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Poker Players Fight the Law in South Carolina

Recent Raids Have Put Home Poker in the Spotlight


In South Carolina authorities have taken up the task of wiping out home poker by investigating games and then raiding them with force usually reserved for drug busts. The law the police are using to nail these players has been on the books since 1802 and restricts the playing of any type of game in one’s home that uses dice or cards.

The latest raid took place April 4, when police concluded a 10-month investigation of a poker game in Charleston County where four houses were watched. On that day, the Sheriff’s department busted into a home wherein high-stakes games took place, arrested 27 people, seized $62,000, and took everyone to jail, where they were booked and were forced to post bond. A total of 65 players who played at any of the homes were charged, and 19 have already pled guilty to the misdemeanor. They were ordered to pay fines ranging from $154-$257 and will have to head to civil court to fight for the return of the monies that were seized.

Bob Chimento was one of the players who was charged with gambling on April 4, even though he wasn’t at the game. He said the stakes were too high for him there, but he did play at one of the other homes that was investigated. He played on Oct. 15, the same night an undercover cop happened to be at the game, and a warrant was put out for his arrest.

Chimento was one of 23 people who were at a $20 tournament in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, that was raided in April 2006. All but five players pleaded guilty and paid small fines. These same players were also charged in the most recent bust, the only players from the 2006 raid to face more charges. Chimento is one of a group of five who has asked for a jury trial in both cases.

A poker hobbyist who says has only played three times since August, Chimento is now at the forefront of the fight for getting this antique South Carolina law changed.

“The reason we’re fighting the law is because we want to get our state representatives to change this law,” Chimento said. “We’re just a bunch of average Joes playing cards. We want to be able to play cards in our homes. They’re trying to intimidate people to quit playing poker.”

The tactics of the law enforcement, no matter how much publicity the raids are getting in South Carolina, don’t seem to be working. Games can be found every night of the week there, and public opinion, based on local newspaper and radio polls, is reporting that 85 percent of those polled think the players are getting a raw deal.

The way the police are conducting the raids may be the most disturbing thing about the situation. 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.

A few days after the most recent bust, Chimento found himself at the county jail getting booked after he was notified that a warrant was out for his arrest for playing poker on Oct. 15, 2007. He spent eight hours there getting fingerprinted and processed (including a mug shot), and then had to appear in court a week later to enter his second not-guilty plea in two years.

He and the other four players who are fighting the charges are getting help from Bob Ciaffone and gambling law attorney Chuck Humphrey. They are hoping for a jury trial, but Chimento feels that once it goes to trial (there’s no indication of when the 2006 case will take place), there’s a good chance they will be convicted.

If and when that happens, they will appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court, who could take a closer look at the law than the lower courts are able to do. This is how they’re hoping to change the law.

The original case has already prompted state representative Wallace Scarborough to write a bill that would allow people to play poker in their homes, as long as a rake isn’t collected. His bill was just returned back to committee, though, and won’t be voted on this year.

Tags: poker law


almost 10 years ago

I say find the "undercover" and "make it right" with him!!!


almost 10 years ago

another bullshit bust what is this country coming to .as long as there not charging a rake or entry fee this should never happen .a law thats over 200 years old i mean raiding people over a game of cards come on .evrybody if you care about your rights as a poker player join the Poker Players Alliance .


almost 10 years ago

What a bunch of crap...I'm sure there has to be a good reason they are doing this...with all the crime in our towns they pick small time poker games to Bust....makes no sence at all....I would love to hear the reasoning behind it....god only knows what other laws they could inforce from the 1800 era....


almost 10 years ago

fair and equal treatment should be applied. I want the cops to bust a preschool class playing chutes and ladders before they grow up and become gamblers for life.


almost 10 years ago

I live in Charleston,S.C. And must say.Everyone should praise the local law enforcement! 10 full months of investigation and all the man hours spent on busting a poker game only to get at the most $257 out of each person arrested! WOW!!! Do you think that is enough money to buy doughnuts for a week for these outstanding crime fighting hero's?It's really sad.Here in Hanahan where the last big poker game bust took place.It's ok for prostitutes to work openly,drive around drunk without a licences,the crack dealers are standing on the corner selling dope 1 block from the police department in front of a school.But our crime fighting hero's chose to raid a simple poker game being hosted by prominate decent people in the privacy of their own home! Whats wrong with this picture?Much like a criminal,they chose the easiest target.Running those crack dealers down on foot and fighting "REAL"crime would be way too much work! Not to mention it would cut into their snack time in their car.I'm a poker player online and live play here in Charleston and will continue to play the "skilled"game whenever I chose.The fine of $257 is just 1 average blind,so it's worth it just to see the flop. PROUD POKER PLAYER William Bass,Charleston,S.C.


over 9 years ago

The police have a duty to teach the public who's boss and what happens if you don't conform. Resistance is futile.


over 8 years ago

Bob was only at the game cuz he wated to get busted and be on the news.