If you get to one of South Florida's poker rooms early in the day, you might witness something pretty odd. Around opening time (for the casinos that aren't 24 hours yet) at the $5/$10 no-limit tables, you might find a group of regular players going all in on every hand -- sometimes without looking at their cards first.
This is often the case at the Isle of Capri in Pompano Beach.
The idea: "Everyone wants to start with a bigger stack," one player explained last weekend. "Once we're up to four or five hundred, we're ready to really play."
The issue here is one of buy-in limits. The laws in Florida currently cap all buy-ins at $100, even at the high-rolling, big-money tables like the $5/$10 tables in Pompano. So whether you're playing the lowest stakes table in the house (in South Florida casinos, the lowest no-limit games all begin with $1/$2 tables, meaning the "blinds" and minimum bets are $2) or the highest, you have to bring no less than $50 and no more than $100 to the table at a time (though you can buy back in as many times as you like, so long as your stack doesn't top $100).
The seasoned regulars here feel like the "low" buy-ins limit the quality of poker they are able to play. Plus it's clear they'd like to be able to gamble more money more often.
Last spring, after long negotiations, the state Legislature agreed on new laws that will raise the maximum buy-ins tenfold, to $1,000. Card rooms will also be able to extend their hours and host more-expensive tournaments. The new rules have been delayed because the state is still negotiating a new pact with the Seminoles, who already have 24-hour poker, plus blackjack and a host of other games.
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Meanwhile, local players are finding ways to make do under the current laws. Last Saturday, like most days, there was a crowd of onlookers gathered around one of the two $5/$10 tables near the front of the card room in Pompano. Men who had been sitting in the same seats for hours -- and had built massive stacks worth thousands of dollars -- cashed in pots that topped $4,000.
"We're ready for the new limits," said a regular here known by his nickname, "Red." "These boys are finding ways to bet big and build up big stacks to play with. When they can start off with a grand each in front of them, then we'll see real fireworks."
A regular player for years now, I spent a few weeks stalking the South Florida tables last year and found that, even with the current limits, several players are living a rough life. Losing a c-note in a single hand hurts. But losing a grand in a few seconds -- which will likely happen in at least one of Florida's 30 poker rooms within minutes of the new laws taking effect -- will hurt a lot more.
Christina, a dealer in Pompano, says the big-money tables are already filled with eccentric overbetters ready to go all in with anything any time. She says several players like to indulge the curious crowd that gathers around the table. "That's the craziest table to deal," she said. "They really are crazy. They're betting thousands of dollars on nothing. And some other guy is calling with nothing. And they're racing to a low pair for the whole thing."