And in a surprisingly not-related-to-the-election boneheaded move, state and local authorities in Largo, Florida (near Tampa) conducted a raid on a free bar poker game. Card Player
and The Tampa Bay Times
reported on it (the Times article is better and more thorough IMO).
Nutz Poker League operates like most bar poker leagues around the country. There is no charge to play, but players can earn free add-ons with food & drink purchases. The league makes money by getting a cut of food & drink sales, and prizes are typically gift certificates, gift cards, and points toward entries into monthly and annual tourneys with larger prizes.
So if you aren't risking any money, isn't this type of game legal? I thought so, but the Assistant State Attorney behind the raid disagrees:
Jail affidavits cited Chapter 849 of Florida Statutes, which prohibits any gaming operation that "permits any person to play for money or other valuable thing at any game."
The big question is whether this type of free poker qualifies as illegal gambling. Generally, yes, said Pinellas-Pasco Assistant State Attorney Joshua Riba.
"If they are playing cards, and they have an opportunity to win something of value, then they are technically violating this particular gambling statute," he said.
A wager does not factor in at all: "The statute itself does not require anybody to ante in," Riba said.
While a few have died off in the past couple of years, there are still many free poker leagues that operate throughout Florida. Given that the operators of this league and the owner of the restaurant are being charged with felony gambling, I'm concerned that this is going to have a chilling effect on these free games throughout Florida.
The good news is that Nutz Poker League is fighting, and after a brief hiatus they are continuing to operate games in the area. And the incoming State speaker has taken notice, too:
Poker laws, Dunbar says, aren't well understood or well enforced. And there is no dedicated state agency to help local law enforcement decipher confusing state gambling laws.
"That criticism," said state Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, "lays on our shoulders."
Weatherford, the incoming House speaker, wants to re-examine the state's ambiguous gambling laws, adding, "there needs to be what I've called an adult conversation of what gaming should look like in the state."
So if there's a silver lining here, it's that we may finally get a badly-needed overhaul of Florida's antiquated home & bar poker laws.