DA: Poker Events May be Illegal

Bars and night clubs that host "Texas Hold 'em" poker tournaments

The Bexar County District Attorney's office is warning bars and night clubs that host "Texas Hold 'em" poker tournaments and the customers who participate in them may be breaking Texas gambling laws, 1200 WOAI news reported today.

"People might want to avoid going to those events unless they want to see a vice squad officer," D.A. Susan Reed said.

Poker has taken the country by storm in the past year, with televised poker tournaments grabbing high ratings, and poker is re-emerging as a favorite leisure activity of high school and college students. Many businesses are trying to get in on the act by staging poker tournaments, which often offer big prizes to winners.

And that's where they cross the line, says Assistant DA Cliff Herberg, who heads the white collar crimes division, which includes gambling.

"Once you assign value to those chips, once you start making those chips worth money, and once you start giving out big prizes, you're gambling," Herberg said.

Reed says poker is not always illegal, but many of the "Texas Hold' em" tournaments are beginning to 'cross the line.'

"You can play poker in your home," Reed said. "You do not offer huge prizes. It's gotta be a personal kind of thing."

Herberg says the poker game operators are doing the same thing the operators of so called 'eight liner' machines did to get them into trouble. When they started they were simple diversions, but they began adding more features that pushed them into the real of illegal gambling.

"First they start legally, then they start edging closer and closer to the line," he said.

Herberg urged citizens to call police to report "Texas Hold 'em" competitions, even though many are openly advertised on several Internet sites like 'barpoker.com.'

He says raffles and other drawings that offer prizes are legal. The problem arises when establishments offer 'games of chance requiring skill,' like poker, and award prizes for them. If the house takes a cut, if there are buy ins or entry fees, or if 'large prizes' are awarded for playing poker, Reed says customers might want to avoid those establishments.

"Not unless they want to meet a vice officer," she said

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