TAMPA – Five local bars were warned to stop their weekly Texas hold ’em poker tournaments Tuesday.
Detectives for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office visited Dogwater Cafe, Babalouies and the Prime Time Sports Grill in Tampa, the L.A. Hangout in Lutz and the Tally- Ho Pub in Temple Terrace to ask bar owners to “shut down the games,” said Debbie Carter, spokeswoman for the Hillsborough sheriff’s office.
Carter said detectives responded to complaints received Tuesday and delivered copies of state gambling statutes to the bars.
Run by a local marketing company in about 20 Hillsborough and Pinellas bars, the poker tournaments are free to participants. Players are not required to pay a cover charge or make any minimum purchase.
At most locations, those finishing first, second or third have received a prize, usually a gift certificate to the establishment ranging from $10 to $30.
Florida Statute 849.08 states in part: “Whoever plays or engages in any game at cards, keno, roulette, faro or other game of chance, at any place, by any device whatever, for money or other thing of value, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree.”
Despite the warning, the Dogwater Cafe, on Hillsborough Avenue, did not cancel its Judi Poker Online tournament Tuesday night.
“I’ll go on with the games and not offer any prize,” owner Lee Krejci said. “The police basically told me not to have the tournaments at all, but the way the law was explained to me, it’s OK without a prize.
“I thought to be gambling, a player had to invest some money, but I guess not.”
The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office investigated the barroom tournaments in its jurisdiction and determined the games are legal because participants “are not putting up any money to play,” sheriff’s spokesman Tim Goodman said last week.
Detectives have not changed their stance on the games, Pinellas sheriff’s spokesman Mac McMullen said Tuesday. “But they are still being looked at.”
Champps Restaurant & Bar, at Tampa’s International Plaza, which has hosted tournaments for seven weeks, had its usual crowd of about 50 poker players Tuesday night.
As usual, players did not win gift certificates, only entry to a tournament in which the winner will receive a trip to Las Vegas.
“When we finish with our 10-week commitment to the poker tournaments, that will be the end of poker for us,” said Diego Cordoba, Champps’ general manager.
“As a company with locations across the country, we have decided not to continue because we are running into trouble with law enforcement in Michigan and the Carolinas and other places.
“I would like to continue; our crowds have grown every week.”