Martha Coakley, the Massachusetts Attorney General, recently put regulations into place that will make gambling at Internet cafes illegal in the state. Police officers raided multiple businesses statewide and found that gambling was taking place in these locations, which is contrary to state laws.
Coakley is not stopping there. After introducing the new regulations, the AG’s office stated intentions to increase criminal investigations against all illegal gambling facilities, saying these establishments were “illegal when they started, and they are illegal now.”
Judges, law enforcement agencies and AGs in other states are stepping up the enforcement of anti-gaming laws nationwide. As reported in last month’s Ante Up, federal prosecutors in Maryland and New York were the authorities behind the shutdown of online poker. Owners and operators of casinos in Alabama are on trial facing federal charges in relation to the operation of electronic bingo games. In Florida, a county judge in Miami and a federal judge in Orlando have rendered verdicts against gambling facilities, and local officials are in the process of passing ordinances to reign in Internet cafes all around the Sunshine State. Police officers in New York arrested seven people in relation to an underground gambling operation after evidence from a string of armed robberies led officers to an apartment where gamblers would play mahjong, a popular casino game in the Asian community.
But what does this mean for the poker player? Now is the time to stay clear of illegal backroom poker operations.
Everyone in the poker world has seen Rounders, where Matt Damon’s character, Mike McDermott, plays in a high-stakes game under less-than-legally-sanctioned circumstances. In the end McDermott wins a ton of money and goes home without a care in the world. In real life, backroom players could go “home” to a 10×10 cell and face serious criminal charges. All for doing nothing more than playing cards in an unsanctioned environment.
No one wants to end up like one of the 23 players in Tennessee who appeared before a Hamilton County judge this month on gambling-related charges. As reported in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the men participated in a six-week hold’em tournament in an office suite. During one of the sessions, police raided the building and arrested them. Though the charges didn’t turn out to be terribly expensive or time-consuming for these players (most chose to plead out their case and receive a 30-day suspended sentence and pay a small fine), they were nonetheless embarrassed and frustrated by the process.
While law enforcement officers and gaming regulators are on the lookout for illegal gambling, there are legal, local cardrooms in almost every jurisdiction of the United States, many of whom advertise in this magazine. By playing in one these lawful facilities, and avoiding the illegal backroom gambling dens, you’re assured to stay on the right side of the law and out of the county jail.
Losing a hand playing cards is one thing, ending up in handcuffs is quite another. To make sure the only thing at risk is your bankroll, and not your freedom, it is important to stay clear of illegal gaming operations.
— Marc W. Dunbar represents several gaming clients before the Florida Legislature and teaches gambling and parimutuel law at the Florida State’s College of Law. Follow him on Twitter (@FLGamingWatch) or his website (floridagamingwatch.com).