Posted 01 July 2007 - 09:10 AM
The Florida Times-UnionJune 29, 2007The stakes go upBy BRENDAN HALL, The Times-UnionJames Barlow is a regular at the velvet-topped tables inside the poker room at St. Johns Greyhound Park, sometimes logging six nights a week of low-stakes play. With a maximum bet of $2 per round - making the highest possible pot $320 - strategy is limited. -------------------------------------------------- --------------------------------------------------That will change significantly Sunday, when a new state law takes effect that will allow state-licensed betting parlors to offer "no-limit" Texas Hold'em and sharply increases the betting limits on other games. The changes are expected to bring an additional $2.1 million to the state, according to projections prepared for the Senate Finance and Taxation Committee. Backers of the legislation, which Gov. Charlie Crist allowed to become law without his signature, want to capitalize on the popularity of the "no-limit" games. "I'm not a big gambler, but I realize the immense financial potential for pari-mutuel facilities, for the state, for tourism," Senate Democratic Leader Steven Geller of Cooper City, a sponsor of the bill, said this week. Indeed, the expected growth translates locally to more jobs and more revenue at places like the greyhound park's The Best Bet, a 14,000-square-foot facility just over the St. Johns County line. Its director of poker operations, Josh Zuckerman, says he's in the process of hiring 20 new dealers to handle the expected flood of new customers. "I'm extremely excited," he said. "We see potential for nothing but growth." Among other changes, the law will allow "no-limit" Hold'em for a maximum buy-in of $100. The game has been popularized by coverage of the World Series of Poker and other televised competitions in recent years. It's the first change in the state's playing rules since 2003. Poker was introduced in state-licensed poker rooms in 1996. Opponents of the bill criticized lawmakers for not including money for treatment of compulsive gambling disorders. Pat Fowler, executive director of the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling, said pleas for such relief fell on deaf ears in Tallahassee. "There is too much research already that links any expansion of gambling with compulsive gambling," she said. But it makes for exciting new challenges for players like Barlow, 42, of Jacksonville, who got into the game 2? years ago. The no-limit concept will test the skill and strategy of players and make the games more enjoyable, he said. The ability to bluff, for instance, is handicapped at lower-level games because of the lack of money involved. "When you get a bigger stake at hand, it makes you think twice about what move you want to make," Barlow said. State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Richey, co-author of the bill, said the change does not signal a major change in his opposition to other forms of gambling. "I'm OK with the expansion of gambling as long as it's within pari-mutuel facilities," Fasano said. But opponents say any relaxation of a law yields more potential for the dangerous pitfalls: The debt. The addiction. Making bets one cannot afford. "It's a slippery slope," said state Sen. Stephen Wise R-Jacksonville, one of 10 senators who voted against the bill. "It sends kids the wrong message." Barlow, who started playing as a way to stay in touch with friends, offered a more blunt suggestion over a round of poker. "Anyone who plays with rent money shouldn't be playing with cards."