Charges dropped against 5 in free poker league raid

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Charges against five of seven people arrested during a Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco raid on a Nutz Poker League event in October have been dropped, charges against the other two have been reduced and might be dropped as well.

At a pre-trial hearing Monday at the Pinellas County Criminal Justice Center in Clearwater, Fla., the Florida State Attorney’s Office submitted “no information” filings, clearing five people of felony charges in the raid. Felony charges against the remaining two, who own Nutz Poker League, were reduced to misdemeanors, and the two are scheduled for a second pre-trial hearing on Jan. 11.

“By the next hearing date, it will be determined whether there is any merit to support the charges under a strict application of the gambling statutes, and, if so, then Mr. Danford and Mr. Wheeler will be given the option of participating in the pretrial intervention program, which, if they successfully complete, their charges will be dismissed,” said Luke Lirot, who represents the seven who were arrested.

A number of Nutz Poker League supporters, as well as representatives of another Florida free poker league, attended the brief hearing.

On Oct. 20, agents from the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, assisted by City of Largo police officers, raided Louie’s Bar & Grill in Largo and arrested the seven on charges of running a house of gambling. Players who were present for the raid said agents wore riot gear, masks and had guns drawn.

Nutz Poker League, like dozens of other poker leagues in Florida, is an entertainment company that bars and restaurants hire to offer free poker tournaments in their venues. Players do not pay cash to play, but compete for prizes or points that are good for prizes..

The Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco hasn’t issued a statement on the case, nor released any information on the raid or its investigation. In response to request for comment on Tuesday, the division referred Ante Up Magazine to the State Attorney’s Office.