Poker players at a Tennessee poker outlet learned their fate this week as Chattanooga District Attorney Neal Pinkston held hearings regarding charges against those patrons.
41 players gathered in front of Pinkston on Thursday as a result of a raid by Chattanooga police in June. Back on June 7, the Chattanooga Police Department raided an establishment called “The Poker Depot” and found a $20 buy in poker tournament in action. 39 of those players were hit with illegal gambling charges and two others were actually taken into custody for other offenses. The June 7 raid netted the Chattanooga authorities an undisclosed amount of cash, marijuana and undisclosed pills and a loaded .22 caliber pistol. Those charged ranged in age from 23 to 68 years old.
To expedite the process, D. A. Pinkston arranged for many of those present for their hearings the opportunity to plead guilty to the charges and face judicial diversion. Judicial diversion allows those charged to have the charge and their plea stricken from their records providing that they meet requirements from the judge and have no previous police record. According to reports from the Chattanooga Times Free Press reporter Kate Harrison, nearly all of the 41 players accepted the deal.
This doesn’t mean that those charged were happy about heading into the courtroom for a simple poker game. Harrison quotes Pamela Wrinkle, who wasn’t arrested in “The Poker Depot” raid but was there to support friends, as saying, “I just don’t see how it is any different than playing the lottery or playing in some big fancy golf tournament.” One of the older patrons arrested that night, 62-year old Melba Yates, was a little more vocal regarding the situation, stating to Harrison, “If they want to bust innocent people, they should go to a Catholic church casino night.”
The laws regarding gambling in the state of Tennessee are pretty explicit in what is allowed. “Any sort of gambling, any sort of game of chance, is illegal,” Chattanooga police spokesman Officer Nathan Hartwig explained to Harrison. Tennessee law does allow for charities to host one gaming event per year for fundraising, with raffles, reverse raffles, cakewalks and cake wheels falling into that category. Bingo, pull tabs, punchboards, keno and “games of chance associated with casinos” remain unauthorized, according to state law.
It seems that poker in the Volunteer State has been garnering more press than usual as of late. Prior to the June 7 bust at “The Poker Depot,” an April Chattanooga police raid resulted in a gun battle between one of the patrons and the police. In that instance, Clifford Billups pulled a gun against authorities, who proceeded to shoot him. Billups is facing attempted murder charges along with gambling charges from the raid while others involved in the poker game have pled guilty or had their charges dismissed.
In July, a group of players filed a class action lawsuit against the Chattanooga Billiard Club and its owner, Phil Windham, for canceling a series of poker tournaments. In that complaint, players participated in a free weekly poker game, earning points for their finishes in each event, towards a monthly tournament and eventually an annual event.
In late spring, Windham allegedly stated that the weekly and monthly tournaments would end following the annual tournament, which was slated to be held this month and would offer cash payouts with a prize pool dependent on the weekly events and its participation numbers.
Supposedly, Windham decided to not even have the annual event; he is alleged to have said in the complaint, “I am not going to put out any more money for poker. It is my money and I am going to keep it.”
Of course, this forced the 70 or so players to file an eight count complaint against Windham for various acts of misrepresentation, among other charges. The players are seeking financial compensation from Windham but the case has yet to be heard in the Tennessee court system.
This is a reprint from pokernewsdaily.com to view the original, click here.