Texas Poker in the Crosshairs as Authorities Raid Pair of Houston Clubs
On Wednesday, the law came down hard on a pair of Texas poker rooms.
Around 11 a.m., Houston's Post Oak Poker Club and Prime Social Poker Club were raided by authorities and nine people arrested. Prime Social owner Dean Maddox and General Manager Brent Pollack were both led out in handcuffs just before a five-day, $150K GTD tournament was about to take place at their establishment. Also arrested were assistant GM Steven Farshid and comptroller Mary Switzer.
Over at the Post Oak Poker club, co-owners Daniel Kebort, Alan Chodrow, Kevin Chodrow, Sergio Cabrera, and William Heuer were all arrested.
Charges levied against them include money laundering, gambling promotion, and engaging in organized criminal activity.
"We got two of the bigger ones today and this is just the beginning. We need to shut them down."
"Poker rooms are illegal in Texas," District Attorney Kim Ogg said in a written statement. "We are changing the paradigm regarding illegal gambling by moving up the criminal chain and pursuing felony money laundering and engaging in organized crime charges against owners and operators."
According to reports, the raids were the results of a two-year investigation that included undercover police officers posing as players. The Houston Chronicle reports that documents state undercover officers "were asked to pay a membership fee, a door fee and a fee to play at a poker table."
Texas poker rooms have operated in a gray area where they function in a similar fashion to a country club on a membership model. Players simply play a fee and play. The club doesn't take a rake, instead driving revenue throughout memberships and hourly fees.
According to Texas law, poker is only allowed if it meets the following requirements:
- No person received economic benefits other than personal winnings.
- Gambling must be in a private place.
- Except for the advantage of skill or luck, the risks of losing and the chances of winning were the same for all participants.
That said, the rapid rise of the rooms, and the problems that came along with it including a lawsuit between Austin and San Antonio clubs, as well as a high-profile shooting, were sure to catch the attention of authorities.
"We cannot allow illegal gambling to go on," Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said in a written statement. "It drives organized crime and fuels other criminal activity."
He continued: "We're not going to tolerate it. We got two of the bigger ones today and this is just the beginning. We need to shut them down. If you want to have these kind of establishments, the legislature needs to authorize it, otherwise we're going to do our job and shut them down."
Since 2017, authorities claim $10 million in bank deposits have been made by the clubs. Those funds are now frozen and face seizure.
Poker Players Left Hanging
The raids came at an inopportune time for Prime Social players, many of whom had registered for that day's tournament. Their buy-ins, as well as all chips in play, became worthless when authorities entered and froze all assets.
"Nobody seems to know anything right now, so that's kind of why I came over here to try to find out," said poker player Sean Maggio. "I feel shocked like they took something away from me."
One thing authorities did make clear was that players were not being targeted, rather they were after the owner and operators.
Wayne Dolcefino, a consultant for Prime Social, believes the raid was unnecessary given the club operates above the board and has done charity work for the community.
"They don't take a penny out of that money," he said according to Click2Houston. "I just don't believe the guys that I know have done anything wrong. And I believe they've been very, very meticulous about the way they keep records."
Several other clubs operate around the state, and while it's business as usual for them as of now, the recent crackdown at Post Oak and Prime Social are sure to have consequences for the entire Texas poker-playing community.
Lead image: Post Oak Poker Club Facebook.