Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Posted by Johnnymac 1:57 PM
I don't guess I have ever given my opinion on the whole bar-tournament thing, but I think I am rather contrarian from most other people because I think it is indeed illegal and is rightly so. The first bar tournament I have ever heard of was about a year ago when someone told me of a weekly tournament at Sidelines Sports Bar downtown. At first I figured that it totally was a mistake - that somehow it wasn't for real money or something like that - but then I realized that they were really playing for money and having regular poker tournaments. Now, with the news of the Yorkshire bust last night, my only response is really to ask, what took so long?

Look, I love poker. And I love gambling in general and naturally, I love casinos. But I don't want them in Houston or in Texas and this is the crux of my point - I don't think gambling should in any way be sanctioned by the state, and in not cracking down on these bar tournaments the TABC would be implicitly sanctioning their existence.

I think gambling, poker included, attracts people from the worst segments of society and preys on people who the can least afford to be wasting money at a game they cannot possibly win. For this very reason, I hate state lotteries and casino "initatives", because they are, in essence, a tax on poor and undereducated people and these types of fundraising schemes are banking on the desperation and dreams of poor people who literally don't know any better. Now, some people certainly can afford to gamble for recreational purposes and they should be allowed to do as they please. But if someone can afford to waste money gambling, and really, I think we can all agree that all forms of gambling except poker and sports betting is a waste, then they can also afford to buy a plane ticket to Las Vegas. The people to whom slot machines and lotteries are targeted cannot afford a trip to Las Vegas, yet the state feels these are the people around whom to increase the tax base? This is wrong.

Now, there probably seems to be a lot of inconsistency in this post and my professed poker habit. I disagree. I think that poker is fine, so long as the "private place" and "income" rules are strictly interpretted and adhered to, because in these instances the game becomes a private transaction between willing individuals and thus the state has no vested interest. Having a poker tournament at someone's house and paying back all of the entry fees as prize money is fine. Having a private poker game in the garage is fine. But the Yorkshire Pub is definitely not a private place, and I think it's quite clear that the place would not have been sponsoring poker tournaments had they not been expecting to attract increased food and drink business. How is the TABC position incorrect?

I think that we can all agree that alcohol is dangerous in many ways, and as such, its production and distribution, and the consequences thereof (ie drunk driving), should be regulated by the government. As far as gambling goes, alchohol and gambling is a volatile mix. I think everyone reading this post knows of a time or instance or even a regular occurrence where frustration or disappointment and negative actions stemming from a poker game was exacerbated by the presence of alcohol.

Knowing this, the TABC in its duties has a vested role in regulating the safety of bars and nightclubs and is probably in no hurry to introduce such a volatile ingredient into the mix. Furthermore, just as the TABC "guarantees" the safety and purity of the alcohol being served, who can be expected to regulate the fairness of the game? The TABC certainly has no jurisdiction or expertise in regulating gaming devices. Suppose that the operator of a bar tournament was suspected of cheating. Who would the, hypothetically legal, patrons complain to? The non-existent Texas Gaming Commission?

All of this boils down to the difference between private and public activities, and as the poker boom increasingly pushes the boundary, the state increasingly has a duty to clamp down. A bar is not a private place - by definition it is a public place - and bar owners are not running tournaments out of the goodness of their hearts. Anyone who shows up can play and the bar makes more money because more people show up. Therefore, according to existing laws, these tournaments are illegal. I know this is an unpopular position on this blog, but I say the TABC was right in busting the Yorkshire Pub. Allowing the tourneys to continue would be a quasi-sanctioning of an activity that is detrimental to the general welfare of the people of the state of Texas.

I have a few more thoughts on the subject, specifically pertaining to the legality of internet gambling and cardrooms (I think they're both closer to being legal than the Yorkshire Pub), but I'll stop for now.

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