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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Free poker still illegal: Greensboro tournaments cancelled

The Red Oak brew pub (
The Red Oak brew pub (

Senior Christopher Imms walked into Red Oak BrewPub at 7 p.m. on March 3 to sign up for his favorite weekly activity: a free Texas Hold’em poker tournament. But Imms was confounded when he learned that the game had been cancelled. The reason: Red Oak discovered that the free game was illegal.

“When I found out they weren’t doing it anymore, I was angry. Especially when I found out why,” Imms said. “I was shocked because I never thought that at all.”

Red Oak cancelled the game because the Alcohol Law Enforcement agency (ALE) busted Ham’s Restaurant the previous night for the same type of free poker tournament.

“Because Ham’s has an ABC license, it falls squarely in our jurisdiction,” said ALE assistant supervisor Alan Fields.

The ALE received a complaint that Ham’s was hosting gambling tournaments and sent five undercover agents to play poker the next Wednesday night to assess the legality of the situation.

The agents concluded that the tournaments satisfy the three elements of illegal gambling defined by North Carolina law:

1. Game of chance-any game based on luck is a game of chance.

2. Consideration for anything of value-money or anything worth money is being won or lost from the game.

3. Prize-anything of value given as a reward.

The game of chance was Texas Hold’em, and gift certificates were given to winners as prizes, as well as the eventual grand prize-a $10,000 trip to the World Series of Poker.

The consideration of value is what confuses people, because the game was free, but ALE cited the money Ham’s paid 5th Street Entertainment for the poker supplies and promotion as the violation.

“People think of money on the table when they think of illegal gambling,” Fields said. “This was a little different, but essentially the substance was the same.”

Bingo fulfills the three elements too but is legal for nonprofit organizations like churches, or if the prizes do not exceed $10 in value.

At Ham’s, ALE seized the promoter’s equipment, including six poker tables and over 40 bags of poker chips. “It was very low key,” Fields said.

On March 9, ALE issued charges against Ham’s Corporation, 5th Street Entertainment, and two people that worked for 5th Street. The charges qualify as a class two misdemeanor, which could mean as much as two years in prison.

“But I would be surprised if anyone got any jail time out of this,” said Fields.

Ham’s declined to comment for legal reasons, but the News and Records reported a statement by Ham’s spokesman Greg Stephens: “Ham’s Restaurants were assured by the promotions company that an opinion had been issued by ALE that this form of entertainment is in no way a violation of any gaming or ALE regulations.”

But those who played each week were less concerned with who is to blame and more so with why the games had to be shut down.

“It’s all about psychology and bluffing the other players,” Imms said, “It has nothing to do with winning money and it’s not a game of chance.”

“Everyone was just playing for fun. I would play with no prize, and I know 30, maybe 40 other people who would too.”

Imms’s suggestion would evade the three components of gambling because: “the gambling statutes require that all three elements be met for it to be considered a violation,” Fields said.

However, there is another statute that makes possession of gaming tables illegal in North Carolina. “Any table at which a game of chance is played is guilty of a class two misdemeanor,” said Fields.

But while this technically could include private home games, Fields said they primarily respond to complaints and businesses with ABC licenses.

“We enforce the laws,” Fields said. “If we get complaints of it occurring, we are going to investigate.”

To quote a court statement: “It is the character of an activity which determines what it really is, not what the parties choose to call it.”

“Maybe it’s time to reorganize what we think are games of chance,” Imms said.

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