Operators of an illegal poker club in Phoenix, AZ appeared in court this week to face charges including controlling a criminal enterprise and managing and financing gambling.
Esho and Ashour Odisho are the owners of Poker Union, a card room raided by police last Thursday following a yearlong investigation that included the use of undercover agents. Also in court was Bruce Lord, identified as the club’s tournament director.
Despite the undercover investigation, Poker Union was hiding in plain sight, proclaiming the nature of its business over its door and advertising itself online as a private members poker club, offering low stakes tournaments and $2-$5 cash games.
“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,” proclaims the website.
“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.”
Taking a Rake
Unfortunately, what Poker Union allegedly had in common with said casinos is that it was taking a rake in ring games and accepting buy-ins for tournaments in violation of Arizona law. All gambling in Arizona is illegal, unless it is specifically excluded from legality. And while poker home games are permitted in the state, poker spread for commercial gain and run as a business is not. According to prosecutors, Poker Union could have been raking in as much as $10,000 a week in cash.
“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,” explained Arizona Department of Gaming spokeswoman Amanda Jacinto. “No matter, win or lose, the business would typically take a portion of the money.”
The three men were released on their own recognizance and are due to reappear before the judge on August 25.
The Law is a Donk
In order to be defined as gambling, Arizona law requires the “risking something of value for an opportunity to win a benefit, which is awarded by chance.” Should the men’s lawyers argue that poker is predominantly a game of skill and therefore not gambling, as they are likely to do, it will be an opportunity to at least test the law in Arizona.
It has been tested before, unsuccessfully, though, and once by an ex-judge. In 2012 Harold “Bud” Lee Jr., former Phoenix Justice of the Peace and current poker activist, was convicted on three counts related to organizing area card rooms. Lee is an outspoken critic of the state’s gambling laws.