Talking Stick Resort is hosting the Arizona State Poker Championship this week, but the game is making headlines in Phoenix for an uglier reason.
Three men are facing charges for running an illegal gambling operation at a venue called Poker Union, Garrett Mitchell of The Arizona Republic reported. Ashour Odisho, Esho Odisho, and Bruce Lord each had their initial court appearances Monday and face a variety of counts such as illegal control of a criminal enterprise and promoting gambling.
Five were arrested in the Thursday sting, which came after a year-long investigation, according to Graig Graziosi of The Arizona Republic. The raid was conducted in conjunction with the Arizona Department of Gaming.
The Poker Union website, which advertises itself as "The No. 1 Private Poker Club in the Valley," openly lists the address of the members-only club and a number of poker offerings. A weekly tournament schedule is listed with buy-ins between $20 and $100. "Nightly live games" at $1/2 and "afternoon $2/5" games are also advertised.
Legal poker offerings are available only in Arizona casinos, something the Poker Union is adamant should not be the case.
"We will champion the cause of the Poker Players Alliance that poker is a sport; a game of skill more than mere chance or dumb luck, and not gambling in the same vein as other casino games where the house has an active stake and decidedly advantageous odds," a sidebar on the website says. "Poker was played in Arizona long before casinos took over the game and claimed it as their own. It is time we take back what has always been ours and reclaim a game enjoyed around the world by men and women of every age, race and creed."
Department of Gaming officials have a different point-of-view. They allege that Poker Union was collecting as much as an estimated $10,000 per week in rake during the year it was open.
"One of the things that made it illegal — versus your normal poker game that you might have at your own home — is the business was profiting off of the folks that were in here playing poker," a department spokeswoman said. "No matter win or lose, the business would typically take a portion of the money."
Lord and the Odishos were released on their own recognizance and are next scheduled to appear in court Aug. 25. PokerNews reached out to Poker Union for comment but multiple phone calls were met only by a busy signal.
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