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Hold it: Poker tournaments illegal

April 21, 2004|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - While cash poker games and "Texas Hold'em" tournaments grow in popularity in the Tri-State area and beyond, an official with the Board of License Commissioners for Washington County said liquor license owners could face penalties for allowing such events.

It could even cost them their liquor licenses and lead to criminal prosecution.

Liquor board Chairman Robert L. Everhart said the board will clamp down on illegal gambling in the form of poker tournaments and large cash games if they continue in Washington County. He said there has been a large increase in inquiries in recent months from area groups interested in hosting poker tournaments as charity benefits.

Everhart said the increasing interest in poker gambling has become the most controversial issue the board has dealt with in nearly a decade.

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Everhart said the board has not taken action against or threatened groups that held tournaments in the recent past because the legality of such games was a "gray area." He said that gray area no longer exists.

"We're just hoping people realize it is against the law to do it," Everhart said.

He said the board would not penalize groups that have hosted tournaments in the past or people playing in their homes or for "nickels and dimes."

"Certainly people have played cards in clubs and taverns in Washington County, but this is a little different than a couple guys getting together and playing a friendly card game," Everhart said. "We're talking about some good-size purses."

He said one of the key concerns was that such games were not regulated, and there was no government body with the authority to check whether the hosting organizations passed on proceeds in cases of charity events.

Everhart said the gray area was cleared up this week when he spoke with Washington County State's Attorney M. Kenneth Long Jr.

"He said he would support us in not allowing them to have Texas Hold'em," Everhart said.

Long said the State's Attorney's Office would review and prosecute criminal cases connected to illegal gambling at bars or clubs that hold a liquor license.

Long said he is not aware of any recent criminal investigations involving large-scale poker games.

Poker, especially Texas Hold'em, has experienced a spike in popularity thanks largely to television coverage on networks including ESPN and The Travel Channel, tournament players and directors said.

In Texas Hold'em, player showdowns can lead to large pots when a player bets all of his or her money, a gambit known as going "all in."

Larry Steele, who organized a poker benefit for a softball team earlier this year at the New Del-Mar Inn and Lounge on National Pike, said the increased coverage has made charity poker tournaments one of the most effective ways to raise money.

"Everyone's just now seeing it on TV, and people are really getting into it," he said. "They see it as a chance to get rich quick."

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