Category: Gambling and Poker
A jury in Colorado has acquitted a man who organized poker tournaments at a local bar on charges of illegal gambling, apparently agreeing with his defense that poker is primarily a game of skill, not chance. Last month, a judge in Pennsylvania came to the same conclusion, exonerating a man of gambling charges for running $1-$2 Texas Hold ‘Em games out of his garage.
I’d rather see states do away with gambling prohibitions altogether (or, more accurately, to lift the states’ monopoly on gambling), but the outcomes in these cases are exactly right. The fact that professional poker players even exist (as opposed to, say, professional slots or roulette players) is proof that the game is driven more by strategy and skill than by luck.
This month, another state judge in South Carolina will rule on the same question. In that case, Police sent a wired informant with marked bills to break up the $20 buy-in game run by Mount Pleasant resident Bob Chimento and his college buddies. Generally speaking, such games are legal so long as the host doesn’t take a cut of the prize money. Police and prosecutors determined that Chimento’s collection for pizza and beer qualified as a "rake," making the game illegal.
"The typical police raid of these games … is to literally burst into a home in SWAT gear with guns drawn and treat poker players like a bunch of high-level drug dealers," says Jeff Phillips, a Greenville attorney representing Chimento’s group. "Using the taxpayers’ resources for such useless Gestapo-like tactics is more of a crime than is playing of the game."
Chimento and his friends aren’t alone. The Washington-based Poker Players Alliance says it has received so many calls about poker-related arrests that it’s created a national network of attorneys – many of them poker players themselves – to serve as a legal brain trust for its membership.
Reason.tv and Drew Carey highlighted one of those cases last year, in which a paramilitary vice squad in Dallas raided a Texas Hold ‘Em tournament held at local VFW post.
According to Peat, he and his girlfriend had originally planned to fly back to Las Vegas together after visiting her family. But after purchasing their tickets, Peat decided to fly to L.A. to play in a poker game. He bought a last minute, first-class ticket, and paid in cash. That apparently was enough to set off red flags.
Peat says he was accosted by several DEA agents, who asked him questions about who he was and where he was going. He told them he was a poker player, and had $15,000 in cash in his pocket. They first let him go, but then chased him down, and told him he’d need to come with them for questioning. Peat says the agents then confiscated all of his money, as well as his $50,000 Rolex watch. He says they gave him a receipt, and told him to expect more information in the mail.
In a separate post, Peat concedes he had a few marijuana possession charges, but the most recent was more than eight years ago. He wasn’t arrested, and the agents didn’t tell him why they were taking his money. The reason for seizing it seems to be little more than he was traveling with a large amount of cash.
If Peat’s account of the incident is accurate, it certainly wouldn’t be unprecedented.
CORRECTION: I spoke with Peat tonight. He was staying in Toledo, but he flew out of Detroit. More later.
UPDATE: Per the comments, here’s a different account of the airplane incident.
Up until March of this year, Washington lobbyist William Wichterman was registered with the D.C. law firm Covington & Burling. While there, he represented the National Football League in the successful effort to push through the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act (UIGEA), which will force banks and other financial institutions to block their customers from placing bets at online poker, sports wagering, and other gaming sites.
(It’s worth noting that despite its protestations that online gambling fosters addiction and threatens to corrupt the spirit of competition, the NFL was able to win an exemption to the bill to allow for pay-for-play fantasy football leagues over the Internet.)
According to the Politico, in March, Wichterman was hired on as a White House aide. His main responsibility? Help the Bush administration write the rules of the UIGEA. Wichterman and the White House are now trying to push the new rules through "before Nov. 17, in the narrow window before the new administration could make any changes, according to people familiar with these deliberations."
Wichterman’s short leap from chief UIGEA lobbyist to top UIGEA enforcer (before his gig at Covington, Wichterman worked for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, where he also worked to ban Internet gambling) has raised the suspicions of Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.).
