World Poker Tour coming to Florida in April

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The impact of the Florida Legislature’s decision to loosen the regulations governing the state’s card rooms is about to pay off…big time.

The World Poker Tour, the company most responsible for the poker boom, has inked a contract to bring its traveling TV show to the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino next year.

The tournaments will run from April 27 through May 3, climaxing with a $10,000 buy-in televised event, the ones that draw the household names.

World Poker Tour officials confirmed the date a couple of days ago and said they had a five-year contract for at least a tournament a year at either the Hollywood or Tampa Hard Rocks.

“The Hard Rock poker people did some research as to what theyir players wanted most, and bringing in the WPT was at the top of the list,” said Seminole spokesman Gary Bitner. “So they’ve responded by making that happen.”

And it’s all possible because Florida legislators approved uncapped poker in Florida, effective July 1.

Folks, this puts Florida on the map.

“What’s exciting is that Florida will draw from not only the local area, but from across the world,” WPT CEO Steve Heller said. “This year you’ll see Florida boom as poker market.”

The idea is to not only have WPT events at the Hard Rock, but to use all the Seminole properties across the state for lower buy-in satellite events, to build the WPT’s name. There will be eight WPT tournaments, and branding at the Seminole card rooms.

The WPT used to be No. 1, but you can easily argue that the World Series of Poker, thanks to ESPN, has surpassed them.

“But it’s a new day for the WPT,” said WPT President Adam Pliska. “We have not only the premiere room and the premiere property in Florida, and the Seminoles have a whole series of properties they can put together.”

Said Jason Mercier of Fort Lauderdale, ranked the fourth-best player in the world by ESPN:“I’m extremely excited that there is going to be a WPT event in my hometown. I would love to make the final table of that event so that I could have all of my friends and relatives come watch me play.”

The World Poker Tour put poker on the map in March 2003, when it came out with the lipstick-sized camera that showed players’ hole cards. Tournaments aired on The Travel Channel and the popularity of televised poker created stars out of players who had labored anonymously for years, such as Doyle Brunson and Phil Ivey.

No word for sure, but the thinking is the Hard Rock could use either its ballroom or even the Hard Rock Live for a TV friendly environment.

“The Hard Rock is a large property that fits right in line with the other properties we have on the tour,” Heller said.

Season Nine of the WPT starts airing in January; the Hard Rock tournament would go in either June or July, Pliska said. It airs on Fox Sports Network.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.