Thursday, January 05, 2006

Charity "Poker Runs" not Charity?

Charity 'poker runs' will have to fold Attorney general rules motorcycle clubs'events are illegal gambling

By R.G. RATCLIFFE Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau

AUSTIN - Motorcycle clubs that stage "poker runs" for charity will find 2006 less bountiful because Attorney General Greg Abbott ruled Tuesday that such fundraisers amount to illegal gambling under Texas law.

Poker runs typically have a participant paying a registration fee or have the motorcycle rider purchase cards or hands at various rally points. At the end of the run, a cash prize is usually awarded for the best hand, the second-best hand and the worst hand.

Abbott ruled that a poker run with cash prizes would amount to a lottery under state law. He said an organization that kept part of the proceeds for charity would violate the state's prohibition on gambling.

"Even if the contribution goes to a charitable cause and the nonprofit organization will pay prizes from other money, a participant pays money for the chance to win a prize," Abbott said. "Thus we conclude ... the nonprofit organization would become a custodian of a bet in violation (of the state Penal Code)."

Ok, here is one of my problems with this ruling. If gambling and lottery are so inherently wrong that they should not be used to help raise financial assistance for those in need, then how is it the state can justify helping itself to even more money, with it's lottery, for no specific reason? The state should not be above the law.

The law basically seeks to prohibit any situation that involves three elements: paying to get in on the fun, a chance to win, and a prize given to those lucky enough to "win."

From Texas Penal Code, Chapter 47, Gambling

(7) "Lottery" means any scheme or procedure whereby one or more prizes are distributed by chance among persons who have paid or promised consideration for a chance to win anything of value, whether such scheme or procedure is called a pool, lottery, raffle, gift, gift enterprise, sale, policy game, or some other name.

Raffles are included in the prohibition. How many schools, churches, and other such groups hold raffles?

Cake Walks could be interpreted as games of chance and be declared illegal.

An acquaintance won a donated motorcycle in a raffle held to raise money for Ride for Kids in support of the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation.

The bed I sleep on every night was won in a raffle my National Guard unit held a few years ago as a fundraiser for the Family Support Group*. A mattress company was among many local business who donated item for this particular raffle. Are we all to be branded conspiring villains and thrown to the lions?
*The FSG program is organized to aid the spouses of soldiers while they are deployed.

The ruling will broadly affect motorcycle organizations across Texas. At least seven have posted poker runs on the Internet through March. Charitable poker runs in the past year have been hosted by motorcycle clubs as well as police and fire epartments around the state.

The poker run that prompted Abbott's opinion was organized by the Blue Knights Texas XXXI chapter to raise money for Galveston County Deputy Sheriff Michel Roy, who was injured in April when his squad car collided with a drunken driver's vehicle.

The Blue Knights is a motorcycle club consisting of active and retired police officers.

The club's advertised run said riders could buy hands for $10 each with no limit on the number of hands that could be purchased. At the end of the run, prizes would consist of $700 for the best hand, $200 for the second-best hand and $100 for the worst hand.

Event drew complaint

Galveston County Criminal District Attorney Kurt Sistrunk said he received a citizen complaint on the poker run the day before it occurred. He said he called Blue Knights officers and asked them to call the event off.

Ok, here is where it gets a bit interesting. The event drew complaint from a concerned citizen. Remember, this is an organization of active and retired POLICE OFFICERS. Probably the least offensive group to hold an event, right? Who would want to destroy an opportunity for police officers to aid one of their fallen or wounded brothers? I'd be willing to bet it wasn't a citizen complaining that someone would go home with a few more dollars in their pockets.

I'll tell you that from personal experience there is no ulterior motive for a poker run. They are fundraisers that are fun. People come out, pay for their hand(s), and, win or lose, go home happy to have been a part of something bigger than themselves.

I have no first hand account of the events, so here again is more from me ;-)

Here's reason #1 why the complaint came in. We all know the stereotype. Big, black leather clad, tattooed brutes, thundering in and around on bikes with open exhaust systems, with scantily clad females onboard and shouting, "Show us your t*ts!"

And reason #2: Many poker run stations are at bars or other alcohol serving locations. Often in the advertising of "biker" events is the inclusion of a list of which beers will be represented at said event. (You know where I am going with this now don't you?) Mixing alcohol with riding (or driving) is a bad. Period. Police are no exception to temptation when it comes. Police are real people too. Unfortunately it isn't uncommon to have alcohol related incidences at events of this kind.

"There was no getting around it, in my estimation, they would be violating the law if they pursued that event," Sistrunk said.
Poor planning of poker runs, and by that I mean inclusion of alcohol, and fear of a stereotype has drawn the attention of the rather hypocritical "Selective Enforcement Squad." This is what they wanted to prohibit. Let's call a spade a spade and quit dancing around why this came up at all.

Blue Knights chapter President D.J. Alvarez said after that call, the club continued with the poker run, but canceled the cash prizes.

Alvarez said only three or four riders backed out of the Blue Knights run that weekend, but he said Abbott's ruling will have a serious impact on charitable poker runs across Texas.

Ok, how many of us want to look like cheap heels in front of our friends? Only four quit because the rest didn't want to lose face. But you better believe that in the future folks won't be quite as hasty to get signed up for this.

"You have poker runs every weekend," said Alvarez, a lieutenant in the Galveston Police Department. "They're all for cancer organizations, charitable organizations."

He said they are especially useful in raising money for injured police or firefighters.

"Where in a matter of three hours can you raise $5,000?" Alvarez said.

'We can get around it'

While Abbott's ruling specifically addressed the Blue Knights' poker run, Sistrunk said he reads it to outlaw all such fund-raising activities by nonprofit groups.

The state doesn't want competition, eh? If you are going to lose your money in the pursuit of a prize, you have to do it at the state's game. Isn't that called a monopoly? Oh wait, they are the government and are smarter than us. They know what is best for us. Right.

"They're going to have to come up with a different way of collecting money," Sistrunk said.

One of the biggest poker runs in the Houston area is sponsored by Competition Motorcycles of Pearland.

Owner Jesse McCulley said his run is meant to promote motorcycling, with all the money being paid out in prizes. He said he understands that makes it legal because no one benefits but the riders who participate.

Here's some backwards thinking. McCulley thinks it's ok if all the money is used in supplying prizes. Unless everyone gets a prize, it is illegal. If there is a chance I may or may not win a prize, it is illegal according to the state penal code.

McCulley said Abbott's ruling will negatively affect charity events if there are no cash prizes for poker runs.

"Some people are going to come out of the kindness of their heart," he said. "But let's face it, if you cut out that little piece of cheese at the end of the trail, participation is going to decline."

Sputnik, chairman of the Texas Motorcycle Rights Association, who does not use a last name, said he does not believe Abbott's ruling marks the end of poker runs.

"We can get around it," Sputnik said. "We can give trophies, and we can give cash money on the side."

I have had the pleasure of speaking with Sputnik on a couple of occasions. If you were to see him, he fits the stereotype of a biker. To speak with him would surprise many. He is a sharp fellow and is very open minded, but not to the point of his brain falling out. I wouldn't doubt his character, but I don't understand how paying money on the side would be different than paying money to the winner. Wouldn't they be paying the same person for achieving the same goal?

Either way, I am sorry to see poker runs get squashed instead of re-organized. The Blue Knights are a great group and an example of riders trying to help out. I wish them the best of luck in finding differnt ways to bring aid to those in need.

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