By Steve Beauregard
Between an on again-off again casino cruise, greyhound racing, and poker rooms, there are some legal gambling options in and around Jacksonville, Florida, however there aren’t any traditional, Las Vegas-style casinos in the immediate area.
For that, you’ll have to go all the way south to Tampa Bay.
One hundred and ninety-seven miles to be exact, as the closest casino to Jacksonville is the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa.
The closest casino to Jacksonville is the Seminole Hard Rock in Tampa
During normal traffic conditions, it would take you around 3 ½ hours to drive there, when going south on Highway 301 then Interstate 75.
It’s a long drive to be sure, however should you decide to go, you’ll find yourself at one of the top ten largest casinos in the United States.
The Seminole Hard Rock Tampa is a beautiful, newly remodeled hotel and spa resort that boasts over 200,000 square feet of gaming space filled with over 4,000 slot machines/video poker machines, and over 100 table games, not including their fancy new 47 seat poker room.
(Here’s a map showing you the fastest driving route from Jacksonville to the Seminole Hard Rock Tampa)
Jacksonville Poker Rooms & Racing
While the region lacks a regular casino, Jacksonville is blessed with two solid, popular poker rooms, both under the name “Bestbet,” and both with include betting on horses and greyhounds.
The Bestbet Jacksonville is just seven miles directly east of downtown Jacksonville, while the Bestbet Orange Park is 14 miles south. Both have restaurants and bars. You only have to be 18 to play, however you still do have to be 21 to drink.
(The two poker rooms in Jacksonville. The black star is the BestBet Jacksonville. The orange star is the BestBet Orange Park).
This is the larger of the two Jacksonville area card rooms. In fact, it’s the largest poker room in the state of Florida.
Their website boasts of a 20,000 square foot room with “88 table games” however I don’t believe all of those are poker tables. Many other poker sites put Bestbet Jacksonville’s poker table count at 70, so we’ll go with that. Either way, it’s good sized.
Games spread include the usual no-limit Texas Hold’em, along with a Pot Limit Omaha Hi-Lo games, both of which range from $1/$2 games, up to $5/$10.
In addition, there are some very low-limit Limit Texas Hold’em games, along with Limit Omaha 8 or better, and even a $1/$3 Stud game.
Daily tournaments start at just $50 buy-ins, and the Bestbet Jacksonville has regularly hosted a main event stop on the World Poker Tour.
The poker room at BestBet Jacksonville
In addition to the 70-odd poker tables, the remaining 18 or so of the room’s 88 tables are casino table games like Ultimate Texas Hold’em, Pai Gow, and both 1, 2, and 3 card poker games. Unlike table games you find at the Hard Rock in Tampa, or in Vegas-style casinos, players at these table games play against a designated “banker,” and all players get the opportunity to be a banker, should they wish.
The room opens at 10 AM on weekdays (closing at 4 AM), but is open 24 hours a day on weekends.
201 Monument Road
Jacksonville, FL. 32225
Phone (904) 646-0001
Bestbet Orange Park
Located 14 miles south of Jacksonville in Orange Park, Florida, this cardroom has had live greyhound racing on its track since the 1930’s. You can also wager on horse races and other dog races via simulcast betting.
With 37 tables (including carnival games), this poker room is smaller than the Bestbet Jacksonville, however for you race bettors, that’s offset somewhat by being able to watch the dogs run live. There’s something extra thrilling about being able to watch your dog finish last in person, versus on a TV screen.
Like its cousin to the north, the Bestbet Orange Park opens at 10 AM on weekdays (closing at 4 AM), but is open 24 hours a day on weekends.
455 Park Avenue
Orange Park, FL. 32073
Phone (904) 646-0001
Boat Casinos Near Jacksonville
Those of you wanting to scratch your slot machine itch who don’t want to drive that far to Tampa Bay have a closer option in the form of a daily casino cruise. However it has been hit and miss with the continuity of casino cruises in the Jacksonville area.
Three different casino boat operators have opened, then closed their doors since 2010, including the most recent: the Jacks or Better Casino Boat line – a ship with room for 500 passengers, but which no longer sails.
The only active casino cruise ship line in the area is Victory Casino Cruises. I say “active” however they sometimes don’t sail during winter months. In January of 2017, for example, the ship was (according to their website), temporarily relocated to Port Canaveral because of “high seas.”
Casino boats operate legally by sailing out 3 miles offshore, into international waters, before turning on the slot machines and opening up the table games. Another twist is that unlike most land-based casinos in the United States, you only have to be 18 years or older to gamble on a casino cruise ship.
The BestBet in Jacksonville is home to a World Poker Tour stop
The Victory Casino Cruise boat is 229 feet long and has 300 slot machines, and 17 table games, including blackjack, roulette, and craps. There’s also a sports book, a café, and three bars onboard.
When it does sail out of Jacksonville, it sails twice a day, five days a week (Wednesday through Sunday). Typically there is a morning cruise that arrives back in port in the afternoon, followed by a separate night cruise.
Victory Casino Cruises departs out of Mayport Village, 18 miles east of downtown Jacksonville. There is a “cover charge” so-to-speak to board the ship. As of this writing, it was $13.
You can find out their departure schedule by going to their website here: www.victoryjax.com
Other Casinos Near Jacksonville, Florida
The headline says “near” but these casinos are actually quite a drive away. With the growth of casino gambling in the United States, (particularly with the influx or Indian casinos), most metropolitan areas in the country are close to numerous casinos. Jacksonville, however, is not one of them.
Besides the Seminole Hard Rock Tampa, the next closest casino to Jacksonville is the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida, 326 miles south.
After that, you’re talking about casinos spread out in Alabama towns of Montgomery, Shorter, Wetumpka, and Atmore – all which are over 350 miles away.
The popular busy casinos in the Biolixi, Mississippi area are 463 miles away, while the closest casino to Atlanta, Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino in Murphy, North Carolina, is a good 467 miles from downtown Jacksonville.
(Photos courtesy of Jacksonville’s tourism website, the media blog for the Seminole Hard Rock Tampa, and World Poker Tour via Flickr.)