Don't Tear Off That Mattress Tag- You Could Be Next
The following article appeared in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Naturally the police would go after poker players, as they have already taken care of the rest of the crime. The federal government is also involved with shutting down internet gambling, especially now that our borders are secure and all the graft in government has been eliminated.
Police go after poker games in which house takes cut
By ANNA M. TINSLEY Star-Telegram Staff Writer Dec 10, 2007
Dan Michalski likes nothing more than to sit at a table and play Texas hold 'em.
But it's been harder for the North Texas man to find a good game lately, because Dallas police keep raiding everything from VFW halls to underground poker games, ticketing players, arresting operators and confiscating everything from the chips to the tables.
Players fear that the crackdown on poker won't stop at city borders, but spread throughout the state as long as Texas outlaws the games where the house gets a percentage of the pot.
"It's a shame," said Michalski, a poker blogger, player and editor of pokerati.com. "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," he said. "These laws themselves are questionable."
Police say they are following the law, which says poker games in which the house gets a percentage of the pot, a rake, are illegal.
And police say they're going to track them down and bust them.
In recent years, raids of organized poker games where the house gets a rake have picked up in Dallas, and now Tarrant County law enforcement is pledging to shut down illegal gambling.
"If we find it and it's in our jurisdiction, then we're going to work it," said Mike Johnston, executive chief deputy of the Tarrant County Sheriff's Department. "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 naive to say it's not going on," he said. "If we find it, we'll get warrants and shut them down."
This in a state where former gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman once joked, "We invented Texas hold 'em here, [but] we can't even play it."
A friendly game?
Friendly poker games, where players collect the full amount of the pot, are not illegal.
It's when the house gets a percentage -- whether for food, utilities or anything else -- that it becomes illegal.
State lawmakers have unsuccessfully proposed bills to expand gambling: measures ranging from allowing Texas hold 'em at licensed bars and restaurants with the state getting a cut to letting voters decide whether the state should allow full casinos.
Those legislative efforts will likely continue, as the state looks for new revenue and realizes how many Texans gamble in neighboring states.
But until the law changes, Texas law enforcement officials say they're going to do their best to shut down illegal poker games.
In Dallas this year, there have been at least six busts of illegal poker games, with police issuing Class A misdemeanor tickets for running or promoting gambling and Class C misdemeanor tickets for gambling.
"We don't go out looking for these types of operations," said Dallas Deputy Police Chief Julian Bernal, commander of vice and narcotics. "The community is calling us repeatedly with these locations. When we get the citizen complaints, we're going to respond."
Bernal said that during the busts, police confiscate anything poker related: from the tables and chairs to the chips and money.
Tarrant County deputies haven't gotten many tips on illegal poker games and haven't come across many during their quest to shut down the eight-liner video game industry.
"It hasn't been an issue," Johnston said. "But the sheriff has been very proactive in taking a pretty hard stance on something that violates the gaming statute."
Several Dallas poker rooms were closed this year after police raided Veterans of Foreign Wars halls and confiscated poker paraphernalia.
Many Class C misdemeanor charges from a raid on a VFW post in Dallas were dismissed, but prosecutors are moving ahead with charges against the operators.
Dallas lawyer Bob Hinton represents one person charged with operating the April game, Brenda Wigington, and was in court recently on her behalf.
He filed a motion to suppress the evidence, which is expected to be heard in February, because, he said, he believes that the affidavit for a search warrant won't stand up in court.
But Hinton said he doesn't understand why some of the poker games are being targeted.
"All of these lodges -- VFW, Elks, whatever -- they all do this: play poker," he said. "It's just good, clean fun.
"They say since the house was taking a small percentage to pay the light bill, then that's illegal. From a practical standpoint, this is how they were able to raise money for charitable things. This wasn't something about profit."
News of the Dallas busts quickly traveled through newspapers and on the Internet.
Recently, even comedian Drew Carey became interested, filming a segment about the story for Reason.tv, a Web site home to a collection of libertarian videos.
"Poker is about as American as baseball and apple pie," Carey said on the broadcast. "It was born here in America. Mark Twain loved it. He's a great American.
"Until recently, Supreme Court justices had a monthly game. They're great Americans," Carey said. "You'd think playing poker in a VFW hall would be about as American as anything you could do."
Michalski says he's moving to Las Vegas after Christmas.
"It's frustrating to saw the least," said Michalski, 35. "These laws in Texas are outdated. ... It's not what it used to be."
ANNA M. TINSLEY, 817-390-7610 firstname.lastname@example.org