Law forces Massachusetts pub to bow out of World Tavern Poker tour

Dempsey's Pub in Fitchburg, Mass., will no longer be a venue for the World Tavern Poker Tour because of a regulation that excludes card playing in bars. The pub has been part of the tour for six months already, but the regulation was recently brought to the attention of the owner, who then pulled the pub from the tour.

The pub owner, Kathleen Denmark, found out about the regulation at a July 5 License Commission meeting. It states, "Card playing in bars in the city of Fitchburg will be prohibited. This regulation does not include clubs."

Denmark is hoping to take her case to the commission in September and get the regulation changed so the pub can resume taking part in the World Tavern Poker Tour (WTPT).

According to Denmark, she searched the city codes in January looking for any reason why she couldn't be a part of the WTPT. The regulation isn't listed in the city codes though. When she didn't turn up anything in her search, she went to the Massachusetts attorney general's Web site for information.

The Web site said poker tournaments are illegal when players have to pay something of value to play in the game. When that happens, it's considered a game of chance and is illegal. Because the WTPT is free for players, Denmark assumed the activity was perfectly legal in the state and registered the pub as a venue for the poker tour.

The WTPT facilitates free poker tournaments keeping scores and ranking players nationally. They also inspect games to make sure they're free of gambling. Dempsey's Pub was one of three WTPT venues in Massachusetts.

Denmark has called city and town clerks all over the state to find out if any other cities have similar regulations. So far none of the ones she's contacted can find a similar regulation on the books.

The city's regulation against card playing in bars was first voted on in 1990. According to Mayor Dan Mylott, the regulation was created after reports of men spending their paychecks at the bars gambling. The regulation was also upheld in a 2005 vote by the licensing commission.

License Commission Chairman Bill Judge told media he agrees that the attitude toward gambling is different now and isn't sure why the city allows video poker in bars but not live play. He is encouraging people to come to the commission meeting to give their opinions on the matter.

Denmark will take her case to the commission Sept. 20. She said she isn't planning to ask for a complete abolishment of the regulation. She just hopes they can come to a compromise that will suit everyone so she can restart the tournaments again.

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