poker and other gaming into two of those enormous and beautiful properties-in Hollywood and Tampa. They are open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. There are also smaller and less successfully Indian-run poker rooms.

Poker also has a home in Florida's jai alai frontons, dog tracks, and horse tracks. While at first these rooms could only be open when the track was in operation, they may now open from noon until midnight-even on days and during hours when the track itself is closed. They also range from enormous poker palaces like the one in Pompano Beach run by the Isle of Capri casino chain, to small rooms that seem to be struggling to survive.

In my next column I'll give a quick review of each of the rooms I visited and then share some interesting experiences I had while I was there.

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