First Look at the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open

This year, the East Coast’s most drooled over tournament series isn’t happening at the Borgata or in Foxwood’s grand poker room, but at a tribal casino just a few miles north of Miami, Florida. A casino that until fairly recently, few New Jerseyans had likely ever heard of.

But that all changed in one felt swoop last August when the Seminole Hard Rock unleashed a $10 million guarantee tournament that would not only meet its guarantee, but utterly obliterate it.

By the time the final buy-ins were tallied up, the prize pool for the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open’s (SHRPO) main event swelled to nearly $12 million. This, after preliminary events had already shattered Florida’s poker participation rates multiple times.

And to the surprise of absolutely no one, the SHRPO is back and bigger than ever. But this year’s story comes with a little twist; one that may have a profound impact on the Garden State’s iGaming biz.

The SHRPO at a glance

The 2014 iteration of the SHRPO will kick off on Monday, August 11th with a $350 buy-in, $500,000 guaranteed deep stack featuring six starting flights. And yes, you read that right – six starting flights.

During the three weeks that follow, the casino will host a $560 buy-in, $1 million guarantee, several more six-figure guarantees, a $100,000 Super High Roller, and of course the series flagship event – a $5,300 reentry, $10 million guarantee.

Last year, the WPT Alpha8 held its inaugural event at the Seminole Hard Rock, where Steven Silverman would down a rather small field of 18 en route to nearly $900,000 in winnings. But this year’s event (slated to kickoff on September 1st)  is part of the SHRPO main event schedule.

As for the Main, the festivities will begin on August 28th and run through September 3rd. During this time and throughout the series, the number of poker tables on the casino ground will be expanded from 41 to 130, courtesy of the Seminole’s ballrooms.

90 tournament tables, three starting flights, and little else in the way of overlapping tournaments – that means the Seminole is expecting upwards of 2,700 players to show up for this year’s Main, equating to a $13.5 million prize pool before a single reentry is taken into account. The word “wow” springs immediately to mind.

At the SHRPO’s conclusion one lucky grinder will receive the 2014 Seminole Hard Rock Poker Player of the Year award, and more than $30,000 in tournament entries, cash and amenities that come with it.

Read more on last year’s historic Main Event and grueling six-hour heads up battle between pros Justin Bonomo and Blair Hinkle here.

PokerStars partners with the Seminole Hard Rock

When the Seminole moved its series up as to not overlap the PokerStars sponsored European Poker Tour, I took it to mean nothing more than two mutual parties working together to maximize the turnouts of their respective tournaments.

But there was more to it than that.

Apparently, PokerStars is planning further into the future than I originally expected. Already, the online poker behemoth has set its sites on one state – California – that has yet to legalize online poker.

But with its entry into Florida, Stars is dabbling in a state that is still in the discussion phase – a state that did not include online poker in its recent gaming reform bill.

But I suppose the opportunity to partner up with the one East Coast casino that hosts a $10 million guarantee was too good for Stars to pass up, especially considering the state’s population of nearly 20 million and its obsession with card rooms.

As part of the partnership, PokerStars is offering players the chance to buy their way into the SHRPO Main Event using funds from their PokerStars account.

Apparently, a foothold in Florida is really important to PokerStars, if they’re willing to forgo millions in cash liquidity to make it happen.

So what does this mean for New Jersey? At the moment, not much. But down the line, it opens up the opportunity for the Garden State to forge an interstate compact with Florida.

With California likely going out on it’s own, New Jersey will desperately be in need of forming alliances if it hopes to garner a decent chunk of PokerStars attention.

It also reinforces PokerStars’ brand awareness in the United States, which could pay both long and short-term dividends in New Jersey.

And with PokerStars increased presence in the states, you can bet your last play-money dollar  that the gaming operators currently situated in the market are going to up their game (see Party’s GSSS as an example).

For now, it might be time for us New Jersey poker junkies to consider booking a plane ticket to Florida. Just make sure to be back for the Borgata Poker Open.

About the Author

Robert DellaFave

Robert DellaFave is involved in the legal New Jersey online gambling industry in a number of ways. Not only does he contribute to a variety of online gambling publications focused on regulated US online poker and online casino sites, he is also a game designer.