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No-limit poker legal in Florida on July 1

A new era in Florida poker begins July 1.

It’s what many players have been waiting for, and it could bring the big-time pros you typically see on TV right here to your local poker room. (So play carefully.)

Once the new state-approved gambling regulations kick in, the biggest change is an increase in the amount of loot you can put out there on the table. Currently, the most a player can buy-in for a “cash” game is $100. After July 1, there will be no limits.

“This is our emancipation,” says Richard Oliver of Hollywood, who usually avoids local card rooms in favor of Las Vegas or higher-stakes home games.

No-limit poker will be legal at all 23 poker rooms in Florida, based at pari-mutuels with either horse tracks, dog tracks or jai-alai frontons.

The Indian tribes have followed state poker rules in the past, and part of their compact includes an agreement to continue to match what pari-mutuel rooms do. So the seven Seminole poker rooms also will move up to no-limit. Miccosukee officials have declined to comment.

Smelling the money, poker pros are renting houses in South Florida, hoping to pick off the fish who don’t know how to play higher stakes.

On a recent episode of the TV show “High Stakes Poker,” noted pro Mike “The Mouth” Matusow mentioned playing in Florida now that there will be “real poker.” And Seattle pro Rick Fuller says many are talking about setting up at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood.

“There’s a lot of money in South Florida and a lot of people who just want to play big and don’t really care if they win or lose,” says Fuller, who’s been on Craigslist looking for a one-month rental.

The Hard Rock’s public relations manager, Ryan Rogers, said the poker room has gotten “a ton” of calls from pros and high-rollers.

While poker players are thrilled with the new no-limit law, the average person won’t see much difference, said Nicki Grossman, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“We haven’t seen the needle move on tourism related to gambling to this point,” she said.

Poker players say the no-limit changes are only fair: slots, horse and lottery players can bet all they want. But poker has had limits, starting with 25 cents a bet in 1997 and evolving to $100 buy-in in 2007.

Local players say the $100 limit warps the strategy of poker.

“The current buy-ins are a joke, said player Mark Bonacquisti, of Sunrise. “It is hardly poker at all.”

Card room managers say they are not sure how much play to expect. As usual, the consumer will dictate.

“We can all tell you what we’re going to have. But the question is what are they going to come in and play?” said Mike Smith, director of poker operations for the Isle Casino & Racing in Pompano Beach.

Poker room managers are estimating a 10 to 15 percent increase in revenue, with much of that coming from expanded hours. Card rooms had been limited to 12 hours but now, as part of the new rules, can be open 18 hours on weekdays and 24 hours on weekends.

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