Last weekend’s Emerald Coast Poker Run in the Destin, Fla., area attracted almost 180 powerboats and raised significant funds—$125,000 to $150,000 was targeted but a final number has not been released—for the nonprofit Emerald Coast Foundation, which distributes those funds to various local charities for children. But complaints about everything from poor food quality to “jammed to the rafters” overcrowding at event parties among members of the Florida Powerboat Club, which has partnered with the event since 1999, were widespread according to FPC President Stu Jones, and have led Jones to consider terminating his organization’s relationship with the run.
“I am in limbo right now,” Jones said. “I need to get the bottom of what my member expectations are. A lot of people are complaining and I am going to conduct a survey that will go out to all of our attendees from the past three years. I sent a letter to the Emerald Coast Foundation board of directors that said until we resolve our issues we have, for the time being, ended our current agreement.
“I love doing the charity work—it makes you feel great—but at the end of the day my allegiance is to the members of my organization,” he continued. “They are the most important thing to me in this equation because they need to have a good experience. I am at the point where with different agendas of the charity and the Florida Powerboat Club, with their different business models, I need to step back and take a look forward.”
The Emerald Coast Poker Run is an unusual event for the Florida Powerboat Club in that the for-profit poker-run organizing outfit does not control every aspect of it. The Florida Powerboat Club handles on-the-water aspects for the run including its safety management program, course layout and helicopter photography. For its members, the club also handles hotel bookings, trailer storage and dockage.
The Emerald Coast Group handles registration for the event’s Ruby class—smaller local powerboats at $195 per boat as opposed to the FPC member registration fee of $650 per boat—as well as arrangements for all parties, meals, event T-shirts and more.
Lacking complete control of all aspects of the event has created issues for Jones. Created in 2014, the Ruby class—a class he played a role in defining—is a particularly thorny subject for him. Performance boats that should not have been included in that category, he said, were allowed to register for it this year and in years past. In turn, that has cost the FPC full-fee registrations, according to Jones.
“My business model is about generating event fees,” he said. “Here I am now signing up our Florida Powerboat Club boats at an event that already has its own fee structure. When the Ruby class was created in 2014 it was presented to me as a class that allowed local, smaller, slower family boats to be involved with the run rather being spectators. This year, we had 97 Florida Powerboat Club boats and 80 Ruby-class boats. For safety reasons, we need to create separation between the big boats and the Ruby boats, and this year the number of Ruby boats really put it over the top with all the congestion.
“What also contributed to that congestion was that dates for the event were pushed forward a week this year by the foundation and I had no control over that,” he added. “Destin is a wildly popular summer destination and the second weekend in August is one of the busiest weekends of the year. And then we had all the party-crashers, boats that just show up to run with the fleets but are not registered for event. It’s become unmanageable.”
While Jones has not ruled out returning to partner with the Emerald Coast Poker Run in 2018, he also hasn’t ruled out running an event of his own in the area next year.
“I can say this: There will be a Florida Powerboat Club event in the Florida Panhandle in either late August or early fall,” he added. “I don’t know where it will be, but it will be a high-end thing with 60 to 80 boats. It definitely won’t be 100 boats.”
According to LL Woodall, the president of the Emerald Coast Foundation board of directors, the event will continue even if the Florida Powerboat Club opts out.
“The Florida Powerboat Club is a vendor and we review our vendors every year after our event,” he said. “It would be premature for me to say we will be bringing back the Florida Powerboat Club next year as a vendor.
“We are very proud of the event,” he continued. “We have raised millions of dollars for our charities and we celebrated our 25th anniversary this year. With or without the Florida Powerboat Club, we look forward to running another successful event next year.”
Editor’s Note: The comments of LL Woodall were added approximately two hours after this story went live.