The Illinois Liquor Control Commission is cracking down on bars that host poker tournaments, even if no one is actually gambling.
Up until a few weeks ago, Don Signore spent several nights a week playing Texas Hold 'Em poker in a league that rotates among south suburban bars and restaurants.
The poker league was a nice social outlet for Signore, 44, helping him get back in circulation after his wife died two years ago. Signore never lost any money during the games. He never even wagered any.
In an effort to stay within the bounds of Illinois' gambling laws, organizers of the poker league charge no fee to play in their tournaments, ban wagering and offer only nominal prizes to the winners such as gift certificates from the host establishment.
This apparently was too close to the real thing for state authorities, who promptly shut the tournaments down.
Rather than trying to sort out those playing poker for fun from those playing poker for money, they say it makes more sense to simply prohibit poker tournaments in liquor establishments.
"Usually when you're playing poker, you're gambling," says Ted Penesis, a spokesman for the liquor commission.
Dan Kawa, president of 3 of a Kind Poker Inc., says he's been trying for a couple of years to convince state officials of the legality of his poker tournament operation. But they tell him to save his breath.
If state investigators find an organized poker tournament being conducted in a liquor establishment, they're going to issue a citation. They're not going to wait around to sort out the particulars.
Listen, appearances count," Penesis says. "The appearance is that gambling is occurring, even if it's not. That's the problem."
I guess Illinois bars should be prohibited from showing televisted horse racing, or holding darts or billiards tournaments, too. Obligatory link to the Illinois Lottery here.