"We're trying to have a poker tournament legally," said Jake's Sports Cafe owner Scott Stephenson. Two weeks ago he had chips on the table, ready for a game of Texas Hold-em until-
"We can not turn a blind eye," said District Attorney Bill Sowder.
"Texas law is very clear. It says that a person commits an offense if he plays and bets for money or other things of value at any game played with among other things, cards," said Assistant Criminal District Attorney John Grace.
Gambling. Both sides acknowledge it's illegal, but disagree on what qualifies as gambling. "There's a way to conduct this game in that it's not a gambling enterprise," said Stephenson. The plan at Jake's; charge an entry fee, of which the bar does not take a cut. The chips players use have no monetary value. And at the end of the night, the winner gets the pot. "My point is, entry fee is not a bet. And just because you have a prize, its not gambling," said Stephenson.
But the DA disagrees, citing the use of cards as a means to obtain the prize money - one element of gambling. What's more, "The DA has said that we're going to make money. Yeah, that's the whole point of this," said Stephenson. Another strike against Jake's. Commercial establishments are not allowed to make money off of gambling, even if indirectly.
"The businesses that run those games can be charged with 'Keeping a Gambling Place' or 'Gambling Promotion,'" said Grace. But where Jake's does have a potential ace up its sleeve is in its efforts to re-define poker as a game of skill instead of chance. It's the difference between a tournament and gambling.
"A lot of these restaurants and bar owners have said, 'Well, we can have dart tournaments and pool tournaments, we're just substituting a different game in'. Unfortunately for them, the game they're substituting is an illegal game of chance," said Grace.
"If it were to be a game of chance we would not see the same people on the Texas Hold-em programs on television," countered Stephenson.
For now the chips are in storage until the courts deal out a ruling.