Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Poker Rooms Counted on as Moneymakers; but Slot Machines Often Prove to Be Most Attractive Revenue Source

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Poker Rooms Counted on as Moneymakers; but Slot Machines Often Prove to Be Most Attractive Revenue Source

Article excerpt

Byline: Roger Bull

The state-mandated limits on poker bets were lifted a couple of years ago. Still, most players sit down at the cheaper tables where the stakes are just a few dollars a bet.

But Jacksonville Kennel Club is betting millions that poker will be a money-maker on Monument Road. After all, it paid $3.5 million for the property last August and spent another $5.5 million to build BestBet Jacksonville, which opens Thursday.

It's probably not much of a gamble, though. Poker rooms make their money by taking 10 percent of each pot with a maximum of $5. That's called the rake.

For the poker room at the Orange Park Kennel Club, that meant more than $900,000 last month alone. The one at the St. Johns Greyhound Park took in $389,000.

Gross receipts at cardrooms across the state rose from $2.8 million in 2001-02 to $125 million 2010-11. The state's 10 percent tax has risen right along with it.

Meanwhile, the amount wagered on horses, dogs and jai alai has seen a steady decline, from $1.7 billion in 2001-02 to $883 million 2010-11.

The money made operating poker rooms has not gone unnoticed.

In 2005, a jai alai and poker facility opened in Hamilton County. It's one of the poorest counties in Florida, but the first spot travelers coming south on Interstate 75 see when they enter the state. Jai alai is still being played there, but little is being bet - only $685 during the entire last fiscal year.

Poker is more profitable, taking in $1 million last year.

Meanwhile, in the tiny town of Gretna, west of Tallahassee, a horse track opened in December that uses a loophole to offer wagering on barrel racing. It also has a poker room. Only $11,000 was bet on horses last month. The facility's share of the poker room topped $250,000.

But Robert Jarvis, a law professor who specializes in the gambling industry at Nova Southeastern University, said there are other motives for opening tracks and frontons.

"They're not doing it for the poker rooms," Jarvis said. "Poker is more profitable than horses, dogs or jai alai, but they have bigger goals in mind."

That goal, he said, is slot machines.

"In Las Vegas casinos, 90 percent of their revenue comes from slot machines," Jarvis said. …

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