Now Illegal: The Appearance of Gambling

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.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    This site has a tendency to make me very bitter.

  • VM||

    dammit. now that stoopid jingle is in my head.
    Illinois Lottery - have a ball

    ARGH!

  • ||

    Yeah, but all of those lottery funds go to education!

    Really.

  • ||

    The real reason, in my opinion, is that the State is expanding gambling casinos to try and plug the massive budget gap...if people are allowed spend their time in bars playing poker (if not their money), then that competes with the time they might spend in casions...and thus the take for the state...in other words, in Illinois you have to wager when you play poker, and if you wager, you have to do it at a state approved gambling facility. Perfect political logic.

  • ||

    Jesus H Christ drawing to an inside straight! Fuck me running. I should be surprise, but I always am whenever agents of the state come right out and say "The law is just a tool for us to use against you, never to be used against us. It doesn't matter in the least what it actually says."

  • ||

    Yes, I'm sure all that poker is being played without gambling...nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

    Poker is an amazingly dull game without the gambling aspect.

    Even if are against laws restricting gambling, you gotta admit that the whole "we're not gambling, we're just playing poker" claim is pretty dubious.

  • ||

    gaijin,
    I don't think pretend gambling takes anything away from actual gambling. I think it has more to do with how much the establishment donates to the PD retirement fund.

  • ||

    I find it amusing that the bureaucrat trying to shut this down is name Ted Penis. What an appropriate name.

  • ||

    This won't matter in three months as the bars will all be empty anyway (see Illinois smoking ban). I'm just glad our governor isn't some fascist Republican...

  • ||

    Poker isn't really "gambling" in the strictest sense of the word anyway. It's really a game of skill, especially when compared to games like blackjack or craps (or the fucking lottery, which is just a tax on stupidity).

  • J & E||

    I hate Illinois (Gambling) Nazis

  • Daniel||

    Do you have some actual information to refute the claim that it's strictly cards, no money, or just total obstinacy to believe the state over a business? Spare us your usual schtick that Reason = corporatist shill.

    Daniel

  • ||

    "Usually when you're playing poker, you're gambling," says Ted Penesis, a spokesman for the liquor commission.

    Yeah! And 99% of the time, when you punch somebody's face in it's assault, so forget about any niggling exceptions for this so-called "boxing" stuff. Too much work to sort it out.

  • ||

    I guess Illinois bars should be prohibited from showing televisted horse racing, or holding darts or billiards tournaments, too.

    I've got a great idea! Since the #1 gambling event in the U.S., if not the world, is the Super Bowl, let's issue citations to bars that show the event in their establishments. Anyone with an IQ above room temperature knows there is gambling occuring with the owners acquiescence. Of course the pool tables have got to go as well. If anyone at the ABC thinks that there is an appearance of gambling, like people trying to win, issue a citation. I've got more news for these puritanical goons, that B over the sixth frame on the overhaed projected bowling scorecard indicates gambling as well.

    Jeez, anti gambling people should be at the seashore, trying to stop the tide from coming in. They'd be just as sucessful.

  • ed||

    So church bingo will be next, correct?

  • Colonel Renault||

    I am pleased. PLEASED to find that there is no gambling going on hier.

  • ||

    Classic Illinois. (Hell, we don't even need divided government to have gridlock! Cue Mike, Emil, and Rod)

  • Anonymo the Anonymous||

    ... and usually when you pass a law, you're oppressing me for no good reason, so preemptive raids on all legislative bodies! I like this logic.

  • ||

    Do you have some actual information to refute the claim that it's strictly cards, no money, or just total obstinacy to believe the state over a business?

    The state seems to be taking the position that poker = gambling despite the participants claim that they're playing a popular game that has no point aside from gambling.

    So no, I don't have any evidence of money changing hands, I'm just suggesting that the idea of guys getting together on a regular basis to play wager-free poker fails the laugh test.

  • ||

    From the folks at Wikipedia, "A player's chance of winning on one number is one in 1,000. In illegal numbers games, depending on time and place, winning on most numbers may pay off as high as 800 to 1 or as low as 600 to 1."

