More questions over legality of free poker games

Knox business owners, sheriff's office continue to question legality of free poker games

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"It's consistency, and it's something that's fun to do, and you get to get away for one night, and you look forward to that and then it's gone," said Scott Archer. "It's consistency, and it's something that's fun to do, and you get to get away for one night, and you look forward to that and then it's gone," said Scott Archer.
"They had informed me that it was illegal, and I needed to no longer have the games. I immediately ceased because I didn't want to cause any trouble," said Ron Corvette. "They had informed me that it was illegal, and I needed to no longer have the games. I immediately ceased because I didn't want to cause any trouble," said Ron Corvette.
"He told us that it was because playing any games with cards is gambling and that's illegal," said Clint Griffin. "He told us that it was because playing any games with cards is gambling and that's illegal," said Clint Griffin.

By STEPHANIE BEECKEN
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - 6 News is hearing claims that more bars and restaurants have been told by the Knox County Sheriff's Office to stop hosting free poker games.

Sheriff's deputies have now allegedly visited at least five places hosting poker tournaments: The Bucket Head Tavern on Ray Mears Boulevard, The Stillhouse Tavern in Bearden, Corvette's Barbecue in Powell, The Creekside Tavern in Powell and Bailey's Sports Grille in West Knox County.

Some business owners say they were forced to stop their poker tournaments. They say no one paid to play, so the business owners thought the games were legal. The Knox County Sheriff's Office told 6 News the legality of these poker tournaments is still unclear.

Scott Archer plays Texas Hold'em at different bars and restaurants in Knox County. He used to play at Stillhouse Tavern and Bucket Head Tavern until the games were recently stopped.

"It's consistency, and it's something that's fun to do, and you get to get away for one night, and you look forward to that and then it's gone," said Archer.

Ron Corvette, the owner of Corvette's BBQ and Catering says he had to stop his free poker tournament after receiving a call from the sheriff's office last week.

"They had informed me that it was illegal, and I needed to no longer have the games. I immediately ceased because I didn't want to cause any trouble," said Corvette.

Some of the poker games are put on by the Knoxville Poker League. Clint Griffin started the league and says no one who participates in the games pays to play. Winners get a gift card.

In the last two months he says four of his games have been shut down by the Knox County Sheriff's Office.

"He told us that it was because playing any games with cards is gambling and that's illegal," said Griffin.

According to the sheriff's office, no poker games have been shut down. When the sheriff's office receives complaints of possible gambling investigators contact the business and advise them of the law. Officials say no one has been arrested or cited for the poker games.

Griffin says his attorney says the games are legal.

"No one has been arrested or cited yet because what we do is perfectly legal," said Griffin.

6 News spoke with Assistant District Attorney Sean McDermott earlier this week about when playing card games would be illegal.

"You have to put up something in order to win something that's one of the requirements. If it's free and you have a chance to win then it's not gambling because you are not risking anything. You have to pay to play for it to be gambling," said McDermott.

According to the sheriff's office, they are still working with the DA's office to figure out if these poker games are legal or not.

However, business owner Ron Corvette says the message he got from the sheriff's office was clear, and the legality of the game was not in question.

"They consider it gambling, that's why they wanted me to cease immediately," said Corvette.

Ron Corvette says the poker tournaments brought many new potential customers into his business. He says if the games are legal, he wants to know so he can bring the free poker back.

Corvette says more people in his restaurant means the opportunity for more food and beverage sales.

6 News took this issue to 6 News legal analyst Greg Isaacs. He says for gambling to be illegal, someone must risk something of value to play a game of chance. That item of value can be anything from money to tokens to a cover charge.

Isaacs says merely offering something like a gift card as a prize in a game doesn't break the law.

"You're not risking your gift card, now if everybody got a gift card that played and you know you put ‘em in the middle in the table and you lose yours, there's a quid pro quo, different scenario, but again the litmus test is are you risking something of value in a game of chance," said Isaacs.

The owner of the Knoxville Poker League says the games are legal if participants don't pay to play and he's contacting the attorney general for clarification to show the Knox County Sheriff's Office.

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