Cohen posed a series of questions in a letter to White House Counsel Fred Fielding, including whether the White House knew of Wichterman’s lobbying for the UIGEA on behalf of the NFL; if so, why they allowed him to work on the enforcement of the Act, anyway; how much time the White House requires to lapse before lobbyists hired into the administration can go to work on the issues they were lobbying for; and if Wichterman plans to go back to representing the NFL after he leaves his stint in the White House.
Ruling for the state, Beshear wrote, “The Internet, with all its benefits and advantages to modern-day commerce and life, is still not above the law, whether on an international or municipal level.”
The implications of that sentence are pretty profound. If it’s upheld, it would mean that web-based businesses would have to familiarize themselves with the laws of every government entity in the world, then tailor their websites to conform to local law. Otherwise, they’d risk having their domains seized by local governments.
Seems like the Internet porn industry would be the next logical target.
Kentucky’s pro-gambling governor is looking to make sure all bets are off for more than 140 online gambling Web sites that operate in the state known for the world’s biggest horse race.
Gov. Steve Beshear said his administration has asked a Franklin County Circuit Court judge to give the state control of 141 gambling Web site domain names. Beshear said he’s looking to restrict Kentuckians’ access to Web sites with names that include some of the most popular gambling sites for U.S. players: bodoglife.com, doylesroom.com and fulltiltpoker.com.
A hearing is scheduled for Thursday before Judge Thomas Wingate.
Beshear believes Kentucky is the first in the country to attempt to block online gambling by taking over Web domain names of gambling sites.
“Unlike casinos that operate on land or on riverboats in the United States, these operations pay no tax revenues, provide no jobs and yield no tourism benefits,” Beshear said at a Monday afternoon Capitol press conference. “They are leeches on our communities.”
At least Beshear isn’t making any pretense to morality, here. He just doesn’t like the idea that someone’s providing a service to Kentuckians without the government getting its cut. Wonder if he’ll try to seize Amazon.com’s URL, too.
The Richland County (S.C.) Sheriff’s Department has acquired an armored personnel carrier complete with a turret-mounted .50-caliber belt-fed machine gun for its Special Response Team.
Sheriff Leon Lott told the Columbia State newspaper that he hoped the vehicle, named “The Peacemaker,” would let the bad guys know that his officers are serious.
“We don’t look at this as a killing machine,” Lott told the paper. “It’s going to keep the peace. We hope the fact that we have this is going to save lives. When something like this rolls up, it’s time to give up.”
Who wants to set an over under on the first time they use this thing to bust a pot dealer?
UPDATE: Pete Guither found a photo of the thing, and the weird origin of the name the sheriff gave it.
In the raid, police in Prince George’s County, Maryland intercepted a package addressed to Calvo’s wife that contained about 30 pounds or marijuana. Undercover officers completed the delivery to Calvo’s home, then stormed the place in SWAT gear when Calvo brought the package inside. During the raid, the police shot and killed Calvo’s two black labs, including one Calvo says was running away to hide. Calvo and his mother-in-law were then handcuffed and questioned at gunpoint while his dead dogs lay nearby in pools of their own blood.
Since the raid last week, we’ve learned that police have arrested two men in conjunction with a scheme using delivery services to ship marijuana across the country. The plan was for operatives within the companies to intercept the packages before they reached their targets. The destination addresses may have been random, or simply chosen because of their location along routes convenient to the scheme. In fact, the Washington Post reports in the story linked above that some packages were accidentally delivered, at which point operatives went to the houses of the innocent people who’d received them to ask for their return.
Despite all of this, Prince George’s County police refuse to apologize for the no-knock raid, for the tactics they used in the raid, or for killing Calvo’s dogs.
Prince George’s County Police Chief Melvin High said Wednesday that Calvo and his family were "most likely … innocent victims," but he would not rule out their involvement, and he defended the way the raid was conducted. He and other officials did not apologize for killing the dogs, saying the officers felt threatened.
High told the Washington Post that the raid "was conducted responsibly, given what deputies and officers knew at the time." That’s absurd. High doesn’t even seem to consider the possibility that perhaps the officers didn’t know enough to conduct the raid when they did, and that maybe they should have done a bit more investigating before going all commando on the Calvo family.
