The annual powerboat races leaving town aren't reason enough for the organizers of a powerboat poker run to disband their annual event that coincides with the races.
The Key West World Powerboat Championship has been held here for 33 years, but founder John Carbonell is considering moving the races to Sarasota and Clearwater.
The Key West Offshore Poker Run, which has been staged for more than 20 continuous years, brings in 150 boats and 1,000 participants a year to Key West during the week of the races, said organizer Stu Jones, president of the Florida Powerboat Club.
The poker run goes from Miami to Boca Grande off Key West, and will be offering $50,000 in prizes this year, including a Ford Mustang convertible.
"The Key West Offshore Poker Run is responsible for a substantial portion of the economic impact to Key West during what is loosely termed 'Powerboat Week,'" Jones said. "Our teams are not racing, so they stay out later, spend more money, and stay in the best hotels and rental properties that Key West has to offer. Our media platform includes a national magazine and a television series on SunSports network to garner global media exposure for Key West and Monroe County."
In absence of the World Powerboat Championship, Jones proposed transforming the poker run into a "regatta-style event and poker run/shootout," he said.
"I'm certainly not a proponent of the SBI (Super Boat International) Worlds leaving town, any more than most other merchants and citizens of Key West," Jones said. "If, and perhaps when, the super boat races leave town, I will transform my poker run event to include powerboat shootouts, factory class racing, 100-boat parades of colorful high-performance boats, which involve spectator participation and on-the-water exhibitions and performances that Key West has never seen before."
The Key West City Commission has directed its staff to try and work out a five-year agreement to keep the races in Key West. However, once this year's races are over, Carbonell plans to meet the leaders of all three cities before making a decision, he said.
"We're in negotiations with John now," said City Commissioner Mark Rossi, who spoke with Carbonell on Wednesday morning. "This is an ongoing endeavor. John's going to entertain other invitations from other venues. He has given me his word he will bring the offers back to the city of Key West."
Jones said his event offers city officials an option.
"Key West is a great town," Jones said. "It's built to entertain. It's built for fun. ... If the races stay, we all win. If the races leave, we all still win. My organization will fill the town with heads and beds and embrace the citizens of Key West."