Florida is known for many things like the blazingly warm sun, having both sexy and old people in the same vicinity, and a huge affinity for Budweiser and other cheap beers. Without a doubt, these are the three biggest things in the state, but close on their heels is the growing popularity of no limit Texas hold'em tournaments.
Unfortunately for fans of the game, the state recently began to pressure venues like Tampa Bay's Derby Lane, to curb poker tournaments being held at Florida parimutuel venues.
A parimutuel venue offers a betting system in which all bets of a particular type are placed in a pool together, then taxes and a house take are removed and payoff odds are calculated by sharing the pool among all placed bets. The house then rounds the denomination level down (called breakage), usually by 10 cents. This is where participants can pick someone to win, place, or show. Typical parimutuel sporting event features greyhound racing, horse racing, jai alai and numerous other sporting events that have a relatively short duration.
Over the last several years, parimutuels began including poker tournaments as the game's popularity increased. The tournaments quickly became a way for the venues to offset losses incurred due to strong competition from Indian gaming, gambling boats, the Internet, and other entertainment options like Disney World.
Derby Lane had found a modicum of success with the tournaments as roughly 300 players a day, would come and play the relatively cheap ($45) buy-in tournaments in hopes of cashing in their chips for first-prize money.
Despite the tournament's popularity, the state is enforcing the suspensions and sees no signs of changing the laws in the immediate future. According to the director of state Division of Para-Mutuel Wagering, David J. Roberts, the only solution appears to be creating a change in state law when the legislature convenes next year.
The most specific violation of the law occurs with the no limit tournaments and has been a burning issue for the state government over the last two years. In early 2004, Calder Race Course and Dania Jai-Alai challenged the state's law, which limited wagering and entry fees at the venues.
A lower court agreed with the defendants and cited there is no language in Florida law that allows the Parimutuel division to limit poker tournaments. This decision was upheld earlier this month by the 1st District Court of Appeals in Tallahassee, leading the parimutuel division to strike passages in the law that kept tournament stakes relatively low.
Because venues started offering No Limit action, they were considered to have violated the law. The tournament's popularity increased so quickly that the pari-mutuel division repealed all its rules on tournament poker and suspended tournament play, citing "an immediate danger to the public health, safety, and welfare."
State officials have mixed feelings about the rulings. According to Roberts, the rules were developed in partnership with the gaming industry. "We thought they were working very well. This was not our doing."
The only way to get the tournaments reinstated is to rewrite state law, but Roberts claims the agency has no plans to do so. He did however, acknowledge that such an effort could come from the gaming industry. Only time will tell if one America's favorite sports will make a comeback in the state of Florida.
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