Best Bet Jacksonville gets ready for business

Employees take part in dress rehearsal for Thursday opening

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Workers who will soon begin their new jobs at Best Bet Jacksonville got a chance to take part in a dress rehearsal of what they have to look forward to on Thursday night, when the poker room opens.

Except Tuesday night, they got to be the poker players.

"It's one of the nicest poker rooms I've been in," one employee said. "Been in lots around the world, and this is as nice as any of them are."

Best Bet Jacksonville's facility in the Regency area has 70 tables for people of all experience levels to play all games and all limits. Not only can people go to play poker, the new facility has a simulcast area to watch greyhound races, horse races and jai alai. Gamblers will be able to place their bets at individual stations throughout the facility.

In April, the facility will be the host of an internationally televised World Poker Tour event, bringing in some of the best from around the world.

"It's a big boost to the area for hotel nights," said associate director of poker operations Jesse Hollander. "I'm sure all the local businesses are excited we will boost this area as well."

During the planning and construction phases of the poker room, a lot of people in the Regency area were concerned that it might not be suited for an area with so many other problems. Some still feel that way.

"The big concern is the clientele, what it brings to the neighborhood," nearby resident Dudley Freeman said. "We're a quiet community. We don't need a lot of crime."

Freeman lives in eyesight of the poker room, which is far different from the Garden Ridge home store that used to be there. He's worried the new clientele could introduce new crime.

"The crime and the drunks and what happens outside when it spills over into the community," he said.

"Not just the drinking, but issues with people hanging around, preying on people who are drinking," resident Karen Jackson said.

A spokesperson for Best Bet Jacksonville said poker room officials don't expect any problems.

"We work very closely with law enforcement officials," officials said in a statement. "Our facility contracts with private security services onsite, and traffic will not have a substantial impact on the area."

"I don't worry about that at all," resident Richard Lockwood said of any crime concerns the poker room may bring. "The environment is enclosed. It's part of life, be happy with it."

Best Bet Jacksonville said that aside from bringing in nearly 260 jobs with an average salary of $50,000, it will help the Regency area in other ways, too.

"With the customers we bring in, they will be putting money into the restaurants, the hotels, the dry cleaners, to name a few. We will have a very positive impact on this area," said executive director of poker operations Deborah Giardina.

Best Bet Jacksonville opens at 10 a.m. Thursday. Cards are in the air from 10 a.m. to 4 a.m. Monday to Thursday and 24 hours a day on the weekend.

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