Felony Gambling Charges Dropped In Case Of $0 Buy-In Poker Game Raid
However, Nutz Poker League Still Faces Battle In Florida Courts
The case stemming from an October police raid of a Florida card game with a $0 buy-in has slowly been unfolding in recent weeks, as felony gambling charges against a handful of individuals associated with the poker league have been dropped.
However, two misdemeanor charges were then filed against two organizers of The Nutz Poker League, based in the Tampa Bay area, Luke Lirot, lawyer for the defendants, told Card Player.
On Oct. 20, agents from the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, with help from the Largo Police Department, entered Louie’s Grill & Sports Bar, ordering more than 100 players to stop what they were doing and put their hands on the table.
“The raid involved numerous law enforcement officers, many of whom were in full riot gear and Ninja masks, with weapons drawn, and resulted in terrifying everyone involved,” Nutz said on its Facebook page less than a week after the incident.
Fast forward nearly two months and the poker players are still trying to figure out exactly what they did to deserve such treatment, according to Lirot.
According to Lirot, Florida has an ambiguous statute on gambling houses, which is being interpreted right now in a strict sense. In the case of Nutz, the law is being read to mean that any game where something of value could be won would be considered unlawful gambling.
Despite not having an entry fee for the tavern-based games, the league was able to award prizes to players. Bars would pay the league to host the games, in exchange for the boost in business. Players were also rewarded based on the size of their bar tab. Nutz was open to the public, but had a membership component too, hosting some special events, one of which sent registered league players to the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.
There are carve outs in Florida law for similar types of free-play gaming, but it’s unclear exactly how Nutz is fundamentally different in the eyes of law enforcement. Lirot added that other free-play poker leagues in the area have “exactly the same business model” as Nutz.
“It would be inappropriate if there’s selective enforcement,” he said. “If they are wanting to use my clients as a test case they should have sent them a cease-and-desist letter first.”
The case remains open and confusing, but Nutz wants to continue offering games to its devoted player base. Lirot said that he’s working with authorities to “come up with a business model that continues to recognize the value of non-wager social poker.”
The entire ordeal has stunned league players, but in its wake has created an even stronger bond. The league’s Facebook page becomes full of messages of support with each new development. The next pre-trial hearing is scheduled for mid-January, according to Lirot.
The defendants are seeking to have the entire case against them thrown out.
“I’ve been practicing law for almost 30 years, and I’ve never seen this kind of public criticism or the friends of my clients showing up in court to show their support,” Lirot said. “I’ve never had a similar situation, and I’ve had a lot of high-profile cases.”
Follow Brian Pempus on Twitter — @brianpempus
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