What has become a popular concept both in the USA and Canada over the past years, the free play bar poker league, where tournaments are organized in bars and restaurants has recently become under fire by police authorities in Florida.
The poker league organizers are usually paid a fee by member sports bars and restaurants to organize tournaments in the hopes of drawing in crowds of customers to those establishments to boost the sale of food and drinks during the tournaments. Depending on the league, points are awarded to players based on tournament rankings and the winners of the tournaments could win prizes such as gift certificates, chip sets, pre-paid credit cards, small gadgets, or even trips to larger tournaments are awarded at the end of a season to the season’s overall tournament champion.
Generally, the legality of these leagues is rarely in question because there is no money exchange being made and the prizes are not significant in value. But nobody really knows why after years of existence, the authorities finally decided to put the league on their radar.
As part of an ongoing investigation called “Operation Cracked Aces” by the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and local police authorities, on October 20, approximately 140 players were participating in a tournament organized by the Nutz Poker League at Louie’s Grill and Sports Bar when law enforcement officers raided the place. According to a player in the bar, it was like something out of a bad movie, with masks and guns out and they made everyone feel like we were really criminals. The Nutz Poker League organize tournaments at bars in the greater Tampa area in Florida for the past three years.
The owner and five employees of the Nutz Poker League were arrested in the raid and charged with working for a gambling house, and the owner of Louie’s Grill and Sports Bar was charged with keeping a gambling house.
According to an article in the Tampa Bay Times, a local State Attorney Joshua Riba was quoted stating that the free leagues do violate the state’s gaming laws by offering prizes. “If they are playing cards, and they have an opportunity to win something of value, then they are technically violating gambling statutes. The statute itself does not require anybody to ante in.”
It will be interesting to see what happens with this case and if other similar arrests will follow in Florida and maybe other states.