Community cards: Victorian poker finds a new home in Geelong

With casino poker rooms around Australia having for the most part suspended operations through much of 2020, pub leagues and card rooms across the country are now finding themselves leading a “grassroots” revolution that is driving the game forward.

This movement has largely been led by the state of Queensland, with several major series in Brisbane and Townsville bringing in record numbers and prize pools, but there’s certainly no shortage of action throughout South Australia and Western Australia, as well as an increasing schedule of weekly tournaments in New South Wales and Tasmania.

Until recently, players in Victoria had been forcibly shut out from poker due to the state’s strict lockdown measures, but as the state now finds itself on the brink of officially eradicating the virus, calls for poker to return have becoming deafening.

Amongst those to have answered those calls are Poker Geelong House of Cards, run by Michael Ford and Daryl Rowe, who are both pouring their hearts, souls and hard-earned dollars into making this joint venture a success.

“The House of Cards concept was born out of running home games at my house, which was only two or three tables to begin with, but then it just became huge,” explained Rowe.

“So, we each invested about $2,500 for our first proper set of tables and chips, then found a venue in South Geelong, but they were no longer interested after COVID hit.”

It was soon after this that management at the Nimble Hits Indoor Sports Stadium approached the pair with an offer to operate out of their current location, and Ford already has several ideas on how the venue will eventually develop.

“As our numbers start to build and we get more players in, they’ll eventually knock the wall out of the old office, put in a horseshoe bar and then we can polish the place up to make this the Matchroom Poker or Poker Palace of Victoria,” said Ford.  “Ultimately, we want to be the best place for players to come and play better poker.”

It’s not the first time that a standalone card room has attempted to set up shop in the Garden State: a small cocktail bar known as Lady Luck opened in Brunswick in 2006, followed shortly by the Victorian Poker HQ in Springvale three years later.

Both had ambitions to cash in on and ride the wave of the “Great Australian Poker Boom”, but they sadly wilted due to regulatory delays in allowing cash buy-in tournaments in licensed venues outside of Crown Melbourne. Even now, poker regulations in Victoria remain more restrictive than in other states.

According to the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR) website, fees “may be charged and kept by tournament organisers for separate goods and services (such as food or beverages) only if it is not mandatory for a player to purchase these goods or services to play in the poker tournament.”

With that in mind, each player that buys into a House of Cards tournament receives a voucher to the value of what would be considered the “admin fee” portion of their buy-in, which is then redeemed over the bar for food and beverages, ensuring that at the very least, the host venue is guaranteed a player spend.

Rowe recognises that there is a need to find other ways to generate revenue in order maintain the upkeep of tables, equipment and staff, but remains firmly optimistic that the House of Cards can and will survive long-term.

“We’re already working with the Australian Poker Tour (APT) and the Southern Poker Tour in organising satellites into their events,” said Rowe.  “Now that (Crown Poker) is closed, maybe there’s a way we can work [with the Victorian Government] towards charging rake, but if you ask me, because we’re so passionate about this and we enjoy what we do so much, we don’t really see it as a struggle.”

In any case, the House of Cards has already built a vast and loyal playing community, many of whom have been playing regularly in games throughout the Greater Geelong region since lockdown restrictions eased.

Through all the feedback from regulars PokerMedia Australia spoke with during a recent visit, it was clear that one thing the players have been enjoying are generous structures. 

The Wednesday night tournament alone is one of the best we’ve come across in Victoria – a $50 buy-in (which includes a $20 venue voucher) gives you a starting stack of 80,000 chips and blinds starting at 100/200, with no antes.

The trade-off is that blind levels are only 12 minutes long, but the players are well versed in these matters; the pace of the game, albeit self-dealt, moves well and with little fuss.

Managing the hungry masses during the breaks is also seamless; no sooner had our order been placed than a large steaming, fragrant bowl of home-made butter chicken with rice arrived, complete with a warm smile from a young man nicknamed “V”.

For the record, PMA managed to make the final table and eventually a heads-up heads-up dual against “Dr Karl”, eventually falling just short after agreeing a deal and a handy $450 payday four our second-place finish.

PMA’s Landon Blackhall (left) fell just short in his heads-up dual with “Dr Karl”

Not bad, considering how little poker we’ve been able to enjoy since the start of the year, but win, lose or draw, it was a joy to be back to playing live poker again and even more so with both a large and equally passionate group of people.  

Given enough time and effort, and with the unwavering love of the game and community spirit that is reciprocated by all within its walls, there is no question the “house that Geelong built” has the potential to evolve into one of the premier destinations for poker in Victoria.

The Poker Geelong House of Cards operates out of the Nimble Hits Indoor Sports Stadium, located at 96-102 Furner Avenue, Bell Park VIC 3215.  

For more information on upcoming tournaments, search for “Poker Geelong House of Cards” on Facebook.

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