    From the folks at the Illinois State Lottery, Pick 3, 500 to 1.

    Now that's what I call government efficiency!

  • ||

    Dan T.
    Hey, how's it going? How's the wife and kids? Hope all is well with you. I'm doing great. If it's not too much trouble, please shut the fuck up. Thanks

    Best regards
    Warren

  • ||

    Really, I think the logic of this Penis(is) fellow has great potential: he says its good to ban not for money poker because it makes it too hard to determine if for money poker is occurring. So, lets also ban singles bars (how can you tell the prostitutes from the free women) and tobacco stores (cigs look like joints), candy shops (look too much like pills) and ... well the list is endless isnt it? A nanny-staters dream come true.

    Skallagrim

  • ||

    Dan Kawa, president of 3 of a Kind Poker Inc

    So this guy actually has an incorporated business for the purpose of sponsoring no-wager, no-fee poker tournaments? How exactly does that business plan work?

  • Franklin Harris||

    I'm just suggesting that the idea of guys getting together on a regular basis to play wager-free poker fails the laugh test.



    But you don't, Dan. You will always be laughable.

  • ||

    Oops, I forgot to switch back to Dan T!

  • ||

    Spare us your usual schtick that Reason = corporatist shill.


    Qua?

  • ||

    My guess, Dan, is that they come and drink a lot at his bar while they sit there playing poker

  • thoreau||

    I'm not against gambling. Just illegal gambling. It puts native American tribes out of work.

  • Jennifer||

    Travelers can no longer have sex in Illinois hotel rooms, either. Sure, they might be a boring old married couple on vacation, but hotel-room sex has the appearance of prostitution.

  • Ellie||

    I hate Illinois (Gambling) Nazis

    J & E is my pretend internet lover for the day.

  • ||

    The problem with this line of thought is that currently, all over Illinois bars, there are video poker / video slot machines (like Cherry Master) that are labeled "for entertainment purposes only" that regularly get paid out by the bar to patrons who win. Illinois residents know this, law enforcement agencies know this, and the regulators know this (since they sometimes do raids)

    Why are these allowed if the "appearance of gambling" is so fucking important.

  • ||

    thoreau,
    Interesting theory. I wonder if Mike P would agree.

  • ||

    The state seems to be taking the position that poker = gambling despite the participants claim that they're playing a popular game that has no point aside from gambling.

    So no, I don't have any evidence of money changing hands, I'm just suggesting that the idea of guys getting together on a regular basis to play wager-free poker fails the laugh test.


    What fails the laugh test is your reasoning abilities.

    The poker tournaments in question have prizes that you can win. Like a $50 gift certificate and a little trophy. They are actually a poker league where they keep track of how well you do and award the prizes to the winners at the end of the leagues season.

    The bars love these things because it gets patrons to stay there for a long time and order food and drink from the bar.

    Could potentially some actual gambling go on? Sure. But it could happen on darts and pool and air hockey as well, yet they aren't banning pool tables and dart boards. ( In fact I can't remember the last time I saw people playing pool in a bar or pool hall and a wager wasn't involved)

  • ||

    Just to add what I know about bar poker, we have leagues where I live at many different bars and they are all free to enter, and the winnings range from nothing to maybe $100 for first place out of 50 to 100 people. And bars pay the poker companies to set up the poker leagues. Obviously if you get 50 to 100 people on what would normally be a dead Tuesday night, all or most buying drinks, the bar is going to make money and will be glad to give the poker company a cut.

  • ||

    I've got a great idea! Since the #1 gambling event in the U.S., if not the world, is the Super Bowl, let's issue citations to bars that show the event in their establishments

    Better yet, let's just shut down the Superbowl. After all, you can't gamble on something that doesn't exist...

  • ||

    So this guy actually has an incorporated business for the purpose of sponsoring no-wager, no-fee poker tournaments? How exactly does that business plan work?

    The bars pay the guy who runs the league to play at their bars. The bars profit because the poker players eat and drink at said bars. I believe there might be an entry fee as well for the league / tournament.

