Once you get outside of the major poker hotspots of Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Atlantic City, it can be a little difficult to find a game. Indian casinos can offer some respite for poker players but, in most areas, it is verboten to even play the game. So when you have the opportunity to step to the felt for a game, you definitely have to take the time!
Recently I was in Florida, which has been an interesting area of the poker spectrum. At the beginning of 2006, No Limit poker tournaments were ruled to be against the state law that limited betting to $2 increments in a limit format. The assorted Indian casinos and the dog tracks (where poker is a good deal of the attraction) abided by the decision, albeit reluctantly. After much discussion, this decision was reversed later in the year and No Limit tournaments could be conducted in the licensed locations across the state. With all of this in mind, I decided to take a look at one of the local dog tracks where poker was offered and found a very vibrant poker scene, although there were some drawbacks.
The Naples/Fort Myers Greyhound Track, located between the two cities, was bustling on the evening I was there. The age range ran the gamut from college aged men to an older crowd and there were also some good female players among the group. The poker room opens at noon every day and closes at a rather early midnight, but this is because of the shutdown of the dog track at the same hour (otherwise the poker players would probably stay all night!). The poker room carried (much to my surprise) twenty four tables which carried a variety of activity throughout the night and, amazingly, the poker room's glass enclosure prevented the sounds of the track from invading the space. There were many tables that carried differing games and, as I learned through the players there, the tournament action was substantial.
Multi-table tournaments are offered on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and usually have a very large attendance. With a $45 buy-in (which is the case for all of the tournaments offered), this can allow for some rather large payouts to the final table finishers. On the particular night I was there (a Wednesday), the MTT brought out around 175 players for the 7PM tournament. There are special three table SNGs offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays for those in attendance and, finally, single table SNGs are offered during the hours of operation seven days a week. In addition to this action, there were cash games that abounded at the track.
Because of the state laws limiting betting to $2 limits, the best game you will find in any official poker room in Florida is blinds of $1/$2. There are four bets to the cap preflop or afterwards but the betting limits cannot exceed $2, thus the max you can get in the hand on a betting round is $8 (you would normally see an increase to $4 limits on the turn and river in many other locations). The Naples/Fort Myers Greyhound Track does offer an assortment of games from normal Texas Hold 'Em to Omaha (both Hi and Hi/Lo) and Seven Card Stud (again, both the Hi and Hi/Lo versions). One interesting variation I found, though, was something that was called "Action" Hold 'Em.
In this game, all players anted $2, with the blinds adding in their normal $1 and $2. After this, the game was normal Texas Hold 'Em (with the same betting restrictions) and the "action" part of the game comes into play. As was the case I found with most of the players there, normally everyone will stay in the pot due to the low limit nature of the game, even with hands that should have headed straight to the muck. It was not uncommon to hear the call of "Capped!" from the dealer on each street of certain hands as the players jostled for the pot. As you can imagine, this led to very sizeable pots and chip stack swings between the players! A skillful player would be able to work this game fairly well, but also would have to be prepared for some off the wall bad beats along the way.
The rake was also quite high in comparison to the poker venues that most might have visited previously. In the single table SNGs, only two spots are paid ($220/$100) and the three table SNGs pay three spots ($500/$300/$160). This translates out to roughly a 29% juice as part of the $45 dollars paid, which is unbelievably high (it is normal to see upwards of 10% in many other poker arenas). The cash games are also a bit high on the rake, taking 10% of the pot up to $5, but I was definitely more surprised by the tournament vig.
The blind structure of the SNGs was also a concern. With a starting chip stack of 2000, the blinds were set at 100/200 (a miniscule ten big blinds) and players only had fifteen minute levels to work with. This was done perhaps to move more SNGs through the room during the hours of play, but it would be good to see the skill of the game emphasized rather than the luck factor because one bad hand in the early going would leave you seriously depleted for battle.
Even with all of this, though, I still enjoyed my visit with the Florida poker scene at the Naples/Fort Myers Greyhound Track. If you are looking for some poker action in the state and are nearby, it is worth the look. Just be prepared for some things to happen that you wouldn't normally see in a Las Vegas or Los Angeles poker room and you should be fine and do well. For more information on the action at the Naples/Fort Myers Greyhound Track, call (239) 992-2411.