In most areas, playing a penny-ante game of poker is not a major criminal action. There are some occasions, however, when the poker game gets too big and law enforcement cracks down on it. In one of the preeminent retirement communities in Florida, an employee’s decision to shut down a poker game that got a bit too rich has drawn the irritation of its residents.

Calls for Firing Recreation Director

According to’s Meta Minton, residents of The Villages, one of the fastest-growing areas in Florida, have been playing poker games as a part of the recreational activities being offered. Minton does not mention the stakes, if there were any, that the players were playing, but apparently it reached a point where the director of recreation decided to act. Director John Rohan allegedly stepped in, shutting down the games, and drawing the ire of the residents of The Villages along the way.

In a meeting of the Amenity Authority Commission last week, participants in the poker games called for the termination or resignation of Rohan, stating that “he had been there long enough” and “new blood” was necessary. The chair of the AAC, Donna Kempa, stated that she believed that Rohan was doing his job, enforcing the rules and, especially, the laws regarding gambling. Kempa stated that Rohan “did not make the rules…he enforced the rules (and is) unfairly bearing the brunt of this.”

Despite being firm in her position, Kempa did allow those in the hall to have their say. The players then proceeded to take an hour of the public discussion, continuing to rail against the decision by Rohan. It was not until another enthusiastic group of players, this time golfers, that the poker discussion was terminated, and the meeting moved on.

The situation only got worse when the legal counsel for the AAC, Kevin Stone, stated that Florida law prohibits gambling of any type in “District-owned recreational facilities.” This led to more questions regarding certain activities in the enclave, leading Stone to clarify that playing cards was not the issue – it was the gambling that was the problem.

The Villages operate under a “special district” law in the Sunshine State, one similar to what the former Reedy Creek Improvement District was for one of Florida’s largest employers, The Walt Disney Corporation. Special districts in Florida allow for self-governance away from local and state influences. While some things can be overseen by these special districts, certain laws, such as those involving gambling, cannot be overlooked.

Private Games Often Run Afoul of the Law

Private poker games often run afoul of the law. In many instances, a simple act – taking a rake on pots, or charging juice for a tournament – causes the activity to cross into the “illegal” territory. By doing these things, homeowners who have been having a friendly poker game have been charged with gambling violations. Players have also been charged for illegal gaming, although their offenses are usually misdemeanors, whereas the homeowners sometimes face felonies.

In a Virginia case in 2013, an elaborate operation inside a home was raided by police. Held three nights a week, the operators of the game were allegedly taking in roughly $2000 a night. The operation employed dealers, massage therapists, waitresses, and even security guards, who were tipped by the players. Felony charges were brought against those who operated that game.

In this particular case in The Villages, the solution was quick. Rohan, the rec director, is still in his post, and the board allowed for the poker games to continue in the recreational facilities in the district. There was one caveat put in place, however – that any card playing done in Villages facilities would NOT have any gambling component to them.

We will see how long that lasts…

One Comment

  1. Linda Keenan says:

    Why pick on poker?? Ive never known a serious golfer not to make a wager while on the green , and what? No bingo at the villages?? What about bridge club? Gin rummey? Why is it always poker that get a bad rap. You would thinkby the time you get to the villages, you wouldnt need someone telling you what you can and cannot do with your money..

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