Legal or illegal? Here’s the deal

March 12, 2006

denver & the west
Legal or illegal? Here’s the deal

By Kieran Nicholson
Denver Post Staff Writer

More than 60 poker players fill tables Monday night at the Tailgate Tavern on Mainstreet in Parker, part of The Poker Tour. Participants pay nothing to play, but they can win prizes, which is legal. (Post / John Leyba)
The arrest of 41 people at two social clubs doesn’t seem to have slowed the Texas Hold ‘Em poker craze.

The alleged gamblers are scheduled to appear in Denver court Friday, where most face a petty “gambling” charge and some face a misdemeanor “professional gambling” charge.

But it’s a sure bet that dozens of poker tournaments will be held in Colorado tonight, and the games will continue no matter the outcome of the sting.

So what separates the hundreds of legal poker players and those who were fingerprinted and issued summonses?

It’s the difference between what’s legal and what’s not, authorities say.

“You can gamble in a legal environment or you can gamble in an illegal one,” said Bob Brown of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

The Feb. 11 arrests stemmed from a three-month investigation of two Denver social clubs – Hop Sing Tong, 4130 E. Colfax Ave., and Asian International, 7520 E. Colfax Ave.

Undercover CBI agents sat in on several games and found alleged infractions including:

Games were played for money among people without an established relationship.

The house was taking a $4 cut from each hand.

The games used licensed dealers, a violation of their license.

Informal poker games where friends or colleagues play for nickels, dimes and quarters are legal under Colorado law because players have a “bona fide social relationship,” Brown said. What also makes

Debbie McPherson, 33, of Parker throws in her hand Monday night at the Tailgate Tavern. (Post / John Leyba)

these games legal is that the house (or home owner) doesn’t take a cut.

Even if pots grow substantially larger than nickels and dimes, up to thousands of dollars, these games remain legal as long as the social relationship is valid and there is no cut for the house.

Both clubs hold a city license as “after-hours social clubs,” stating they’re nonprofits and formed for recreational purposes, including playing cards.

Some players who received summonses declined comment and others couldn’t be reached. Club operators could not be reached.

If convicted, the alleged gamblers face up to six months in jail and up to a $500 fine for a petty offense, and up to 18 months in jail and a $5,000 fine
for the misdemeanor, said Lynn Kimbrough of the Denver District Attorney’s Office.At the Tailgate Tavern, on Mainstreet in Parker, more than 60 legal players filled six poker tables Monday night.

Rico Ramirez, co-owner of The Poker Tour, is paid to run Texas Hold ‘Em games at the Tailgate and other businesses.

“We are here to play poker, but we will not play for a single penny,” Ramirez, a retired police officer, told players.

Tournament participants pay nothing to play, but they can win an array of prizes, which is legal.

Not wagering money makes poker tournaments outside the recognized Colorado gambling towns – Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek – both legal and popular.

Some players join for fun; others do it to sharpen their skills.

“I consider poker a sport,” said Dave Hartmann, a dealer with The Poker Tour. “You’re in competition and you sweat.”

Hartmann plays as often as possible, up to 500 hands a day, he said, including online games. Wagering in online poker is against the law in Colorado.

Players at the Tailgate included men and women, young and old. Some wore baseball caps and dark sunglasses, others cowboy hats. Some came with friends, some came to make new friends.

Debbie McPherson of Parker was introduced to poker by her boyfriend.

“I’ve told him he’s created a monster,” McPherson joked. “When I play, it’s all about luck.”

Staff writer Kieran Nicholson can be reached at 303-820-1822 or

One Response to “Legal or illegal? Here’s the deal”

  1. wilbur Says:

    hasta la vista baby!

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