Fighting the good fight:The Salt Lake City Poker Club
As we have reported many times, it isn't always easy in this country to play the game we love. Especially in areas that are more conservative in nature. Salt Lake City fits that description to a 't'. The Mormon Church, and their ideals and agendas, pretty much control Salt Lake City.
So, when brothers Ryan and Matt Nadeau thought about opening a place for people to play poker in SLC, they knew it would be a challenge. Against some of their friends and families advice, they opened the SLC Poker Club last July.
The SLC club is an interesting concept. There are no cash games, as taking a 'rake' would violate local rules. This is strictly a tournament poker facility, where people play for prizes, not cash. It works like this You walk into the club, and plunk down $20 to play in a single table satellite. Many other single table sats are also played that night. All the winners of those shootouts go on to play in the semi finals that night. The winners of the semi-final shootouts come back Monday to play for the prize.
So, what are the prizes? Well, this week the prize is a gas grill. The prizes vary however, and they range from trips to big screen TVs. The SLC club actually sent someone to Aruba for the Ultimate Bet poker classic last year.
As you might imagine, the brothers have run afoul of local authorities, and the local law enforcement 'visit' the club on a regular basis to remind the brothers that they are being watched. While they are within the letter of the law with what they are doing at the SLC Poker Club, the brothers are often harassed by local cops, who issue citations to the club for anything they can think of.
Recently, the brothers have made national news, as a tournament they had scheduled at the University of Utah was shut down by the "U of U" at the last minute, after it became clear it was going to be a huge event (organizers expected entries in the thousands!), and locals complained about use of campus facilities for such an event even though all the correct permits, and approvals had been secured.
I got a chance to speak to SLC Poker Club founder Ryan Nadeau recently to get his take on what was happening with his club, and the challenges of running a card club in the shadow of the Mormon Tabernacle.
PN: Tell me about how the SLC Poker Club is structured, and what a person can expect when they walk in?
Ryan Nadeau: Basically, all our tournaments are shootouts. You win the first shootout, you move on to the semi-finals, and then the finals. Most tournaments are $20 entry, but sometimes for trips and bigger prizes, it can get up to $100. If you win the semi-final shootout, you come back Monday at 8:30pm for the final table. The winner of that final table gets the prize. The top five people at the final table get some kind of prize.
PN: so, do sponsors donate the prizes?
RN: We did that for a little while, but we found out that it didn't have any bearing on the legality of the tournament, so we chose just to purchase the prizes ourselves.
The University of Utah tournament was different, because the Attorney General made the decision on legality. Sponsors were involved, we were going to give out a scholarship. But, that event wasn't really going to be a poker tournament, because at the end of the day, the winner was just going to be chosen by a random drawing, which sucked, but because of legal issues, we had to do it that way.
PN: Do you view the money that the person has to pay upon entry of the SLC Poker Club a service fee, or can you actually call it a buy in.
RN: It is a registration fee for a tournament.
PN: Do people have to come multiple times a week?
RN: No, they don't. We have tables that run from 6pm-midnight four nights a week, and once people win one of those tables, they can come back to play the semi, or final tables on Monday.
PN: So, basically, your profit angle is food & beverage?
RN: We do food & beverage, but the reason we aren't doing as well as some poker clubs is we can't take a rake. So, we have to base the prizes on the amount of buy ins we get. Our prizes are guaranteed, so if we have a $1,000 first prize, and several hundred dollar second thru fifth prizes, we have to make sure we can cover the cost of the prizes through the buy ins.
PN: Does being in Salt Lake make it extra difficult?
RN: Absolutely. This is a LDS (Latter Day Saints Mormons) run town, and that makes everything an extra challenge. So, unfortunately, the legislators, and many of the local government people lean that way, and it has made it extra difficult. They have written articles about the dangers of poker to try to scare people away from the club, and it had been very challenging.
PN: Talk about some of the run ins with the law you have had, and the challenges you've faced in this area.
RN: We've never had the worry about 'OK, we won't be able to open tomorrow.' We are kind of teetering the line legally. We are in a little town called Sandy, Utah, which is just a little South of Salt Lake. The feeling I get is it's kind of like the old West, where we aren't doing anything wrong, but they are going to do what they can to run us out of town. The cops do come in now and again, and write some extremely nit picky tickets, my favorite being an illegal use of land ticket. But we have been able to get the tickets thrown out, and our lawyer has been able to show the judge that these tickets aren't valid. They come in every two weeks, and try another angle to cite us. We haven't paid any fines yet, but our legal fees are piling up. The fact is, they don't want us here, but there isn't much they can do about it.
PN: Tell me about the drama with this University of Utah Tournament you had set up.
RN: We literally were in negotiations, and figuring things out since last September. We wanted to do a tournament in their University Union Ballroom, which is the most trafficked area on campus. We had gotten approvals through every step of the process, the legal department approved us, the managing department of the building approved us. We had secured sponsors for this, and many other events that we were planning on holding. Put the U of U called me up two days before the tournament, and pulled the plug on us. This really hurt us, as we had spent thousands of dollars on advertising, logistics, and many other costs. We actually expected about 5,000 kids to show up. This was going to be a huge event, and we had done a great job promoting it.
Then the U pulls the plug, and couldn't really give us a good reason for it. First, it was a legality issue, which we proved to be false, then they said it was an image issue, with them heading into a state legislative session where they were going to request their funding for the next year, then the problem became that they didn't want an outside vendor coming on campus to take students money, which of course happens all the time.
We weren't going to take it sitting down, so we went to court to try to get a court order to allow the tournament to proceed. The judge wouldn't issue the order, because he said he didn't really have enough evidence. So, the tournament was cancelled, and we are currently pursuing civil litigation against the University.
The consistent theme of what we face is that they don't want us here, but they can't do anything to shut us down. It has been very frustrating.
PN: So, where do go from here with the college events?
RN: We are in negotiations with other Universities. Worst case scenario, we rent a building, or hotel ballroom right next to campus, and do it there. We would have done that for the U of U tournament, but there just wasn't time. We really want to stay in Utah, because this is our home, but they are making it very difficult.
PN: OK, thanks for your time, Ryan
RN: Thank You.
Good luck to the Salt Lake Poker Club, and the many people around the country who find challenges like this when trying to get a game going. You can find out more about Ryan, and his club by going to bigslcpoker.com.
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