Despite the fact that No Limit Texas Hold'em has become the game of choice for poker players across the United States, North Carolina state law enforcement agencies continue to crack down on businesses and companies that support the game.
The growing popularity of the game in North Carolina has left law enforcement officials confused about how to handle the games. With groups like the Poker Tavern League having over 2,500 members, it is difficult for businesses to turn their heads at the possibility of the cashing in on on-poker profits such as food and beverages.
Some North Carolina businesses have already invested in the poker craze and are looking to quickly clarify the laws. "We're certainly not trying to violate any laws, and I don't feel we are. From what I understand, the Wake County district attorney doesn't either," said Frank Winslow in an interview with NBC17.com. Winslow is the owner of The Point at Glenwood and has spent more than $1000 on felt-topped tables, chips and other equipment so his Raleigh bar could host Poker Tavern League events.
The confusion over North Carolina law has left the issue up to interpretations by various law enforcement groups. "Unfortunately, we have to deal with county-by-county understandings of the law and interpretations of the law," said Ryan Turner, one of the Poker Tavern League's organizers.
According to North Carolina's laws, something of value must be bet in order to consider it gambling. The law states, "any person or organization that operates any game of chance or any person who plays or bets on any game at which money, property or any other thing of value is bet, whether the same be in stake or not, shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor." This does not bode well for groups like the Poker Tavern League because it has offered $50 prizes redeemable at the hosting business in the past. However, due to legal problems surrounding the laws the league's site states that prizes are awarded where they are considered legal and that hosting businesses must check their local laws.
Some businesses have chosen to offer tournaments but have opted not to offer prizes. The Graduate, a Charlotte restaurant, offers poker twice a week but has decided not to offer prizes. "The games are really good promotion for us and no one has told me they are illegal," said general manager Chris Sheridan in a recent interview with NBC17.com.
Other businesses have gone on the offensive, suing law enforcement on the basis of the ambiguities of the state law. Charlotte-based 5th Street Entertainment LLC, which organizes tournaments for businesses, claims that law agencies have cost the group business by declaring the games illegal and warning restaurants and bars that host them could lose their state liquor licenses.
The company has asked the judge to declare poker tournaments run by the company as legal and is seeking full reimbursement for expenses and legal fees. The attorney general however, has asked that the judge dismiss the suit claiming that previous cases have established that poker is illegal in North Carolina.
Until a judge rules favorably for the poker community in North Carolina this heated debate will continue to rage on.