    It's a win win for everyone. No wonder the state wants to stomp it out

  • tijjer||

    Dan, I've trolled plenty a forum in my day, dating back to the prehistoric AOL chat rooms. One thing that I found is that constant, unrelenting contrarianism is actually counterproductive. Just espousing a position opposite of public opinion 100% of the time makes you a bleating irritation in the background, a human alarm clock. People just hit snooze.

    Much more satisfying, I've found, is to go with the flow for a little while, to entice people into thinking that you're actually reasonable sometimes, and then spring the trap on a particularly juicy topic. The inflammatory shot with a betrayal chaser is a potent mix, and really a lot more likely to cause chaos and anger.

    Not a sermon, just a thought.

  • jimmydageek||

    "Usually when you're playing poker, you're gambling," says Ted Penesis, a spokesman for the liquor commission.



    Switch around the e and the i with the s separating them...what a dick...nuff said.

  • Anonymo the Anonymous||

    Much more satisfying, I've found, is to go with the flow for a little while, to entice people into thinking that you're actually reasonable sometimes, and then spring the trap on a particularly juicy topic.

    He tries this like once a month. Everyone praises his cogent, thoughtful points for like a day, then it's back to douchebaggery.

  • ||

    He tries this like once a month. Everyone praises his cogent, thoughtful points for like a day, then it's back to douchebaggery.

    It's all about mixing it up and keeping things fresh.

    Not being a douche all the time gets boring

  • ||

    Are Bridge tournaments also illegal or is there something particularly unlawful about poker?

  • Fluffy||

    I'm happy to concede Dan's point that there may in fact be gambling going on in conjunction with these events.

    If there is in fact gambling going on, let the state prove it in a court of law, and then punish the perpetrators.

    Not that I'm saying I support laws against gambling, because I don't. But the way it's supposed to work in this country is that the state is supposed to need EVIDENCE OF WRONGDOING before it can take some enforcement action.

    These people admit they have no evidence of wrongdoing, but want to be allowed to take their enforcement action anyway.

    I really shouldn't read this site as much as I do, because when I read stuff like this I wish harm on people. Like the SCOTUS judges who started all of this "the state has an interest in preventing the appearance of impropriety" crap.

  • Mike Laursen||

    Listen, appearances count," Penesis says. "The appearance is that gambling is occurring, even if it's not. That's the problem."

    What, are they afraid Illinois is going to look bad when Indiana comes by for a visit?

  • ||

    Listen, appearances count," Penesis says. "The appearance is that gambling is occurring intelligence is present, even if it's not. That's the problem."

    There. Fixed the quote.

  • ||

    Not that I'm saying I support laws against gambling, because I don't. But the way it's supposed to work in this country is that the state is supposed to need EVIDENCE OF WRONGDOING before it can take some enforcement action.

    Bingo! or, um.. I mean...

  • ||

    Better yet, let's just shut down the Superbowl. After all, you can't gamble on something that doesn't exist...

    Excellent point. I'm embarrassed I didn't reach that,oh so logical, conclusion myself. Larry, you and I should get a job in government. Either writing legislation or interpreting it with regulations. As a team, we'd be unstoppable.

  • Joshua Holmes||

    Yes, I'm sure all that poker is being played without gambling...nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

    I play in a no-gambling bar poker league. The fun is in winning, just like billiards, rec softball, or any other money-free competition.

    Poker is an amazingly dull game without the gambling aspect.

    Nothing could be duller than your posts.

  • ||

    Does anyone else get the impression that Penesis isn't playing with a full deck?

  • Mike Laursen||

    tijjer, Dan T might accept the constructive criticism if you mix in a little praise. For example, he is very adept at getting his comments in right away before someone else steers the conversation in a more mature direction.

  • ||

    "So no, I don't have any evidence of money changing hands, I'm just suggesting that the idea of guys getting together on a regular basis to play wager-free poker fails the laugh test."

    First poker, then, on to backgammon!

