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Cops crack down on poker tourneys
Game licence exclusive to casinos

By Nancy Boutin STAFF WRITER

The authorities hold all the cards when it comes to poker tournaments.
The Rotary Club of Norfolk Sunrise found that out the hard way, when police from the Illegal Gambling Unit contacted them to say that if they proceeded with a charitable Texas Hold ‘Em tournament, they’d be raided.
Under the Criminal Code, only large-scale casinos can hold poker events, even if the money is destined for charity.
“If you run an event and collect money and it goes to charity, it is illegal,” said OPP Det. Staff Sgt. Clint Hunter, of the Orillia-based Illegal Gambling Unit.
David Douglas, media chairman of the Rotary Club, said the club had no idea its fundraiser was illegal. Douglas added the club checked with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, and was given no indication they couldn’t hold the tournament. But that’s because the OLGC has no jurisdiction in that regard. The Alcohol and Gaming Commission is the governing body, and it doesn’t issue licences for poker events, even charitable ones.
By letter of the law, poker can only be played for entertainment purposes in an environment where no gain can be made, like the sale of food or drink, and no money exchanged.
Police found out about the Rotary Club of Norfolk’s poker tournament when they saw a piece of promotional material on it.
For the club, the inability to hold the tournament not only means the loss of thousands of dollars which would have gone to organizations like Coats for Kids and the Rotary International Youth Exchange, it leaves the club in the red, on the hook for the tickets and promotional materials already printed.

“I’m not surprised the police are cracking down on them (Texas Hold ‘Em tournaments),” said Patty Phelps, assistant curator at Annandale National Historic Site. “They have really strict gaming laws.”
A few years back, Annandale added a casino theme night to its list of fundraising events. But Phelps said pains were been taken to ensure the event was legal, and run according to Alcohol and Gaming Act regulations.
What makes Annandale’s casino night legal, is that patrons who take part never buy anything, nor do they play with or for real money. People who come out make a donation to the museum, for which the museum gives them a gift of “funny money. They use the fake funds to play throughout the evening.
“Our funny money had no value,” said Phelps. “People weren’t playing with real money, and we had no poker at ours (fundraiser).”
Annandale also had all the required licences in place.
But not every organization is as in-the-know about the legality of events involving gaming. A local organization did host a fundraising Texas Hold ‘Em tournament a year or two back, but according to the group’s past president, discontinued the event after being notified by their governing body that such events were illegal.
Although the rules governing poker games are not new, the widespread popularity of the game both on television and online, is suddenly thrusting the issue into the spotlight.
Dennis Harwood, community service officer for the Ontario Provincial Police, Tillsonburg detachment, said he doesn’t believe service clubs and charitable organizations are willfully setting out to break the law by organizing these types of events. Rather, they’re simply not thinking things through.
“Any time you get into any type of gaming, you get into permits,” he said. “For bingo, you have permits. For Nevada, you have permits. And why don’t you have one for poker games? Because you can’t get one. I think most times it’s a case of people not asking the appropriate questions (when organizing fundraisers).”
Harwood said his advice to any group considering a fundraiser involving any kind of gaming, is to speak to a lawyer specializing in gaming issues. People also need to be aware, he said, that what happens in other places, doesn’t necessarily happen in Ontario.
“Just because they do it in the US doesn’t make it right here.”
The News attempted to reach the president and vice-president of the local Rotary Club for comment, but was unable to reach them by press time.




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