Demonstrating that law enforcement’s maxim of “To Serve and Protect” should be mothballed in favor of a more appropriate aphorism of “To Unnerve and Suspect,” State and local authorities in Largo, Florida, recently concluded a months-long sting operation – dubbed “Operation Cracked Aces” – by raiding a poker tournament and arresting six individuals for their alleged involvement in operating a “gambling house.” That those participating in the tournament were not actually “gambling,” insofar as they did not actually risk “something” on chance, did little to dissuade law enforcement from cracking down on an obvious public menace – individuals peacefully enjoying themselves.
The Texas Hold ‘Em was tournament was sponsored by Nutz Poker League. In addition to hosting a yearly poker tournament/Christmas Toy Drive to benefit The Joshua House, the leagued hosted friendly poker games throughout the Tampa Bay area. Though this was a free, no buy-in tournament, open to the public, armed law enforcement officers, some dressed in full riot gear, descended on the participants with military style aggression. Was this show of force really necessary to break up a poker tournament hosted in a public establishment? If these State and local officials believed the tournament violated State law, why didn’t they simply order Nutz Poker League to cancel the event? Other than terrifying the players, dealers, and servers, what were these officials hoping to accomplish?
That those participating in the tournament were not actually “gambling,” insofar as they did not actually risk “something” on chance, did little to dissuade law enforcement from cracking down on an obvious public menace – individuals peacefully enjoying themselves. Poker, whether a buy-in is required or not, typically falls outside the law. Unfortunately for those arrested, under Florida law, “gambling” is broadly defined to include an opportunity to win something of value in a game of chance. Nutz Poker League runs daily games, as well as monthly tournaments, hosted at local bars and restaurants. Winners are awarded prizes ranging from gift certificates or gift cards, to vacations, to a trip to the World Series of Poker. The triviality of most of the prizes notwithstanding, these awards provided law enforcement with means to argue that a technical violation of the law justified the arrest the participants. To law enforcement, Nutz wasn’t sponsoring free poker games as entertainment, they were engaged in unlawful gaming.
Though Massachusetts encourages its citizens to buy lottery and scratch tickets, and has recently passed legislation to allow casinos here, it strictly regulates gaming in the Commonwealth, with laws governing everything from the licensing of gaming establishments to “cheating and swindling, “ to gambling on behalf of a minor. The penalties for violating these laws generally include fines and/or prison time (e.g., the penalty for the unlawful conduct or operation of a game or gaming device is up to five years in state prison and/or a $25,000 fine).
Contact Boston criminal defense lawyer, Kevin J. Mahoney
Operation Cracked Aces is an unnerving example of law enforcement’s ongoing efforts to increase its reach and power. If you would like to speak with a Boston criminal defense lawyer about Massachusetts gaming laws or any other criminal matter, call us at 617-492-0055 to schedule a free initial consultation.
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