Ever since the state legislature removed the limits imposed on its poker rooms, the poker industry in Florida has exploded. Those previous rules limited what stakes could be played for and limited how much could be on the table. In 2009, however, the legislature “uncapped” the poker rooms to allow them to play for pretty much any stakes they wanted. The result was a gold rush to the Sunshine State by poker players of all ilk.
Along with the major tournament circuits like the World Poker Tour (who now conducts their final three events in the state) and the World Series of Poker Circuit, expansion of poker rooms not only in tables but in ACTUAL number of rooms has been the norm. As of 2017, there are 24 poker rooms in the state, some associated with thoroughbred horse racing tracks, some in the Seminole Indian casinos and a couple (like bestbet Jacksonville) that stand alone while offering simulcast wagering on the ponies. In 2016, these rooms generated $147 million in revenues (a 231% increase over 2006 revenues); by comparison, the poker rooms in Nevada generated $117 million in revenues for the year.
If people are flocking to your business, it is only natural to want to update those surroundings. The Seminole Hard Rock Tampa isn’t as acclaimed as its brethren in Hollywood, FL, but it is making a name for itself as a poker destination. First came a massive renovation that saw the poker room move away from the casino floor into a special area of the casino. Those renovations were completed in January and they have made a great difference in the potential future success of the room.
Walking into the room on a Friday night around 7PM, I was expecting about half the 46 tables around the room to be in action. Imagine my surprise when every table – even the two tables in the “High Roller” lounge – was full of action. Sure, there was a tournament going on – a $200 buy-in event with a $10,000 prize pool guaranteed that eventually fielded around 70 entries – but there was no other explanation for the room to be as packed as it was. Walking to the board to pick a game, I saw why the tables were packed.
The Hard Rock Tampa spreads a list of games, with Texas Hold’em (limit and no limit) as the most prevalent game but Omaha has a strong presence. If there were to be a call for some Stud games, I got the impression that they would spread that, too, IF there were enough people calling for it. There was also a wide array of stakes, from the $1/$2 for No Limit Hold’em to $2/$2 Pot Limit Omaha, a $2/$5 spread game (Hold’em) all the way up to what looked like a $30/$60 game (this was going on in the separate “High Roller” room). Having a game for everyone’s bankroll is key to bringing in the players, a fact not missed by the Hard Rock Tampa poker room staff.
Everything about the Hard Rock Tampa poker room was top notch. From the chairs at the table (plush and comfortable) to the amenities around the room, you could certainly tell that the Seminole Indian tribe spared no cost in improving its offerings. And it isn’t like they’ve jammed a bunch of tables into a room and put everyone elbow to elbow. The Hard Rock Tampa poker room has a full-service bar, a snack bar (burgers, sandwiches, and other offerings) and 40 HDTVs arranged around the room. Waitress service is quick and there’s even massage service for the players grinding away on the felt.
The Seminole Hard Rock Tampa has hosted some WPT DeepStacks events in the past, but they are deserving of a higher profile tournament schedule. Perhaps a WSOP Circuit roster of tournaments or maybe even a full-fledged WPT Main Tour stop (and where the hell are the smaller tours like the Heartland Poker Tour and the CardPlayer Poker Tour?) would be well-served to come to the poker room for a spell. The Seminole Hard Rock Tampa poker room is a must-play stop for players who come to Florida; with the wide array of games and stakes, the plush surroundings, and its ease of access (Tampa International Airport is nearby), the poker world is really missing something special.