In Florida, Poker Isn’t the “Add On” That Was Originally Thought

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Poker in the state of Florida has had a tricky history. Since laws regulating poker were passed in the state, the idea was that the poker rooms offered by the different dog and horse racing tracks and jai alai frontons was supposed to supplement the incomes of those businesses. However, the biggest determinant in what is driving the businesses – the bottom line – shows a different story.

Per Don Jensen of the Tampa Bay Times, statistics from the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering show that, for the fiscal year 2015-2016, poker set all-time records as to gross revenues and tournament receipts. Over the span of the year that ended on June 30 (the end of the fiscal year in the Sunshine State), poker earned $147,298,438 at the 24 different poker rooms that are offered throughout the state. This was an increase of 8.4% over the previous fiscal year and, as previously stated, a record in the state and a 231.5% increase from when it was first offered during fiscal year 2005-2006.

While they have more profits overall, the businesses that were supposed to use the poker rooms to supplement their revenues have seen their main business decline. Combined wagering on dog and horse racing (encompassing quarter horses as well as thoroughbred events) and jai alai frontons brought in $740,622,947. Although this is quite impressive, it is almost 5% under what was brought in during the last fiscal year and has dropped 51.1% since poker came on the scene.

So, which rooms are driving poker in Florida (it must be mentioned that this does not account for the powerful Seminole Indian operations at their various casinos such as the Hard Rock in Hollywood or Tampa)? Leading the way for poker is the Jacksonville Kennel Club, which offers their bestbet Jacksonville location and another simulcast outlet in Orange Park. The JKC brought in $20,627,676 in gross revenues in the last fiscal year, vastly outpacing their competition.

Second place in the Florida poker race goes to the Palm Beach Kennel Club, which has been a popular stop for the World Series of Poker Circuit events. The PBKC pulled in $14,253,989 during their 12-month fiscal year to edge out the Daytona Beach Kennel Club (another popular WSOPC location) for the runner up spot. The DBKC, in settling for that third-place slot, pulled in $12,615,313 in revenues for Fiscal Year 2015-2016. The harness racing venue Pompano Park ($11,925,829) and the Derby Lane Greyhound Track in St. Petersburg ($8,836,454) round out the Top Five for live poker rooms in the state of Florida.

The competition for the poker dollar (outside of the Seminole Indian operations) is quite a fierce battle. While the greyhound racing operations have pulled in most of the money ($108,137,305) the harness racing operation at Pompano Park and the three quarter horse racing facilities at Gretna, Hialeah and South Marion (with South Marion just opening their poker operations in May 2016) were neck-and-neck for the place slot. Pompano Park’s $11,925,829 in revenues barely outpaced the quarter horse track’s take of $11,093,560.

One thing that has helped the Florida poker industry – and perhaps has kept their revenue records (10 of the last 11 years have seen an increase) intact – is changes over the years to the regulations in Florida regarding poker. Before 2010, strict regulation on the poker rooms allowed for only limit play and very low stakes such as $1/$2 or $2/$5 games. In 2010 the Florida legislature expanded the offerings for poker rooms, including no limit play and removal of restrictions on the stakes that could be offered. One year later, Florida legislators removed the restriction on horse and dog racing tracks that they could only offer poker when there was a racing schedule being conducted. These changes have seen people flood the Sunshine State to play poker from Jacksonville to Hollywood, cash games have thrived since the changes were instituted and poker tours have come to the state for major tournament schedules.

It isn’t likely that the revenue from Florida poker rooms will ever surpass the amount earned from the actual physical racing that is occurring at the dog and horse tracks around the state. But it is obvious that poker isn’t the “add on” that was originally thought when it was legalized in the mid-2000s.

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