Court date for those who didn't cut deal

TEXAS CITY - Up to 22 people are expected in Texas City municipal court today.

The defendants turned down a plea deal from city prosecutors last month that would have the misdemeanor charges eventually wiped from their records.

All were caught up in a Sunday afternoon raid on a Texas Hold 'Em poker tournament at the Shenanigan's club on Dec. 5. They were issued Class C citations for gambling. The club's owner and manager were charged with operating a gambling place.

Initially, 78 people were ticketed for participating in the game in the club owned by former Texas City mayoral candidate Frank Skaggs. Most took a plea bargain to pay a $127 fine. Under the deal, as long they don't get another citation for gambling within 30 days, they will not have a conviction on their record.

At the time, 22 of those cited stood their ground, maintaining they did not participate in an illegal activity. Since then, a few opted for a plea, but court officials did not have a firm number of just how many would continue the fight.

Today's proceedings are little more than pretrial hearings to set a court date to face the charges, Texas City Municipal Court Clerk Carol Grady said. There is a possibility that Judge Tom Cain could order a bench hearing for any or all of the cases or set a jury trial for a later date.

If convicted, those who are taking the case to trial face up to a $500 fine but no jail time.

Meanwhile, Skaggs awaits word on when he will be in district court to fight the charges of running a gambling place.

The businessman maintains he was unaware the game was illegal and that city law enforcement officials failed to get back with him when he asked if a tournament in which a pot was split - a type of tournament popular with pool and dart games - would be legal.

But Police Chief Robert Burby and community officer Cpl. Charles Totty insist Skaggs was warned ahead of time his plans to have the game would be illegal.

Officials with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission also denied Skaggs' assertions that state agents gave him the green light to conduct the tournament.

Texas laws regarding gambling are pretty clear when it comes to poker, said Assistant District Attorney Mo Ibrahim.

While the law provides for private games at home - minus an individual taking a portion of the gambling proceeds known as a 'rake' - such games in a public establishment such as a bar or club are illegal, Ibrahim said. That's true even when they are operated like a pool or dart tournament, he said.

What: Pretrial hearings for individuals fighting gambling citations stemming from a poker raid at Shenanigan's club.

When: 8 a.m. today.

Where: Texas City Municipal Court, 1004 Ninth Ave. North.

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