  • ||

    Really, I think the logic of this Penis(is) fellow has great potential: he says its good to ban not for money poker because it makes it too hard to determine if for money poker is occurring. So, lets also ban singles bars (how can you tell the prostitutes from the free women) and tobacco stores (cigs look like joints), candy shops (look too much like pills) and ... well the list is endless isnt it? A nanny-staters dream come true.

    If we were talking about any state besides Illinois, that post might actually be funny. As it is, the legislation is probably being written as we snark....

  • ||

    "Liquor in the front, poker in the rear"

    (Sorry, had to get that in before I gradgiate the 7th grade)

  • ||

    "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."

    Kill 'em all, let God sort 'em out.

  • MikeT||

    Since the appearance of evil now matters so much to them, I suppose we can trust that they will pursue every credible charge of corruption with the utmost urgency, right?

  • carrick||

    We have already concluded that Dan T is not actually a troll, but an idiot savant. He has no real control over the 95% of the posts that come out as drivel or the 5% that are actually funny. As a consequence he is equally immune to both criticism and praise.

  • ||

    In related news, children playing cops and robbers are being charged with conspiracy.

    What they should do is turn the tournaments into "casino nights" with the proceeds going to charity. Let's see how eager they are to take money away from kids with cancer.

  • Scooby||

    Let's see how eager they are to take money away from kids with cancer.

    Drug warriors have no qualms about jailing adults with cancer, so I have no illusions about these guys being particularly bothered with taking money from kids with cancer.

  • ||

    In Dan's world, you're guilty until proven innocent and if you don't like it, move. Otherwise Dan would understand that it is the State's burden to prove they were gambling. As far a "laugh test", Dan wouldn't be allowed to post anywhere if such a thing existed. Leave the laugh test for comedy.

  • ||

    Okay, I retract my comments about non-gambling poker and stand corrected. I really had no idea that people played poker without wagering. And it should be the burden of the state to prove that gambling was going on if that's the charge they're bringing on people.

  • ||

    So did they stop the poker before or after they shut down all of Illinois' golf courses? That'd get the law clarified right quick, I imagine.

  • ||

    Illinois is the new Calfornia. One party rule, brought about by massive legal and illegal immigration, is allowing the people who run this state to run completely amuck.

  • ||

    So this guy actually has an incorporated business for the purpose of sponsoring no-wager, no-fee poker tournaments? How exactly does that business plan work?

    Selling alcohol at a hefty markup at these non-gambling events?

  • VM||

    WASSERCOM TRIGGERED THE ALARM

    WHEEEEE WHEEEEEE WHEEEEE

    WHEEEEEEEEEEEEE

    WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

  • Seitz||

    This won't matter in three months as the bars will all be empty anyway (see Illinois smoking ban).

    Yeah, just like in California where all the bars shut down because of the smoking ban.

    And nobody goes to concerts at places like Schubas, or Metro, or the Aragon anymore (I must have just hallucinated the sold out Interpol show last night) because those places have already gone smoke free.

  • ||

    No one in NYC drinks in bars since the smoking ban either.

    I'm waiting for the new govenrment rules on how to wipe my ass. I'll never know if I'm doing right until the government sez so.

  • ||

    Fantasy football leagues

    March madness tournament pools

    Superbowl pools

    Raffles

    Church bingo

    Make a bet? Go to jail.

  • ||

    We went through this in Ohio 2 years back. No entry fee for the tourney .... bar owner paid game organizer, and made money by having a nice additional crowd for 3-6 hours on an otherwise slow night. Occasionally a "session" prize was given ($15 bar tab, etc) .... the end of the season the top scoring players @ each location came together for a tourney with the winner getting a WPT Tourney seat. State law sez "no games of chance OR poker", so we got busted. IIRC only one state (Mont or Wy) has declared poker a game of skill. I would assume pool is a game of skill. Bridge? No idea.

    Bottom line - I disagree with the statute in OH, haven't read the IL statute, and hope someday we can get the games back - they were good fun, good comaraderie, and good for the buisinesses.

  • Blaise Pascal||

    After all, you can't gamble on something that doesn't exist...

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement