Laramie bar owners could face charges for hosting poker games

Bar owners who have hosted poker tournaments in recent months

The city attorney's office is contemplating whether to press criminal and civil charges against bar owners who have hosted poker tournaments in recent months.

City Attorney Peggy Trent said she would make a decision within a couple of weeks.

Potentially, bars could face a $750 fine and have their liquor licenses revoked or suspended.

"We would have to assess each tournament in each establishment and make a determination of whether it was illegal," Trent said. "In some places, the game of poker is played differently."

Trent said she would ask city councilors for direction before deciding whether to revoke or suspend liquor licenses.

Mike Hopkins, owner of the Cowboy Saloon and Buckhorn Bar, said he stopped hosting poker tournaments because he was afraid of losing his liquor license.

Hopkins started hosting poker tourneys at the Cowboy and Buckhorn six months ago, at the urging of a customer who was a fan of "Texas Hold Em" tournaments. At the time, bars in Casper and Cheyenne also were hosting the games.

Contestants paid $10 to enter the tournament and were given a set number of chips with no monetary value. The player who ended up with the most chips was considered the winner. At the end of the night, the $500 pot was divided between the top three players.

Last November, Laramie police shut down a poker game at the Cowboy. Hopkins complied and no tickets were issued.

But Hopkins continued hosting tournaments at the Buckhorn until Feb. 3, when police again asked him to stop. At the time, he said there was some uncertainty about the legality of poker, so he decided to continue the games, awaiting the city attorney's ruling.

State law prohibits professional gambling in Wyoming, and a state attorney general's opinion determined that the poker tournaments were professional gambling.

Hopkins said he didn't consider the tourneys a form of professional gambling because he didn't make a profit, either directly or indirectly.

"Players are there more for the game than for drinking," Hopkins said. "I'd say half of them didn't drink. I don't see how I gained money at all, because I always had to pay an employee to run the games."

Some, such as Shelbie and Victor Bershinsky, played as a husband and wife team.

Shelbie Bershinsky said the games are good, honest fun. She confronted the Laramie City Council about the issue recently.

"It seems to me that the people at the Buckhorn got picked on," Bershinsky told the council. "It's no different than the bowling leagues that go on every night of the week, or the pool and dart leagues."

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