Cops Raid Free Poker Tournament, Because in Florida Gambling Does Not Require Betting

For years the Nutz Poker League, along with several competitors, has been running free tournaments at bars and restaurants in the Tampa Bay area.


For years the Nutz Poker League, along with several competitors, has been running free tournaments at bars and restaurants in the Tampa Bay area. It makes money by taking a cut of what players spend on food and drinks. The players accumulate points based on their spending as well as their poker performance and can ultimately win prizes such as vacations, cruises, laptops, cameras, and "various unique poker gifts." Twice a year the winner of the league's "grand championship" receives "a trip to Las Vegas and a Buy In to The World Series of Poker." Since there is no fee to play and no money is wagered on the games, Nutz owner Richard Danford believed he was complying with Florida's gambling laws. Evidently the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco disagreed. It expressed this disagreement by sending its agents, assisted by black-masked local police officers "in full riot gear" with "weapons drawn," to raid a Texas Hold 'Em tournament at Louie's Grill and Sports Bar in Largo the Saturday before last. The Tampa Bay Times reports that Danford and five of his employees "were arrested, accused of working for a gambling house," while "the restaurant owner was charged with keeping a gambling house." Those are third-degree felonies, punishable by a $5,000 fine and up to five years in prison.

Pinellas-Pasco Assistant State Attorney Joshua Riba told the Times that Florida's definition of gambling, rather counterintuitively, does not require betting. "The statute itself does not require anybody to ante in," Riba says. "If they are playing cards, and they have an opportunity to win something of value, then they are technically violating this particular gambling statute." In fact, the offense of keeping a gambling house is defined as, among other things, letting people use a place "to play for money or other valuable thing at any game whatever, whether heretofore prohibited or not." On its face, this so-called crime is not limited to games of chance; a Scrabble tournament with a cash prize or a trivia contest that gives a bar tab to the winning team seemingly would qualify. The Times notes that Florida has an exception for private "penny-ante games," but it does not apply to public tournaments—even, according to state regulators, if the amount of money wagered is zero.

The Times says the Nutz Poker League raid followed "a months-long undercover investigation dubbed Operation Cracked Aces." It took months of undercover work to build a case against a poker league that operates openly and advertises its rules on its website? Doesn't the fact that Danford conducted his business completely in the open suggest he did not think he was doing anything illegal?

"We don't understand what's the law," one league member complained. "The league's been going on for years, and all of a sudden it's against the law?" Danford told the Times the raid was his first inkling that state officials considered his business a criminal enterprise. "Had there been even a sniff or a phone call or a cease-and-desist order," he said, "we would have stopped at once." The Times says the incoming speaker of the state House, Rep. Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel), plans to address the confusing condition of Florida's gambling law. "There needs to be what I've called an adult conversation of what gaming should look like in the state," he said. In the meantime, it is hard to see how someone like Danford or the bar owners with whom he works can be accused of knowingly violating the law.

[Thanks to Robert Woolley for the tip.]

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  1. Firsteenth !

  2. What is gambling?

    1. It’s when I spend all day Saturday in the LVH Sports Book, and Make. Cash. Money.

    2. Definitely not McDonald’s Monopoly.

    3. gamble (v.)- to play a card game or anything else the state arbitrarily decides it doesn’t like

  3. Looks to me like someone involved in or connected to law enforcement didn’t win a prize that they wanted, got all pissy about it, and decided no one should ever win anything again.

    1. That sounds about right. So according to this article’s description of the law, anything that can be considered a “game” that is played in a competitive fashion, even when there are no stakes, is illegal and punishable by up to 5 years in prison? GG Florida…

      1. I hear there are multi-million dollar games taking place in Gainsville, Tallahassee, and Miami where the players are competing for a valuable crystal scuplture. Someone ought to send the police there.

        1. All 3 have been effectively eliminated from the crystal sculpture race.

          Miami even more so.

          1. Are they hosting any contenders? Imagine the SWAT raid they’d send to take down a D-I stadium.

            1. Not at this point. I think they have all played all that they will play.

          2. Oh, and guess where the title game is this year?

      2. Last I checked, the winner of a professional football game won a prize worth money.

        So the NFL is a criminal enterprise in Florida?

    2. It truly wouldn’t surprise me. Vice cops are corrupt jackholes, and this is precisely the sort of crap you’d expect from them.

      And what the fuck was up with the tactical gear? Were they expecting the Mob?

    3. The Seminole tribe doesn’t want anyone horning in on their operation.

      1. This is what I think, too. The Seminole Hard Rock has a really bad reputation for having tight slots, etc.
        It doesn’t help if there is any competition at all, no matter how oblique, so get the gubmint involved to stamp out those pesky upstarts. Business as usual in “capitalist” America.

