Investigation into Hialeah Park Poker Tournament Reveals “Irregularities,” Potential for Punishment by State Gaming Authorities
After a thorough investigation into a tournament that was, from most appearances, run completely against every traditional norm of tournament poker in existence, state gaming officials in Florida have completed their investigation into the Hialeah Park Poker Room, resulting in several violations being marked against the organization.
The situation first came to the attention of Florida gaming officials back in September after a poker tournament was held at the Hialeah Park Poker Room. The tournament, a $250 buy-in event with a guaranteed prize pool of $200,000 and a first place prize guaranteed of $60,000, was held to celebrate the second anniversary of the poker room. But, to some of the players who participated in the event, it seemed that there were some issues with the way the tournament was allegedly conducted.
The tournament took place from August 25-30, with the August 25-29 days serving as five Day Ones with two flights running each day and the final day of the tournament on August 30. That isn’t out of normal procedure for tournaments – the World Series of Poker’s “Colossus” was run much the same way – and there were some special amenities for other purchases. A $20 donation to the dealer pool earned another 8000 chips (players got 15,000 chips for their initial buy-in) and an add-on of 8000 was available for another $20. Where it got tricky is where Florida gaming officials found that the Hialeah Park officials potentially violated gaming regulation.
According to Nick Sortal of the Miami Herald, a player in the Hialeah Park tournament said that the numbers didn’t add up when the players still in the tournament came back on August 30. “The prize pool was $215,000, but they said there were 1061 entries,” Allen Powers, who usually frequents the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Room in Hollywood, FL, stated, which would have made for a $265,250 prize pool. “Then they said, ‘No, 961 entries,” which still didn’t match the $215K that the poker room management announced as the prize pool. In addition to this, the total chips in play – listed on the tournament board as more than 27 million – would have actually been under 24 million with 961 players. Powers and other players also alleged that the Hialeah Park poker room management put players in the event for free, never collecting an entry fee from them, and put them in specific seats rather than random placement.
The investigation by Florida gaming officials seems to have found several instances where the Hialeah Park Poker Room violated gaming laws in the state. According to Sortal, surveillance video did not cover parts of the poker room that it should have, including the areas where cash was handled. In addition to this, money was kept in poker room manager Nelson Costa’s office rather than in the cashier’s cage or a specific vault area. This was another allegation of the players that buy-ins were not handled at “The Cage” as a normal casino transaction would have occurred, but instead handled at the floor manager’s desk.
Other violations were found by the gaming officials. Normally records are kept of the payouts to winners of a poker tournament at the cashier’s cage, where they are given receipts for their winnings. Gaming officials have found 13 players who didn’t have any receipt for their winnings and Hialeah Park Poker Room officials never released an official tournament report of the names of the winner of the tournament, the final table nor its payouts. Finally, gaming officials found that surveillance video was not preserved as according to law, tournament records were not kept for the required amount of time (three years) and jackpot accounts were not maintained. All totaled, 11 different violations of Florida’s gaming statutes were listed by gaming authorities.
All of these violations are going to be tough for Hialeah Park officials to refute. The manager in question, Costa, has since left his position at the Hialeah Park Poker Room, along with some of the staff (that was allegedly trained by Costa). Sortal does not indicate whether Florida gaming officials have been able to speak with Costa regarding the incident but, regardless of whether they have or not, Hialeah Park officials have until Monday (January 18) to respond to the litany of violations that have been presented to them by the state’s gaming officials.
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