Poker tournaments raise questions

Texas Hold 'Em at Sidelines

* How it works: Contestant pays a set amount to enter tournament, is given a set number of chips with no monetary value and competes with other poker players at Texas Hold 'Em. Winners determined by the player that ends up with all chips at a table. Winners then go on to compete against other individual table winners until only eight players left. Final eight compete at final table, and winner of this table is crowned champion.

* Actual money gambled: None.

* Who acts as the "house": Because no money is actually gambled, no one -- although entry fees are paid to the sponsor to pay for administration and prizes, and sometimes donations are made to charities. * Charitable requirements: Optional, although Clear Channel does donate some of the money it makes on its tournament to charity.

Last Sunday, Dennis and Donna Jackson of Casper made their way up to Sidelines Sports Bar to play a game they, like many other Americans, have grown to enjoy immensely in the past year -- Texas Hold 'Em.

They headed to Sidelines, as they have an many recent Sunday afternoons, to play in Clear Channel Radio's weekly Texas Hold 'Em tournament against about 60 other card sharks.

Neither Jackson came out on top on Sunday, although Donna finished second at her table and Dennis has won his table before, they said.

Despite the fact they didn't come out on top, they did have fun, they said. And their enjoyment only cost them $25 apiece.

The Jacksons didn't risk any money playing in the tournament, so they didn't think what they did at Sidelines was gambling, they said.

However, there is some debate that, legally speaking, the Jacksons' take on Sidelines' tournament, and other Texas Hold 'Em tournaments that have popped up at bars around the state, is wrong.

Texas Hold 'Em is a style of poker made popular by such televised events as the World Series of Poker and the World Poker Tour.

State law makes it clear that professional gambling is illegal in Wyoming. What is not so clear is whether Texas Hold 'Em tournaments are professional gambling.

Local Clear Channel General Manager Bob Price said neither his company nor Sidelines engages in illegal professional gambling by holding the tournament.

Professional gambling is first defined by Wyoming law as "aiding or inducing another to engage in gambling, with the intent to derive a profit therefrom."

Neither Sidelines nor Clear Channel intends to profit from the poker tournament, said Price and Bobbi Gerlock, general manager of Sidelines.

At the Sidelines tournament, players pay $25 to enter and are given a certain number of chips, Price said. They are then seated at a table with seven other players, and the eight play Texas Hold 'Em until the winner controls all eight players' chips, Clear Channel's Staci Ownes said.

The chips used in the games have no monetary value, and the winner of the table is given no monetary reward, Price said. Instead, the winners advance to later rounds in the tournament.

The tournament's eventual champion will win a trip to Reno, Nev., and the opportunity to play in a World Poker Tour event there, Owens said.

Revenue from the $25 entry fees is used to pay for the administrative costs of the tournament, to pay for prizes, and a portion is donated to St. Jude's Children's Hospital, Owens said.

While the hosts and sponsors of the tournaments may be careful not to take direct revenue from the games, there are still some questions regarding the legality of poker tournaments at bars, because the hosting establishment may earn indirect revenue via food and beverage sales, Wyoming Attorney General Pat Crank said.

Gerlock, however, said most poker players are not the type of people who run up big bar tabs, as they tend to remain sober while playing.

"Do we see an increase in business" on Sunday afternoons when poker is being played? "Not really," she said.

While Natrona County officials haven't stopped the tournaments at Sidelines, Laramie County and Albany County officials have taken aim at some poker tournaments in Cheyenne and Laramie. Cheyenne police, for example, asked bars to voluntarily shut down their poker tournaments after police consulted with state, county and local attorneys to determine that the games are banned under state law.

Skill or luck?

Wyoming law further defines professional gambling as "participating in gambling and having, other than by virtue of skill or luck, a lesser chance of losing or a greater chance of winning than one or more of the other participants."

Texas Hold 'Em tournaments do not fit this definition of professional gambling either because poker, unlike blackjack, is not a broken game which intrinsically favors one player over others, the Jacksons said. The only way a player has an advantage in poker is if that player has more skill.

"Poker's a game of skill where you play your cards and you play off other people," Donna Jackson said. "It requires reading people."

Neither Jackson considers the way they spend their Sunday afternoons gambling, they said. It is totally different from playing games like blackjack in Deadwood, S.D.

Players in Clear Channel's tournament know how much money they are going to spend on playing, $25, and know they will not win any money for their efforts, Dennis Jackson said.

A Texas Hold 'Em tournament such as Clear Channel's is no different than a billiard tournament or a dart tournament in which players pay an entry fee and the winners end up winning prizes, Price said. Poker, pool and darts all take skill and some luck to win, he added.

Actual money gambled - None Who acts as the "house" - Since no money is actually gambled, no one. Although entry fees are paid to the sponsor to pay for administration, prizes and sometimes donations are made to charities.

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