Florida Free Poker League Raided By Police
According to reports from Florida, a legally operating free poker league at a local sports bar was raided last weekend under somewhat questionable circumstances.
In a story from the Tampa Bay Times writer Stephanie Wang, Louie’s Grill and Sports Bar in Tampa was the target of a state and local law enforcement raid as a free poker league operated by the Nutz Poker League was holding one of its tournaments on October 20. Approximately 140 players were participating in this tournament at the club when law enforcement arrived. Reports from several of the players indicate that the scale of the raid was a bit over the top.
The undercover investigation, dubbed (and I’m not making this up) “Operation Cracked Aces,” saw officers from the Florida Bureau of Investigation and Largo police enter the establishment in full attack mode and ordering the players in the tournament to keep their hands on the tables they were at. “It was something out of a bad movie, with (the officers wearing) masks and guns out” Wang reports Tom Hood, a player in the tournament, as saying. “They made everyone feel like we were really criminals.” Arrested in the raid were the owner and five employees of the Nutz Poker League, charged with working for a gambling house, and the owner of Louie’s was charged with keeping a gambling house.
The Nutz Poker League has been a popular outlet for poker players in Florida since its inception three years ago. The Nutz Poker League – like many other similar free poker leagues across the United States – are paid by an establishment to come in to operate the free tournaments. For the winners of these tournaments, gift certificates, pre-paid Visa cards or (for larger events) trips to Las Vegas are awarded. It is these prizes that apparently have sparked the interest of Florida’s legal eagles in pushing the investigation, raid and arrests.
Wang quotes Pinellas-Pasco Assistant State Attorney Joshua Riba as stating that the free leagues do violate the state’s gaming laws. “If they are playing cards, and they have an opportunity to win something of value, then they are technically violating (gambling statutes),” Riba is quoted by Wang. “The statute itself does not require anybody to ante in,” Riba finished, indicating that the operation of free leagues, while not requiring players to put up anything to play, violate the law by offering prizes.
Perhaps at question as well is the reasonings for the free poker leagues to be in operation in the bars, restaurants and clubs in the first place. While not requiring the participants to pay to play poker, the businesses are bringing in these free poker leagues to drive up clientele, with the potential for better sales of food and drinks to boost the business’ profits. This could be construed as a “buy in” of sorts for players participating in the leagues and, as such, could violate the state laws.
Those arrested in the raid were contacted by Wang and, for the most part, were not willing to make statements on their arrests. Louie’s owner Louis Karamanos did state to Wang he wasn’t a part of the poker league and felt “violated” by his arrest. The owner and employees of the Nutz Poker League declined to speak, but the league issued a statement yesterday that said, “These innocent activities should not be the target of tyrannical enforcement and these matters will be defended vigorously, with the goal of swiftly resuming this lawful and beneficial activity.”
The aftermath of the raid in Tampa has pushed the two other poker operations in the city to action, albeit along different courses. One, Treasure Chest Poker, has looked for clarification on the laws from local officials. The other, Free Poker Nights of Tampa, attempted to capitalize on the Nutz Poker League’s current entanglement with the law, leaving fliers at a bar where the Nutz Poker League operated, according to Wang.
It doesn’t appear that the situation regarding free poker play in Florida will be resolved soon. Marc Dunbar, a Florida State University college professor that teaches gaming law, offered his opinion to Wang that the poker laws in the state aren’t well understood or well enforced. He also said that Florida lacks an official state agency to help out local police when it comes to such statutes. Meanwhile, it seems that all the free poker leagues in Tampa will continue on; after taking a break following their arrests, the Nutz Poker League resumed games yesterday, according to Wang.
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