The Harris County (Texas) attorney dropped civil suits against Houston’s Prime Social Poker Club and Post Oak Poker Club last week, citing the lack of a criminal case. The two poker clubs were raided in May and their owners and management were hit with illegal gambling and money laundering charges. Because those charges were dropped last month, the county now feels that it can’t go forward with any lawsuits.
Though the county said the two clubs were operating illegally, neither Prime nor Post Oak was hiding anything they were doing. They were not “underground” clubs at all; they had rather elaborate operations and advertise openly with well-made websites. It is illegal in Texas to run a poker game and take a rake or a fee to play, but the two clubs believe they were within legal guidelines by not doing either. Instead, they had a cover charge to get in, as well as a membership fee. Food and drink also brought in revenue.
Nevertheless, they were raided, principles were arrested, and more than $200,000 was seized.
Conflict of interest in DA’s office
In July, though, the charges were dropped and money was returned (or is in the process of being returned) because a conflict of interest was found in the Harris County District Attorney’s office. Prime Social Poker Club’s attorney, Joe Magliolo, presented evidence that Prime had paid a consultant in DA Kim Ogg’s office $250,000 on his promise that he would get an ordinance drafted and presented to the City Council that would assure the club would experience no legal hassles going forward. That ordinance never even materialized and Prime’s owners believed they had been scammed.
The consultant, Amir Mireskandari, was also a big supporter of Ogg’s political campaigns. He and his wife contributed more than $14,000 to her campaigns from 2016 to 2017. They also hosted two fundraising events at their home, paying more than $5,000 for catering at one of them.
Though the charges were dropped, the case was still referred to the FBI, so neither Prime nor Post Oak are totally out of the woods just yet.
Lawsuits gone, not forgotten
Harris County was still hoping to nail Prime and Post Oak on civil “nuisance” charges, a murky and controversial part of Texas law. I am not a lawyer, but it seems like it would have been a stretch. Nevertheless, those lawsuits have now also been cancelled.
“These nuisance lawsuits rely on criminal investigations,” First Assistant County Attorney Robert Soard told the Houston Chronicle. “If we don’t have a criminal investigation to rely on, it doesn’t make sense as civil lawyers to pursue it in civil court.”
The county said it still could re-file the lawsuits at a later date if it feels it has a case.
Both the Prime Social Poker Club and Post Oak Poker Club plan to reopen in the coming weeks.