DA gives city poker tourney the boot, saying it violates state law

Oct. 17, 2011 at 5:17 a.m.
Updated Oct. 18, 2011 at 5:18 a.m.

Registrants for the Bootfest's Texas Hold-em Poker Tournament have all been seemingly dealt a losing hand, as the city of Victoria gave notice that the tournament would be canceled for legal reasons.

On Monday, city officials posted a statement on the Bootfest website informing site visitors that the tournament, which was scheduled for Oct. 22, had been canceled because of an opinion Victoria County District Attorney Stephen Tyler delivered to the city at about 4 p.m. Friday, deeming the tournament illegal.

The statement went on to explain that the city would ask the Texas Attorney General's Office to rule on the legality of a poker tournament if the city decides to schedule a similar tournament in the future.

However, because of the weeks and possibly months it would take before the Attorney General's ruling would be returned, the decision was made to cancel this week's tournament.

"I believe then and now, as we set it up, it is legal. We met the legal guideline as we understand them," said City Attorney Thomas Gwosdz, who reportedly had concerns about criminal law implications. "Because of the office (Tyler) holds, we're deferring to his opinion."

The semi-last minute notice did not appear to cause any friction between Tyler and the city, at least none that was discussed with the Advocate.

"I'm thankful he brought it to us a week before the tournament rather than a day before. That gave us time to respond to what he was advising us to do," said Gwosdz, who declined to provide the statutes that support his legal position.

A message left for Assistant City Manager Bruce Ure went unreturned as of Monday evening.

O.C. Garza, the city's director of communications, said the city had received about 100 online registrations for the tournament, priced at $100 each with a $3 online convenience fee, totaling around $10,300 in collected fees.

They also received a handful of registrations from people who dropped their registration check and fees off in person.

To have a legal game, all the entry fees were going to be divided among the winners, said Garza.

All participants preregistered for the tournament will be issued full refunds, according to the statement.

Tyler, who said he volunteered his legal opinion to the city, explained his position.

"I hate to be a stick in the mud," he said. "We don't want people to think we are having a poker tournament that is not on the up and up."

Tyler cited Texas Penal Code Section 47.02 subsection B as the legal basis for his argument.

The law details that promoters of a gambling event have a legal defense against the prosecution if the promoter is doing so in a private place; if they do not receive any economic benefit other than personal winnings; and except for the advantage of skill or luck, the risks of losing and the chances of winning are the same for all participants.

"It seemed to me, (Gwosdz) interpreted that all you had to do was meet one requirement not all three," said Tyler.

Tyler said if the tournament had taken place, the players would have been subject to a Class B misdemeanor; while the promoters would be subject to a Class A misdemeanor.

Furthermore, persons involved could be subject to a felony charge of engagement in organized criminal activity if three or more persons collaborated in carrying on criminal activities, as detailed in Texas Penal Code Sections 71.01 and 71.02.

Going through with the tournament also could have had an adverse effect on an ongoing gambling case in which both the city and the Attorney General are involved.

"The reward does not appear to offset the risk," said Tyler. "It took a lot of guts to make the decision they made."

Garza apologized for the effect the canceled tournament would have on tournament registrants.

"Our main concern is for the inconvenience to those who have registered for the tournament," Garza said. "We apologize to anyone for the inconvenience that may have been caused by this cancellation. We hope they will still come down and enjoy themselves anyway."



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