Seminole Casino Coconut Creek in South Florida is leading the way in luxury with a new poker room that opened last Saturday. The move to the new, dedicated space on the second floor was made after Florida allowed casinos to spread craps and roulette tables and open sportsbooks.
Poker has flourished at Coconut Creek since COVID-19 restrictions were lifted last June and the poker room’s manager, Kelly Mautner, says the new is drawing plenty of action from players at all levels.
High rollers demand luxurious surroundings
“We’ve been fighting to get a luxury poker room that South Florida very much needed,” said Mautner. “It just made sense, finally, to make a nice, dedicated area for poker. Over the week, players are definitely appreciative and feel like they’re back at home, which is nice.”
Coconut Creek’s new poker room features its own bar, 28 tables, and an exclusive, semi-private Glass Room that hold some of the biggest games in the country. Once a month or so, a group of high rollers descend on Coconut Creek, and sometimes, buy-in for a million dollars.
On an average weekend, a $500/$1,000 PLO game can often be found, but low and mid-stakes games drive the action 24 hours a day. Mautner says the high-rollers used to fly to the Aria in Vegas, but changed casinos because several members of the group lives in South Florida. They include local athletes, local celebrities, and “your general poker players,” she says,
Lockdown brought in new blood
Maunter wasn’t 100% sure that poker would return to Seminole Coconut Creek after the casinos were shut down in 2019.
“We weren’t sure if we would open alongside the rest of the casino,” she said. “We saw right away the feedback in Las Vegas was that the players would not be happy playing four-handed. We were very lucky that the (Seminole) Tribe let us open six-handed with plexiglass and masks. Once we got that decision, we knew we were good … if we had to go four-handed like Vegas did, I’m not really sure it would be the same story.”
Ironically, the restrictions — and the eventual loosening of them — helped attract new, younger blood to Coconut Creek. Casinos and poker rooms were some of the first forms of entertainment to reopen in Florida while theaters, bowling alleys, bars, and nightclubs all remained closed.
“We saw our own little boom because people were looking for something to do. Our age demographic shifted from 65-plus to the 25 to 35 age range,” Mautner says.
The Seminole Tribe owns six casinos in Florida, three of which house poker rooms: The Hard Rocks in Hollywood and Tampa, and Coconut Creek.
Making safety a priority
When the properties reopened on June 12, 2019, the tribe went all-in on with its “Safe + Sound” campaign with the goal of making sure customers knew the casinos were doing everything possible to ensure their safety.
Among their protocols, the casinos instituted temperature checks for team members and guests, mandated that masks be worn, installed plexiglass barriers, and removed slots machines to provide social distancing. Poker started off six-handed and alcohol sales were cut at night.
“We really protected the team members and the guests so people felt comfortable and they did come back very quickly,” Mautner said.
Was she surprised at the number of players that came back?
“No. Absolutely not. Poker is a game of skill, but in South Florida, where there is a lot of retired people, it’s a game of escape, and during a pandemic and a crisis, people need to escape more than ever,” she said. “So no, I was not surprised to see people coming back out to see their friends and the employees that they missed, and to remain social in a safe and sound atmosphere. I can’t speak for every casino, but on the Seminole-side in Florida, we did an excellent job ensuring the safety of our team members and our guests.”
Vaccinations aren’t mandatory for casino employees, but Seminole Gaming and its parent company, Hard Rock International, began an incentive program in July called “Rock Your Shot” that gave employees $50 for getting vaccinated. In addition, vaccinated employees were entered into a drawing for a new Jeep and other cash prizes.
Meanwhile, bestbet, which operates two poker rooms in Jacksonville, mandated in August that its employees must be vaccinated no later than Oct. 15.
Loyalty is key
Maunter is a poker player who started working in the Coconut Creek poker room before moving to Philadelphia to open the Parx Casino’s poker room. She stayed there for eight years before returning to South Florida three years ago.
— Seminole Casino Coconut Creek Poker (@CasinoCocoPoker) September 25, 2021
She stresses that great customer service and creating a poker community are essential to running and maintaining a busy poker room, and believes that loyalty programs are a must. “They’re extremely important. The casino obviously does not reward poker players. We try to find ways to reward people for loyalty, anytime, any day, whenever we can,” Mautner said.
This month, Coconut Creek is awarding $2-$5 No-Limit Hold’em players with $500 for every 50 hours they play so, “needless to say, we’ve had an overwhelming amount of $2-$5 No-Limit every single day,” Mautner said.
While the Seminole casino poker rooms are doing well, she knows other places, like Philadelphia, aren’t having much luck and, unlike Seminole Coconut Creek, haven’t even begun to spread tournaments.
“It’s really up to each poker manager or poker director to really ensure that their poker room thrives and is treated the right way by their casino,” Mautner said. “Keep it a nice environment, don’t let it get to be the wild, wild west, but still a good, fun time. You create that energy and the players will come.”