Interestingly, the state of Maryland does not issue warrants no-knock raids. However, police may determine at the scene that a no-knock entry is necessary if one of two conditions are present. The first if the police have reasonable suspicion that the suspect may pose a threat to the officers’ safety. The second is if police have reasonable suspicion that the suspect may destroy the evidence.
Though these two "exigent circumstances" exceptions carve gaping holes in the knock-and-announce requirement, it’s difficult to see how this situation fit either exception. Prince George’s police say they heard Calvo’s mother-in-law scream as they approached, which they say made them fear someone inside may grab a gun or dispose of the marijuana.
Both prospects are dubious. If the police had done any surveillance or investigation at all, they’d have realized that this was the home of the local mayor, an unlikely candidate to engage in a suicide shootout with raiding cops. And unless the Calvos own an industrial strength toilet, it’s unlikely that he’d have been able to flush 30 pounds of marijuana in the time it takes police to knock and announce themselves.
Moreover, even if seeing the cops approaching did tip off Calvo and his mother-in-law, that’s the whole purpose of the knock-and-announce requirement—to give suspects notice that the police are coming, and to allow them the opportunity to consent to a peaceful search and avoid the violence of a forceful police entry.
Still, courts have in the past been loathe to question police officers who find exigent circumstances at the scene of the search. Perhaps the high profile of this raid will lead to more scrutiny.
Finally, I guess I’d just add that the national media coverage of the Berwyn Heights raid seems to be predicated on the assumption that the most troubling aspects of the raid—the killing of the dogs, the violent tactics, the lax investigation, the likely innocent victims, and the police obstinacy after the fact—are unusual. They aren’t. The only thing unusual about this raid is that its victim happened to be an elected politician.
“On the bus, I studied the :19-0 Perfect Season” hat and pointed out to Ilan the line etched into the red and blue Velcro strap: “WE WANTED IT MORE.”
Not as much as we did.
USA Today reports that many states have continued selling scratch-off jackpot tickets long after the top prizes emblazoned all over the tickets have already been awarded. A law professor in Virginia is filing a class action suit claiming the state sold more than $20 million worth of such tickets per year for at least three years.
The states claim that the practice isn’t fraudulent because smaller prizes are still available, and because lottery players can check the back of tickets (after they’ve already bought them) and websites for disclaimers and lists of prizes already claimed. Despite that weak defense, several states, including Virginia, have since discontinued the practice.
Virginia, by the way, has killed two of its citizens in police actions aimed at protecting residents of the Old Dominion from losing their money while gambling privately. Because those shady black market bookies might take your money under false pretenses.
Memphis Grizzlies backers hit the hay hoping that Kevin Love would open things up for Rudy Homosexual in the frontcourt.
Sounds like a party!
We still don’t know what quantity or what type of drugs were found in the house. But it is looking increasingly like Derrick Foster isn’t the kind of guy who’d knowingly kill a police officer:
One of the accused is Derrick Foster, a 38-year-old former defensive end for Ohio State University who police said has no criminal record.
Foster has a sociology degree, a $60,000-a-year job as a Columbus code-enforcement supervisor, a $146,000 home on the South Side, a 5-year-old daughter and a valid permit to carry a concealed weapon.
In one annual review, Foster’s supervisor called him “an asset to the Near East Side” neighborhood where he works.
Police now say they suspect some gambling may have gone on in the house. Which makes some sense. Foster doesn’t have the resume of a cop killer, or a guy who’d have reason to be slinging dope (I don’t know many drug dealers who’d bother to apply for a gun permit). It does seem plausible, however, that he might have been at the house to gamble, and mistook the raiding cops for invaders out to rob a gambling house.
You’d never know violent crime stats actually ticked up over the last year.
In the Houston case, prosecutors planned to file felony organized crime charges against the operators of a $300 buy-in tournament.
In the Charleston case, investigators went back more than a year to find names of players who may not have been playing on the night of the raid. They then went out and arrested them, too. They were eventually charged with misdemeanors.
