Photo: Bob Self / The Florida Times-UnionBestBet Jacksonville earned more than $6 million from its card room from July to November 2012.
Gambling in Florida
Mixed hand: Poker rooms and the pari-mutuel industry
Poker rooms have been a boon for the pari-mutuel industry statewide since the Legislature approved them in 1996. Card room revenue at 21 of the state’s betting sites has risen nearly 9% from four years ago, while gambling revenue from greyhound racing declined 30% over the same period.
In northeast Florida, however, card room revenue at most venues has lagged. The card rooms at the five north Florida pari-mutuel facilities generated $23.7 million last fiscal year, according to data submitted to the state. At two facilities, card room revenues were off by at least 30%.
Brian Matthews, a manager at Ocala Jai Alai and Poker, says its 5% dip in card room revenue stems from the slow economic recovery. “People are more apt to watch their money,” he says. “It’s an ebb and flow.”
The industry in northeast Florida still sees a future with poker rooms. “We’ve seen a strong growth pattern when it comes to poker,” says Michael Munz, spokesman for Jacksonville Greyhound Racing.
The company closed the dog track at its former Jacksonville site and features 70 poker tables at its new facility. BestBet Jacksonville earned $6.1 million from its card room from July to November 2012, more than St. Johns Greyhound Park, which is also owned by Jacksonville Greyhound Racing, earned from its card room for the entire previous fiscal year.
In Ocala, the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. activated a 25-year-old permit for quarterhorse racing in December with the idea of opening a card room or other gambling venture.
And while Hamilton County voters have approved slots at the county’s lone pari-mutuel facility, a legal opinion by Attorney General Pam Bondi has kept them out of the county.