by Max Brantley
A Memphis-based outfit that promotes poker leagues crafted to avoid anti-gambling laws says it will come to Little Rock -- beginning Saturday in a room on Rodney Parham -- despite the fervently held opinion of the city attorney and prosecuting attorney that no form of poker competition is legal here. For what it's worth, the games aren't played with cash bets. Prizes are drawn from membership fees in the poker circuit. When the sun comes up, I'll try to ask around about this development, which I wrote about in a column last week.
UPDATE: I talked to a representative the poker league. He said, "We know we are under scrutiny. We know we are completely legal. We obviously wouldn't be opening if we didn't think we were completely legal."
The spokesman, Steven Shipowitz, added a wrinkle to my earlier understanding of the operation. He claims anyone who walks in can play, free, without being a subscriber to the National Poker League. The subscription allows players to reserve seats in tournaments on-line and to use a computerized statistical tracking service, but he says it is not required to play if seats are open. It's no different, he argued, than a McDonald's prize giveaway. We'll see, in due course, whether local authorities agree. Shipowitz said the company has local legal counsel prepared to argue there's no probable cause to believe any gambling, as the statute defines it, in this operation.
As I've said before, when the legislature deems video poker and blackjack at race tracks as games of skill, not gambling -- in circumstances where money is clearly put at risk -- it makes it harder to bust operations such as these with a straight face.
The games begin at noon 1 p.m. Saturday at 9101 Rodney Parham (in Ashley Square), Suite 214.