Here’s a first-hand account of similar Charleston raid from a couple of years ago:
At the game in 2006, Chimento said there was a knock on the door and then “…all of a sudden it was like a commandos SWAT team raiding a bunch of crack dealers. It’s was like the SWAT team that you see on TV, busting into your home, guns drawn, ski masks on, full protective gear, and demanding we put out hands on top of our heads,” Chimento said. “At first we thought we were getting robbed, then we realized they had police written all over them, and we were like ‘Oh my God, check this out.’ Someone could have easily been killed that night.”
A 78-year-old grandmother was one of the players swept up that night. Police issued citations on the spot and seized about $6,000 in total from all of the players.
Barney Frank and Ron Paul have changed course a bit:
Frank has teamed up with the libertarian-minded Paul, who crusaded against big government during his recent White House bid, on legislation to block that law by forbidding federal officials from writing rules to implement it.
The pair introduced their bill on Friday, less than two weeks after federal officials testified to Frank’s committee that they were struggling to craft rules barring payments to illegal online gambling sites and banking industry representatives blasted the proposed rules as too onerous.
…writing rules to implement the law is bedeviling regulators. “The challenge we have is interpreting … federal laws that Congress itself isn’t sure what they mean,” Louise Roseman, a Fed official, testified on April 2 before Frank’s committee.
The banking industry has flooded the Treasury and the Fed with complaints about their proposed rules, arguing that it is too difficult for banks to sort out payments for legal wagers — such as on horse races — and those that are illegal.
“The banking system is just not set up to sort out whether one payment is a legal payment and one payment is not,” said the director of congressional affairs for the Independent Community Bankers of America , Steve Verdier. “We think the [Frank-Paul] bill would give everyone the chance to take a breath.”
Naturally, the bill has next to zero chance of passing.
There’s now video up of the reason event with Andy Bloch and Chris “Jesus” Ferguson.
And you can browse terrific photos taken by Noel St. John here. Noel, by the way, is a terrific photographer and a good libertarian. Can’t recommend him enough. If you have an event in D.C. or Atlanta and are looking for a photographer, give him a look.
Yesterday, Barney Frank held hearings on the implementation of the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act.
I was traveling, so I didn’t get to watch. But Declan McCullagh did:
Banks, credit card companies, and some Democratic members of Congress are predicting that forthcoming restrictions on Internet gambling will ensnare innocent customers and threaten the viability of e-commerce.
The criticism came at a congressional hearing on Wednesday devoted to the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, enacted in 2006 by a Republican Congress after pressure from social conservatives. The Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department published draft regulations last fall–which financial institutions say will disrupt perfectly legal transactions unless dramatic changes are made before the rules take effect.
The U.S. government’s “decision not to fully define unlawful Internet gambling places our members in a very difficult position,” said Leigh Williams on behalf of the Financial Services Roundtable, which counts Visa, Mastercard, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and other banks as members. “They cannot know if a transaction is restricted unless they have in hand specifics of the transaction that in almost all instances they will not have.”
At the very least, Williams said, the U.S. government should provide a list of names of Internet gambling businesses that can be identified and blocked–something that regulators are unwilling to do. (One model that’s been suggested is the Treasury Department’s list of “specially designated” people and organizations subject to economic sanctions.)
Federal regulators have said it would be too expensive for them to create a list themselves, arguing that “the government must engage in an extensive legal analysis to determine whether the gambling Web site is used, at least in part, to place, receive or otherwise knowingly transmit unlawful bets or wagers” and that due process safeguards “would result in considerable added costs.”
So they’re just going to push those costs onto the private sector, effectively making your bank cop, prosecutor, and jury. Given that there’s no sanction for over-blocking transactions, and that there would be considerable sanctions for not doing enough to block gambling-related transfers, Congress has created a situation where the banks’ only real option is to block anything that remotely sniffs of gambling.
Meanwhile, all you need to do to get around all of this is open an account with an overseas bank. Which means they’ll probably next go after Internet Service Providers, and force them to block access to gaming sites. Quite the clusterfuck to prevent people from playing cards online.