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Poker News | Gambling and the Law

Police Take Aim at Texas Poker

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The state of Texas prohibits poker games in which the house receives a percentage of the pot, otherwise known as rake. And law enforcement officials are going after offenders with a vengeance.

Many raids of organized poker games have taken place in Dallas, but other parts of the state claim to be prepared to crack down as well. Tarrant County is one of them, and the executive chief deputy of its Sheriff’s Department, Mike Johnston, has said, “If we find it and it’s in our jurisdiction, then we’re going to work it. We haven’t run across an ongoing poker situation where the house gets a cut. But with all the World Series of Poker on TV, it’s naïve to say it’s not going on. If we find it, we’ll get warrants and shut them down.”

Dallas Deputy Police Chief Julian Bernal reiterated Johnston’s sentiment, “We don’t go out looking for these types of operations. The community is calling us repeatedly with these locations. When we get the citizen complaints, we’re going to respond.”

Despite the claims of Dallas and Tarrant County spokesmen, the often violent manner in which the raids take place and the frequency with which they are happening – more than six major busts in 2007 thus far – suggest that there is more of an intent to seek out the games than wait for neighborhood tips. SWAT teams are often brought in to conduct the raids, and anyone, including the elderly, is subject to harsh treatment and arrest.

Typically, Class A misdemeanor tickets for running or promoting gambling are distributed to those accused of organizing the games, while Class C misdemeanor tickets for gambling are given to those merely participating in the games. The Class C charges are sometimes dismissed, but Class A offenses are often prosecuted in the court system to the fullest extent of the law.

A recent raid on a VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) hall in Dallas was enough to cause significant problems for the establishment. The rake from poker games allowed the hall to pay its utility bills and contribute to local charities. Bob Hinton, an attorney representing Brenda Wigington who was charged with operating the game, noted, “All of these lodges – VFW, Elks, whatever – they all do this: play poker. It’s just good, clean fun… This wasn’t something about profit.”

Comedian Drew Carey even filmed a video about the VFW raid for Reason.TV because he was so incensed by the lack of logic behind the raid – and the law that inspired it. And poker blogger and journalist Dan Michalski has been outspoken on the issue on his website Pokerati.com.

“It’s a shame,” said Michalski in an interview with the Forth Worth Star-Telegram. “It’s not like the people running these rooms are getting rich. A lot of people in good rooms are just trying to provide a service. What’s wrong with them being able to pay the rent, buy food, with the money? This is frustrating, to say the least. These laws themselves are questionable.”

Texas lawmakers continue to propose bills that would change the laws that are considered by many to be unreasonable and outdated, but they have been unsuccessful to date at getting those bills passed.

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