Poker Game Bust May Lead To More Crackdowns

Games Where Poker Players Pay To Win Are Illegal In Colorado

Authorities say it was a professional gambling operation, but the man who organized it called it a friendly poker party.

Two dozen people playing Texas Hold 'Em were arrested at a restaurant in Palmer Lake Tuesday night on misdemeanor gambling charges. The Villa restaurant had used its dining tables for Tuesday evening poker parties since December.

The restaurant owner now faces a felony charge for allegedly running the poker operation but he claims he merely provided the players a place to play.

"These games are going on everywhere. I mean, they're all over Denver, they're all over Colorado Springs. What they did was they picked a small town and a small place and they want to make an example of us. I guess we'll see how it turns out. We maintain we did nothing wrong," said Villa restaurant owner Jeff Holtzman.

The head of the Colorado Division of Gaming said unregulated, for-profit poker games are illegal and that the Palmer Lake players knew that what they were doing was wrong.

Liquor and gaming agents say Tuesday's bust is just the beginning of their statewide crackdown, and that has some players who play for more than fun a little uneasy.

A poker tournament at Chopper's in Cherry Creek Wednesday night was completely legal because no one paid to play.

"Anytime you pay or risk something of value for the chance of winning something, by definition, you are engaged in gambling," said Matt Cook, with Colorado's gambling and liquor enforcement agency.

And in Colorado, gambling is illegal except in casinos but that doesn't mean it doesn't take place.

Most of the poker players at Choppers know of bars that host illegal games and some say they have even played in them. Knowing that state agents are taking this law seriously has these players thinking twice.

"I think it's common for people to do. It's just not something that you should do in a bar," said poker player Katie Metheson.

"It's kind of scary because you never know who you are playing with, it could be an undercover cop," said poker player Craig Dozier.

If you end up getting caught playing poker illegally and it's your first offense, you'll face a fine. But if it's your second offense or if you're the one hosting the game, it's a felony, and that means possible jail time.

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