All Charges Dropped Against Texas Poker Room Operators
There is something fishy going on with poker clubs in Texas. And it smells like an elaborate scare tactic along with some unethical behavior…on the part of people associated with the District Attorney’s office.
Texas authorities raided two of the most well-known poker clubs in Houston in early May and charged the owners and managers with a plethora of serious crimes. People were arrested and spent time in jail, hired lawyers, and didn’t garner any income from the closed clubs for months.
Midway through July, all charges against the poker room owners and managers were dropped.
But that may not be the end of this increasingly complicated story.
This is a Raid!
It happened on May 1 at the Post Oak Poker Club and Prime Social Poker Club, both located in Houston. The Harris County District Attorney’s office and the Houston Police Department raided both of the clubs, arrested nine people, froze company bank accounts, and seized bank balances.
These were the people taken into custody:
Post Oak Poker Club:
–Daniel Jeffery Kebort, owner
–William Jack Heuer III, owner
–Alan Harris Chodrow, owner
–Sergio Diaz Cabrera, owner
–Kevin Louis Chodrow, owner
Prime Social Poker Club:
–Dan Maddox, owner
–Mary Switzer, comptroller
–Brent J. Pollack, general manager
–Steven Farshid, assistant general manager
— Sean Chaffin (@PokerTraditions) May 1, 2019
Charges against them included felony money laundering and engagement in organized crime, reportedly the results of a two-year investigation. District Attorney Kim Ogg noted, “Poker rooms are illegal in the state of Texas.”
And Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said, “We can’t allow illegal gambling to go on. It drives organized crime and fuels other criminal activity.”
On July 16, all of the charges were dropped for all nine people. Ogg’s office was preparing to return $206,000 seized during the raids.
The DA’s office said the dismissal of the charges was a result of “multiple potential conflicts of interest” within her office. While one was a “potential defense witness who is a former contract employee and a political fundraiser,” the other conflicts were not detailed.
The prosecutions of Prime Social Poker Club and another game room?, which also said it was pitched on the $250k scheme by the consultant, Amir Mireskandari, collapsed yesterday when Ogg dismissed charges against 9 people, citing a conflict re Mireskandarihttps://t.co/WiIW8uThcD
— Zach Despart?️ (@zachdespart) July 18, 2019
What is known is that the cases have been referred to the FBI for further investigation, and the clubs are preparing to reopen.
Possible Legal Action
Lawyers for the Prime Social Poker Club spoke to the media a day after the charges were dropped to talk about the damage done to the people working there. Attorney Wayne Dolcefino said more than 100 employees lost their jobs at Prime Social alone after the raids.
But the situation took another turn when ABC13 began to report on a deeper investigation.
As it turned out, those arrested from both poker rooms began to talk during their time in jail after the raids, and they came to some realizations. Most importantly, both clubs were approached by the same group of people, all of whom were requesting large sums of money ($250,000) to help them legitimize their clubs in the eyes of Texas law. They were promised permits, legal assistance, and legislation.
Poker room attorneys claim some of that money was paid to a man named Amir Mireskandari, but it turned out that the man was also working with the Harris County DA’s office to investigate financial crimes by those same poker rooms.
Prime Social paid some of the money requested, though Post Oak did not. But when representatives from both clubs began talking in jail on May 1, they realized that something was wrong.
Attorney Joe Magliolo for Prime Social asserted, “We believe we were victims of a fraud, much as I believe the DA’s office were victims of a fraud.”
Operating In and Around Rules
Technically, poker is not legal in Texas.
More specifically, making money from poker is not legal in Texas.
Poker room operators have found ways, in recent years, to circumvent that law…by not making a profit from the games themselves, i.e. not collecting rake.
People have opened clubs – more than 30 of them operating around Texas today – that operate as private, membership-based organizations. People can become a member of the club for a fee, which allows them to play tournaments without commission and cash poker games without rake. Players sometimes also pay seat rental fees, the proceeds from which make food and drink available for club members.
So far, there have been legal matters and talk of clarifications to state laws, but nothing has come to fruition. This allows the current state of affairs to continue, with clubs operating in somewhat legal territory but susceptible to raids such as the one that took place on May 1.
As of now, Post Oak and Prime Social plan to reopen later this summer. The FBI is being encouraged to investigate the conflicts within the DA’s office. And the game of skill that is poker continues to be played, both at poker clubs and underground.