Known as the “Sunshine State” and renowned across America as the place where tourists flock and old people retire, Florida is not all about leathered skin, beach bodies, overweight tourists and sandy beaches. Thanks to its long nights, its communities that cater for the rich and the opulent and its legalised gambling, Florida has also been home to many rich and famous gamblers and poker players over the years. It also doesn’t hurt that casinos attract tourists like moths to the flame, inspiring many ambitious entrepreneurs to open up glitzy establishments all over this fine and sun-drenched state.
Due to its relaxed lifestyle, Florida attracts a lot of poker players. Many of them come here to retire and to spend their winnings on an easy life, but a few of them were also born here. One of the best known poker players from Florida is twenty-seven year old Jason Mercier. Jason was born in Fort Lauderdale and currently resides in Hollywood, FL. He was once ranked as the best poker player in the world and has cashed in several Word Series of Poker and European Poker Tour events, including a pot of $620k in a 2011 WSOP Omaha event. Jason has two WSOP bracelets to his name and his earnings for 2012, one of his best years to date, were close to $8 million. Jason continues to be ranked as one of the best players in the world, maintaining his status with big online cashes in the World Championship of Online Poker and in live North American Poker tour events. He has also featured on countless televised tournaments, cash games and final tables, including the popular Pokerstars cash event The Big Game.
Jason is not the only poker superstar to hail from these golden shores. Michael D. Mizrachi also resides in Hollywood, FL, although he was born in Miami. Michael is known as the “Grinder” because of his consistency, and in 2012 his live tournament winnings totalled nearly $14 million. Michael has had nearly 30 cashes at the World Series of Poker and he has also picked up huge pots in World Poker Tour events. One of his biggest tournament cashes to date came when he finished 5th in the WSOP Main Event, taking home nearly $2.5 million for his troubles. Michael is revered throughout the poker world for his performances in cash games and he featured in the High Stakes Poker TV show.
Poker is one of the biggest games in the state, but casinos and sports books also have a big history here. For many years Florida was the home of Frank Lawrence Rosenthal, a profile gambler who was immortalised in the Pacino film Casino. Despite plying much of his trade in Vegas, Rosenthal, who went by the moniker “Lefty”, spent the majority of his life in Miami. Rosenthal was credited with operating the first casino sports book and, despite never owning a Nevada gaming license, he ran a number of casinos during his life. After a roller-coaster life, which included an attempted assassination when his car was bombed, and many arrests, Rosenthal spent his final days running an online sports book in Miami Beach. He died in 2008.
Another Florida gambler to have his life captured in film was Tony Tarracino, more commonly known as Captain Tony, whose life was portrayed in Cuba Crossing by Stuart Whitman. Tarracino was much more than just a gambler and he was well known and well loved throughout the Key West area. Tarracino spent years running drugs and guns and he also ran a bar that was frequented by Ernest Hemmingway. Tarracino’s long and dramatic life, which included winning office as Key West mayor in 1989, was documented in his book, Life Lessons of a Legend. Just like Rosenthal, Tarracino died in 2008. He had three wives and thirteen children during his lifetime, one of which was born when he was seventy.
Another big gambler who met his demise just six years ago was Ralph Evaristo Rubio, an ambitious man who clearly loved women, judging by the fact that he married fourteen of them during his lifetime. Rubio was born in Tampa and worked for the mob. He was a huge gambler and card shark, and although he spent much of his younger days as a respected infantryman and artillery sergeant in the army, he often lived his life on the wrong side of the law.
2008 is by no means a trend here, but it clearly wasn’t a great year for Floridian gamblers. One great and well-known gambler who breathed his last long before then was Colonel Edward Riley Bradley, a miner, businessman and race horse owner who spent much of his live in Palm Beach. Bradley owned and trained winners in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes and he liked to gamble both on and off the track. Bradley was a man with a big heart and he regular donated to orphanages and other charities.
Florida clearly has a great history of gambling. It’s not quite enough to rival the modern mecca that is Las Vegas, or the dangerous and infamous saloon games in the old west, but this is clearly a state with a great gambling history and one that continues to produce big gamblers and quality poker players.