Florida Poker Tournament Nearly Breaks WPT Attendance Record

Written By Steve Schult on April 11, 2022 - Last Updated on May 25, 2022
Florida poker

Thousands of poker players flocked to Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood over the weekend as a Florida poker tournament nearly broke its own attendance record.

The World Poker Tour Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown kicked off last Friday. The $3,500 buy-in, no-limit Texas Hold’em event attracted the second-largest field in WPT history.

Over the course of two starting flights, the tournament attracted 2,010 entries for the event. It generated a prize pool of more than $6.4 million with a first-place prize worth slightly more than $1 million.

Florida poker dominates WPT attendance records

With a tad more than 2,000 entries, the 2022 Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown fell a few hundred entries short of setting the record for the largest event in WPT history. The record was set a year earlier in the same event.

Last year, the 2021 Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown drew 2,482 entries for the $3,500 main event. Since it was one of the first major tournaments since the pandemic, the pent-up demand probably boosted those numbers slightly.

However, it was the first event in the history of the WPT to eclipse the 2,000-entry mark. Ultimately, Brek Schutten bested the field and left Hard Rock with an extra $1.2 million in his pocket.

Here is a look at the top five largest fields in the history of the WPT:

YearVenue Tournament Series Buy-In Field Size WinnerFirst-Place Prize Money
2021Seminole Hard Rock HollywoodSeminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown $3,500 2,482Breck Schutten $1.26 Million
2022 Seminole Hard Rock HollywoodSeminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown $3,500 2,010Mark Davis$1,000,300
2022Seminole Hard Rock HollywoodLucky Hearts Poker Open $3,500 1,982 Alex Yen $975,240
2013Seminole Hard Rock HollywoodSeminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown $5,000 1,795Kevin Eyster$660,395
2021 Seminole Hard Rock HollywoodLucky Hearts Poker Open $3,500 1,573Ilyas Muradi $620,000

Did you notice a trend?

The five largest poker tournaments in WPT history all took place at Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood. If you were to extend that list even further, the venue would hold the top seven spots.

Seminole poker series consistently draws well

The Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood holds four major poker tournament series per year. The Lucky Hearts Poker Open kicks off the calendar year, followed by the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown in the spring, the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open in the summer and the Rock n’ Roll Poker Open in the fall.

Outside of the summer series, the other three typically culminate with a WPT-branded main event. Despite Showdown holding the top two spots, all three series are among the highest-attended events.

Earlier this year, Alex Yen topped the Lucky Hearts Poker Open main event in the now third-largest event ever. And last November, Gediminas Uselis won $778,490 in the Rock n’ Roll Poker Open main event, which ranks sixth on the attendance list.

Director of Poker Marketing for the Seminole Tribe Tony Burns said that listening to player feedback was key in retaining that player base.

“We listen to the players and implement their feedback, when possible, into the next major series,” said Burns. “In addition to being a resort destination, the amenities the property offers are top-notch from the restaurants to the entertainment. Let’s not forget about the staff being the best in the business from Director of Poker Operations Bill Mason to the experienced supervisors and dealers on the floor.”

Burns also cited the consistency of the events on the poker calendar as a reason for consistently solid turnout.

“We’ve been fortunate to host our four major series since the beginning of 2021 in the same time period players are used to,” he said. “Being the first ones to host a major series has been a major difference-maker and we look forward to continuing that momentum for years to come.”

Who will take home the $1 million first-place prize money?

Following Friday’s Day 1A, Saturday’s Day 1B, and Sunday’s Day 2, there were 99 players returning for Day 3 on Monday. All are guaranteed a cash of at least $9,300.

At the time of writing, there are about 40 players still in the hunt, and Florida native Carlos Dorca holds a sizable chip lead. But there are still plenty of sharks left and lots of poker still to be played.

Four-time WPT champion Darren Elias is second in chips and high-stakes regulars like Matt Berkey and Adam Hendrix are both in the top 10.

It will take a while to decide a winner, however. The field is scheduled to play down to the final 16 players before wrapping up. Those final 16 will return on Tuesday to play down to the final six.

Once the field is trimmed to six, the tournament will be put on pause. The finalists will head to Las Vegas in May where the final table will be filmed for television at the HyperX Esports Arena at Luxor.

Here are the payouts for those final six:

1st: $1,000,300
2nd: $660,000
3rd: $490,000
4th: $370,000
5th: $280,000
6th: $215,000

Florida poker tournaments showcase untapped potential

Just from looking at the recent turnout for high-stakes Florida poker tournaments, it’s clear that Floridians like to gamble.

Sure, these types of events draw poker players from all over, but that is the minority of the player pool. Furthermore, the Seminole Hard Rock Tampa generates some of the highest revenue totals in the country.

The tribe isn’t forced to disclose its revenue reports. But based on checks they wrote to the government, the Miami-Herald estimated that the Tampa property generates roughly $1 billion worth of annual gross gaming revenue.

And this is in a market devoid of online betting and legal sports betting.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe agreed to a new gaming compact last year that would’ve brought that to the state. In fact, the tribe launched an online sportsbook for about a month before a federal judge ruled that the model violated federal standards.

The site has since been closed, but the tribe is exhausting all possible legal avenues to regain its legal status.

The appetite to pass gambling expansion is there. And when legislation passes, The Sunshine State will likely be just as large as any gaming market in the country.

Photo by Seminole Hard Rock / Allen Rash
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Written by
Steve Schult

As Managing Editor of PlayFL, Steve will stay on top of all things related to the Florida gaming industry. He is also a veteran of the gambling world. The native New Yorker started covering high-stakes tournaments in 2009 for some of poker's most prominent media outlets before adding the broader U.S. gaming market to his beat in 2018.

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