Still Cruisin' For a Bruisin'

Despite drawing attention from numerous law-enforcement agencies, SunCruz is brazenly operating an illegal poker game

The SunCruz practice of beginning its tournaments within the three-mile limit is by no means standard operating procedure in the South Florida cruise-to-nowhere industry, says Alan Brechman, poker-room manager for Tropical Gaming Inc., which operates gambling operations aboard ships owned by SeaEscape Limited, a cruise-ship line headquartered in Port Everglades.

"We do a lot before we get out to the three-mile line," he says. "We get everything set up -- get the chips together, get the tables ready -- but we never start playing until we're outside the line," Brechman says. "When we hit the line, I get a call from the captain, and I make some big announcement, like 'Let the games begin!' or something. And then the dealing starts." Why doesn't Brechman start the tourney sooner? "Because it's illegal," he says.

But Brechman can see why a company would want to start its tournament as soon as possible. The house take, or vigorish, on a poker tournament normally falls somewhere in the area of 20 to 30 percent of the total amount of buy-ins, and that amount doesn't vary with the length of the game. A tournament could last all night or it could last two hours; either way the house take is the same. So, from the house point of view, it makes sense to get the game started and get it over with as fast as possible.

"Tournaments are like loss leaders," Brechman says. "We don't really make money on those. Where the real money comes from are the side games that start up between players who've dropped out of the tournament. On those games, the vig is usually about 10 percent a hand, or a $5 max. It adds up."

SunCruz can't possibly be oblivious to the consequences of allowing gambling to occur within the three-mile limit; just last week the captain of a SunCruz boat based in Key Largo was arrested by the Monroe County Sheriff's Office for allegedly doing just that. According to a press release from the sheriff's office, the captain claimed that the ship's navigational equipment had malfunctioned. The press release goes on to dryly note, "More arrests are expected in connection with this case."

Meanwhile, investigators working on the SunCruz case say that, although they'd known about the poker tournaments, they weren't aware they began in the Intracoastal. "I had heard that they do a lot of instructional stuff before they get started, and that took them long enough that by the time the playing started, the ship was three miles out," says Gary Morton, of the Metropolitan Organized Crime Intelligence Unit (MIU), a South Florida task force made up of several local law-enforcement agencies.

In fact, during last week's cruise, the announcement of rules lasted less than three minutes and was largely unintelligible over the ship's fuzzy PA system. Few of the players appeared to be paying any attention to it, and most didn't seem to need to do so.

Most of the crowd -- at least 75 percent, according to Min -- consisted of regulars who didn't require any explanation of the rules of the tournament's game, a complicated variation of seven-card stud known as Omaha Hi-Lo.

Meanwhile, those who have mixed it up with Boulis in the past can only sigh and say they're not surprised by his company's apparent flouting of the law. "Look, Boulis is the type of guy who just doesn't seem to care about the rules," says Steve Welsch, a community leader in the North Beach area of Hollywood who has fought SunCruz on a number of development issues. "If there's an ordinance limiting parking, he'll go ahead and start building a parking lot anyway." (Boulis himself didn't return phone calls from New Times.)

Hollywood City Commissioner Sal Oliveri says he isn't shocked by any of the alleged crimes of Boulis and company. "I feel that as long as you have that type of industry operating in this state, there are always going to be those kinds of abuses.

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