        1. Bootleggers and Baptists!

  4. Only a few more hours until the main event final table gets underway!

  5. “There needs to be what I’ve called an adult conversation of what gaming should look like in the state,”

    HA!Ha! HeeHeeHee!!
    Did this guy just start paying attention to politics in the last 5 minutes? “Adult conversation” – that would require people to act and think like adults – so….good luck with that!

    1. More importantly, it shouldn’t be up to him or any other politician to dictate what people do with their time and money. Gambling laws are an abomination.

  6. I have a friend in roughly that part of FL who participates in something vaguely similar.

    In other words, I need to see if he was there when this happened.

  7. Cops Raid Free Poker Tournament, Because fuck you, that’s why. in Florida Gambling Does Not Require Betting

    1. Cops Raid Free Poker Tournament, Because Violent Crimes In Florida Have Been Stopped And Now They Need To Focus On “Quality Of Life” Type Crime

      1. Yes, obviously all of the more important problems have been solved.

      2. But ending the poker tournament REDUCES the quality of life….

  8. “Had there been even a sniff or a phone call or a cease-and-desist order,” he said, “we would have stopped at once.”

    And spoil the LEOs “tactical” fun? What a maroon.

    1. What’s the point of having military style equipment if you can’t threaten to kill unarmed civilians once in a while?

      1. What else would you use to kill a puppy besides an AR-15 or MP5 on full-auto?

      2. With all that free shit the Pentagram’s been sending local departments in the last few years, I’m surprised there haven’t been locally operated wargames yet.

  9. “in full riot gear” with “weapons drawn,”

    If these pigs were as really as brave as they think they are and want to go shoot someone, they should go join the marines. But pigs aren’t brave.

    1. Plus, the marines require a certain baseline of physical fitness most cops can’t meet.

      1. Not to mention a sense of honor and respect for the people they serve.
        Something cops most definitely don’t have.

      2. Like to see them raid the local VFW during a poker tournament. Iraq and Afganistan vets would have a thing or two to say to them.

  10. Come on people. The state has a vital interest in protecting the legitimate gambling operations in the state from competition.

    1. Well, with no money changing hands there’s no opportunity for graft and/or taxation.

  11. And yet the lottery is still alive and well in Florida, I assume?

    1. You would think gambling would be legal and applauded in Florida with all the damn old people there. My grandma’s #1 aversion to moving to Florida from NJ was that she couldn’t be in AC within an hour to be gambling… How could that many geriatrics live in one place and NOT allow gambling…

    2. Not to mention the Native American casinos.

      The key is the state getting their cut.

  12. Wouldn’t such a ban cover game shows and McDonald’s Monopoly?

    1. It would seem so according to the article and the raid.

    2. “The price is wrong, bitch”

    3. Oh sure, just keep giving them ideas.

      Plus I think the only game shows recorded in FL would be in Disney studios.

      And any ‘tactically equipped’ cops going in there would meet a much better trained and equipped force.

      1. “Man down! Man down! The mouse is armed! Repeat: The mouse is armed!”

  13. The Times notes that Florida has an exception for private “penny-ante games,”

    IIRC, in 1981 the FBI raided a Tampa area home, arresting 4 WWII vets who were playing literal penny-ante poker.

    1. …and this was mentioned in the linked article. Never mind.

  14. Quityerbitchin and count yourselves lucky one of the Dumbphries didn’t shoot the kitty.

  15. In fact, the offense of keeping a gambling house is defined as, among other things, letting people use a place “to play for money or other valuable thing at any game whatever.”

    Carnivals and amusement parks, beware! Coming up on the 5 o’clock news – Mickey, Goofy, and Donald arrested – for the CHILDRUNZ!

    1. So, Skee-ball for tickets that can be redeemed for cheap crap are right out, then.

  16. “keeping a gambling house is defined…letting people use a place ‘to play for money or other valuable things at any game whatever.’ ”

    FL Division of AB&T ‘To-Do’ Raid list –
    Chucky Cheese
    Retirement Home Bingo Tournament
    County Carnival
    Every Denny’s with a Claw Game

  17. Well, really.

    I mean football is a game.

    The Superbowl is held fairly often in Tampa and in Miami (and that one time in Jax).

    The winners get a certain amount of prize money (as do the losers, but it’s less).

    Just sayin’

    1. Golf tournaments…

  18. there have actually been a few heartening court cases involving poker saying its a game of skill and thus not “gambling” at least in some respects as to how various penal codes are written.

    i suggest people join the poker player’s alliance. i am a member. they are very active.

    check out their facebook page!

    1. The real heartening cases are those where such raids are greeted with a hail of 5.56 semi auto fire. I suggest people join the anti com alliance. I’d like to be a member, they are VERY active.

      1. 5.56mm is designed to be light so it’s easy to carry a lot of it, and to wound an enemy as often as it kills, on the theory that caring for a wounded soldier sidelines more than just that wounded soldier.

