Florida is becoming the poker tournament hotbed since COVID-19

Jon Sofen
Published by:
Posted on 03/31/2021

Las Vegas has always been the poker capital of the world, but Florida has been the go-to state for live tournaments since the global health pandemic struck in 2020.

Most major poker events around the world have been canceled or postponed over the past year. And the entire poker community is holding out hope for a 2021 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. But some big events have taken place this year or will in the coming weeks, and many of them just so happen to take place or will take place in the Sunshine State.

There are two reasons why Florida has been such a hot poker spot this year. First off, the state has some of the best poker rooms in the country, even before COVID-19. Places such as the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood (and Tampa) and the Bestbet Jacksonville have long been popular spots for poker cash games and tournaments.

The other reason why Florida is such a poker hotbed right now, especially with the big events, is the state has minimal COVID-19 restrictions. Governor Ron DeSantis (R) hardly took the virus seriously and more than a month ago erased virtually all restrictions for businesses. Poker rooms and casinos can operate at full capacity and face masks aren’t required by law, although most card rooms do require customers to wear them.

Huge fields in Florida tournaments

The World Poker Tour, after postponing live events for nearly a year, has hosted two Main Tour events in the U.S. this year, one of them (Lucky Hearts Poker Open), was held in Florida at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood. And the next event on the schedule, the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown on April 23, will also take place in the Sunshine State.

Jacksonville, a major city in the northern part of the state, also recently hosted a huge Spring Series at its popular Bestbet Jacksonville casino. The $2,500 Main Event, won by Hal Rotholz for $180,986, had 401 players.

That pales in comparison to the January WPT event in Florida in terms of field size. The $3,500 buy-in Lucky Hearts Poker Open had a massive field of 1,573 players. Ilyas Muradi shipped the coveted World Poker Tour Hublot trophy for $809,515. More than 1,000 players are expected for the upcoming Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown.

When Governor DeSantis permitted casinos to reopen in late May, poker players flocked to the card rooms in droves.

On May 20, the first day poker returned to action in Florida, the Seminole Hard Rock in Tampa had 18 games running with over 100 players on a wait list that first evening. Some poker fans were angry that so many were playing cards during a pandemic. Others were just thrilled to finally get to play poker again after two months in quarantine.

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