All-in: Frankford Poker Room lays the right card for local charities

Over the past decade, the game of poker has spread like wildfire, with some of the largest television broadcasting companies across the map airing highly anticipated tournaments and competitions. The craze has spread throughout the First State, as well, and locally, with names like Resort Poker League offering free games at local restaurants and venues, and a variety of fire halls capitalizing on the game’s popularity as a form of fund raising.

Coastal Point • Chris Clark: A group of Texas Hold’em players sit at a table in the Frankford Poker Room. The house rakes off pots, and the proceeds benefit various charities.Coastal Point • Chris Clark
A group of Texas Hold’em players sit at a table in the Frankford Poker Room. The house rakes off pots, and the proceeds benefit various charities.

Recently, Poker at the Beach in Rehoboth became a staple for poker players looking to get involved in charity-based, cash- and ring-style games, without making the trek to Atlantic City. Now, another charity poker room is stepping foot into the neighborhood, with Performance Poker Room in Frankford.

Husband and wife duo Lou and Beth Thibault are not only welcoming the game to lower Sussex, but they present accommodations and aspects of the game that are otherwise tough to come by. Now open six days a week, the Performance Poker Room offers live, cash poker games, with a rake on each hand that helps support different local organizations each evening.

“I knew I wanted to donate my time to a charity,” said Beth Thibault, a cancer survivor and devoted mother. “We all played poker, and we started going to all the poker rooms. Eventually, I realized it’s something we can do to help numerous charities at once.”

Starting next week, Tuesdays through Sundays, the Performance Poker Room will operate from 7 p.m. until 1 a.m., taking in a 10 percent rake each hand, up to $5, for a wide range of charitable groups. The rake taken from the pot is comparable to any Atlantic City or Las Vegas casino, but rather than the house making money, the rake is donated to different organizations.

“As long as you can get two or more tables going,” said Beth Thibault, “you can really pull in a nice amount of money for these groups. These charities get involved, promoting their name and they get to make a little money. Some groups have a big following and will bring in enough people to fill two or three tables, alone.”

The room, originally planned to run five nights a week, has seen an outstanding response from charities and picked up Monday evenings, as well. It features five tables, with the option of running one as a beginner’s table, for less-experienced players, which – as Beth Thibault explained – can entice curious new players to stop on by.

“We have a lot of people who want to bring their friends or spouse,” she said, “but they’re hesitant to sit down because they haven’t played before. This way, we can help them learn the game in a comfortable and relaxed environment, and, eventually, they can become better poker players.”

And for those players who are worried about sacrificing dinner plans, she’s got that covered, too.

“I cook every evening we’re open,” she noted, “and it’s free of charge for the players. That way, they always have something enjoyable to eat while they play. There are even some people who call ahead to see what’s for dinner. There aren’t a lot of restaurants around here and, this way, people don’t have to fork out money for food.”

Although the professionalism of the poker room mirrors that of an authentic casino card room, the atmosphere is very laid-back and casual.

“We want the players who come in to feel like they’re playing at the house with their buddies,” said Beth Thibault. “We’ll have people laughing so hard they’re falling out of their seats. It’s definitely a fun environment. You’re always meeting new people and having a good time.”

The Performance Poker Room in Frankford has been up and running only a handful of months, but already there are plans for more.

“For my next adventure,” Thibault declared, “I plan to open a bingo hall a few stores down. It’s still in the process, but, hopefully, by summer, I can bring the old-fashioned cash bingo room to the area, too. That way, if there are wives or others that don’t want to play poker, they still have something to do while their husbands are playing. If it’s a rainy night out, bring some friends over and have a good time, and try to win some money.”

For now, the poker room is turning more heads and drawing larger crowds as more people throughout the area learn of its existence. Equipped with five card tables, televisions and red oak woodwork by Lou Thibault, the room offers an inviting feel for those who enter the doors. One-of-a-kind custom flooring was completed by David Lohan, a friend of the Thibaults who dedicated hours of his time to complete the project, despite battling several illnesses. The walls – relatively bare at first – now have something to offer, too.

“We’ve asked every charity to donate something that we can put on our walls around the room,” said Beth Thibault. “Some poker rooms decorate in a poker motif, but I want the people who come here to see that this is for charities in the community. Eventually, I want to fill up the room. People who come in are going to know it’s a poker room.”

Beth and several others deal the cards at the tables, allowing the players more time to relax and to get to know others who share their love for the game.

So far, a wide range of groups and organizations have benefited from the charity poker room, including River Soccer Club, First Step Children Center, Crisis Community Center and Feral Friends of Millsboro. Local fire departments, the Milton Theatre and area historical societies have earned proceeds, as well.

Performance Poker Room has even held an evening of Texas Hold’em with Braille playing cards, in honor of the National Federation of the Blind Students of Delaware.

“Growing up with a mother who was a minister,” said Beth Thibault, “I really learned to do what you can for the community and charities. We have a great location, and we’re drawing in crowds, not only right around here, but from Berlin and Snow Hill, Md. It’s really nice to know that even in a small town like Frankford, you can give back to the area.”

This Friday, May 14, the 10 percent rake pulled in at the end of the night will go to the Frankford Library, and on Sunday, May 16, the Lower Sussex Little League will be the beneficiary.

Performance Poker Room is located in Bank Plaza, along Route 113, at 34407 Dupont Boulevard in Frankford. For more information, including a calendar of events and house rules, visit online.

No-limit Texas Hold’em cash games will be offered at the tables, with $1/$2 blinds. The minimum buy-in is $20, with a maximum of $150. All players must be at least 18, with picture ID, to play. For additional information, call (302) 841-4144, or (302) 321-9088 after 6 p.m.