        A better solution would be at least 7.62 NATO, that’s a killing round.

  19. Think it is a coincidence that this raid didn’t go down during the Republican convention?

  20. Just another day in the “land of the free”.

  21. Obama promises Secretary of Business in second term.

    I predict abolishing “wasteful duplication of products and services” in the private sector will be involved.

    1. SIV| 10.29.12 @ 12:45PM |#
      ‘Obama THREATENS Secretary of Business in second term.’

    2. Who will be our Wesley Mouch?

      1. Michael Moore.

    3. There office will be in the basement of the building with the Consumer Protection Agency.

  22. I just emailed this to a bunch of friends who are hosting a charity poker tournament in Tallahassee. Although, I have to say that TPD and LCSO are consistently never in the news for raids, beatings, or dog shootings. Which is as close to an endorsement as I can give.

    1. Is that because they do not engage in those activities, or because the press chooses to ignore or under report it?

      1. As best I can tell, its that they don’t do it. The only police scandal we’ve had in my 8 years here was a CI who was killed by people she was informing on. She was young, pretty, and white so it was a big deal. But other than that, the cops seem to mostly arrest visibly drunk drivers as well as college students and poor people for drugs. But they don’t seem as a group, or really individuals, to need to get their cop on.

        1. That’s cool. Better than some places I’ve lived.

        2. Rachel Hoffman. That was a horrific story. Girl gets busted for weed, and is told she will do prison time unless she tries to set up a deal with some really bad people.

          1. They set her up in a terrible way. Suddenly a girl who occasionally bought small amounts of weed was asking (at Law Enforcement insistence) for felony quantities of harder drugs. A recipe for disaster, and the LEO community and local politicians couldn’t find a single fuck to give when she was murdered.

            1. They did give a single fuck. They said, “see, this is what drugs does to people” when she was murdered. So drug war harder.

            2. They did pass a law requiring police to tell potential informants that cops actually have no control over sentencing and can’t guarantee a reduced sentence for cooperation.

              1. I hadn’t heard of that.

                1. That’s because you probably didn’t have to live through the “Rachel Hoffman Law” wall-to-wall by the local fishwrap.

          2. Oh yeah. It was bad. I think the furor would have been much less if it had been a black male in the same situation. From the standpoint of those of us who think the whole CI system is rotten, it was nice to finally get a poster girl. And the local pols got with the program. They passed a state law of some sort, I think. Ah yes. The police are now required to inform potential informants that they cannot guarantee a reduced sentence because of cooperation. Not a huge win, but moving in the right direction. I think we just need, as a society, to train people that there is no benefit in cooperating with the police once you’re in criminal trouble.

          3. Brave, heroic cops.

        3. If by LCSO you mean the Lee County Sheriffs Office, I can say for sure they do “get their cop on”. I personally know of some deputies who have written up “incident” reports before the fact in order to justify spraying someone with pepper spray because they just didn’t like the guy. It’s a very good ole boy network down there- you’ll rarely hear of any of it- if at all. I have also known them to “confiscate” property without bothering to arrest, try and convict.

    2. The LCSO threatened to shoot a friends dog about 25 years ago. It was a pit and they didn’t. I believe they were looking for something and thought the “shoot the dog” threat might loosen some tongues.

  23. WA liberals (mostly) made online gambling a C felony a ways back (long before black friday), and the very definition of gambling that distinguishes it is BETTING

    iow, “free poker” etc. does not run afoul of the law. no money bet, NO GAMBLING

    of course, the other prong in gambling (vs. pay for entertainment like a movie) is that there is an element of chance and SOME court cases have started to recognize that poker, while reliant on chance in the short run, is actually a game of skill (god knows my poker accounts could attest to that. i used to love to play online and it’s clearly a game of skill).

    yes, i’ll say it. given sufficient ‘n’, poker is a game of skill.

  24. The Tampa Bay Times story is here:…

    The comments appear about 100% against the raid.

    1. Poker players don’t shoot back, so it’s safer than going after real criminals.

  25. 49.01?Keeping gambling houses, etc.?

    Whoever by herself or himself, her or his servant, clerk or agent, or in any other manner has, keeps, exercises or maintains a

    gaming table or room, or gaming implements or apparatus, or house, booth, tent, shelter or

    other place for the purpose of gaming or gambling or in any place of which she or he may directly or indirectly have charge

    , control or management, either exclusively or with others, procures, suffers or permits any person to play for money or other valuable thing at any game whatever, whether heretofore prohibited or not, shall be guilty of a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.

    Don’t professional sports teams fall under this statute then? Isn’t a championship a ‘valuable thing’?

