Long before there was a Texas Hold 'em boom, and back when pari-mutuels drew packed houses on Saturday nights for racing and jai-alai, locals were playing poker at Seminole Casino Hollywood.
This was in the 1990s, before the Seminole Hard Rock & Casino brought about the nickname "Classic" to the smoky bingo hall to differentiate it from the new place to the north.
But the poker apparently ended Sunday night, with the closing of the poker room. Spokesman Gary Bitner said the closing is part of an overall refurbishment, which includes more blackjack and moving slots into the former poker room.
It might not mean a lot to players now, who have at least other 12 other poker rooms in South Florida to find games. But it means something to the folks the opened it, who say almost every veteran player in South Florida passed through the place. (South Floridian Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi was a dealer there.)
"Thousands of people learned to play there," said Steve Watkins, a shift manager when it opened March 14, 1993, with bets of 25 and 50 cents. "To see it close is kind of sad."
The casino itself opened more than 30 years ago as a bingo hall, then eventually added slots and poker, as did the Miccosukees in west Miami-Dade. If you haven't been there, it's like being in a house that's had several additions.
When it comes to dealers and poker room managers, many began at Classic, Watkins said. That includes Mardi Gras Director of Poker Operations David Litvin, Palm Beach Kennel Club tournament director Wil Herrera and Isle shift manager Vinnie Gatto.
Watkins, now owner of BarPokerPros bar league, notes that the poker tables were indoors, but under a tiki hut roof, "so the smoke lingered above us."
But still, the 36 tables would have a waiting list, and the staff found a work-around on the $10-a-pot rule, by dealing 30 hands of 7-stud, Omaha or Texas hold 'em and collecting enough for a pot of $300 for the winner.
The room held up just fine as Texas Hold 'em boomed after Chris Moneymake won the World Series in 2003, but had faded in the past couple of years, including after a move to a spot near the bingo room, but away from the blackjack and table games. Some in the industry noted that the high-hand mania hurt them, as places such as Mardi Gras Casino, the Hard Rock and Calder often offered high hands every hour paying $500. Others note that Calder copied Classic's low $60 buy-in for $1-$2 no-limit and players moved there, chasing the high hand.
Poker room manager Warren Targia was let go in the summer, and the staff was told on Sept. 4 the room was closing. Sixty of the 61 employees are now either working elsewhere or attending blackjack dealers’ school, Bitner said.
Can't say I blame the Semioles (poker is a distant third in revenue behind slots and blackjack), but just noting that there once was a place for poker well before ESPN and the World Poker Tour came along.
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