    1. Lawmaking retards often forget to think about what they’re putting into the books.

    2. Forget the championship. They get large cash bonuses for making the playoffs and winning.

    3. Doesn’t trading in the stock market count?

  26. One of the charitable organizations I’m involved with wanted to do a charity casino night. We have two lawyers on the board and both lawyers were adamantly against it. Texas code makes no exception for charitable purposes or anything else. They fought tooth and nail against it.

    After reading this, I suppose their concerns were not unfounded.

    1. At least places like Texas, Missouri, and Florida are redeemable when it comes to this sort of shit. But I wonder what it’s like in blue fortresses.

  27. imo, the last paragraph says it all. this had been going on for years. plain, in the open, and CLEARLY there was no “mens rea”, no idea on the part of the promoters that it was wrong/illegal. they weren’t hiding it. because they thought it was legal.

    and if the authoritahs changed their mind, they could have done what danford suggested – send a cease and desist letter, etc. NOTIFICATION. THEN, if the “gambling” continued, they’d at least have a leg to stand on. this is the kind of arbitrary assmunchy show of authoritah that turns people against “law and order”, because in this case , the “law” is a horse’s ass. i’d like to know ultimately, who the DECIDER was. was it some DA, some cop, some city council bigwig, etc.

    also, it’s a good example of how (imo) legislators are never held to task for writing piss poor, hard to comprehend, arbitrary and/or overbroad statutes that INVITE this kind of chicanery.

    just like with stocks, if you can’t explain it in a simple statement, don’t buy it. with a law, if you can’t clearly define what it is you are trying to make illegal, then DON’T MAKE IT ILLEGAL. it should be simple. it NEEDS to be such that a person can look at an act and say “yea, clearly a violation” or not.

    we need fewer laws, fewer restrictions on liberty, and when we DO restrict liberty, it needs to be done in a way that is understandable to the “enforcers” and to the public at large.

    1. The only valid reason for restricting liberty is to punish violent criminals.

      Either way, because people don’t actually read the laws, legislators have no incentive to write them well.

    2. That’s no fun. It’s better to have the law be vague and arbitrary, making everyone a criminal if you look hard enough. This way instead of rule of law, you have rule of man, as authority selectively applies the law based upon the individuals involved. Principles be damned, only principals matter!

    3. This seems an appropriate place for this.

      “There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.”

      ? Ayn Rand

    4. who the DECIDER was

      Everyone involved decided to participate.

      If the decision was made by the DA, the cops still chose to do it.

      And, btw, Im including every one of them in my list of “bad cops”.

      Any that refused I will add to my “good cop” list.

      1. A case where the City Council should fire everyone, beginning with the chief, who planned this ordeal. Step two would be to direct the new Chief and the entire department to take the Hillsdale College online course on the Constitution. Step three would direct the new Chief to weed out all the Dunphys. Step 4 would be apologize to the taxpayers that funded this shit storm.

  28. Well Florida cops are not exactly the brightest bulbs in the pack lol

  29. Positions were justified.

    Overtime will be compensated.

    Nothing else happened.

    Fucking pricks.

  30. This story is so bizarre, I’m not even sure I understand it. This seems to be that a government agency has simply executed this raid because it must.

    1. And yet, as pointed out above, they have avoided applying this law to all the other situations it covers.

      1. That’s what makes Rule of Man so awesome!

        Make the law such that everyone is a criminal, then when someone pisses you off you can ruin their life!

        So I wonder who it was that these people pissed off.

        1. So I wonder who it was that these people pissed off.

          Those bar and restaurant owners in the Tampa Bay are who couldn’t — or wouldn’t — make a deal with Nutz, yet thought that those who do get “an unfair advantage”. So they looked into the laws, and lo and behold, those bars and restaurants who were getting “an unfair advantage” were doing so by breaking the law. QED.

  31. So insurance is illegal in Florida too? After all, every insurance company wagers money, and they all got their start in a coffee and gambling house in London a few hundred years ago.

    Every month you wager that you will suffer a loss or injury, and every month the company wagers you won’t. The winner collects their winnings and another wager is made the next month.

    If wagering for any monetary value whatsoever is illegal, then every insurance policy payout in Florida is a crime, and everyone who participated in the process is a member of a criminal conspiracy.

    For that matter, the state of Florida operates a state lottery…

  32. Gee, I guess we had better cancel the church “Cake Walk.” People gathered at a church, paying money in to see what cake they win…’s like an edible slot machine!

  33. There needs to be what I’ve called an adult conversation of what gaming should look like in the state,” he said. In the meantime, it is hard to see how someone like Danford or the bar owners with whom he works can be accused of knowingly violating the law.

  34. guess we had better cancel the church “Cake Walk. ” People gathered at a church, paying money in to see what cake they win…’s like an edible slot machine!

  35. Cops all over are running wild,harassing private citizens when the whim strikes them. The police chief should be fired.

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