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Sheriff to Delay Enforcing Ban on Jackpot Poker

September 03, 1989|ADRIANNE GOODMAN | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has agreed to postpone for at least 30 days a ban on jackpot poker in card clubs, which the state attorney general's office has said is a form of illegal lottery.

Attorneys for the Sheriff's Department, the attorney general's office and four card clubs agreed Wednesday before a scheduled hearing in Los Angeles Superior Court that enforcement of the ban should be delayed until a cease-and-desist order, in the form of a letter, is sent to card clubs throughout the state.

That letter will be sent to about 400 clubs statewide, probably within 30 days, said Deputy Atty. Gen. Roy Preminger. Clubs in areas where the game is banned would have 30 days from the time they receive the letter to stop offering the game, he said.

Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp's opinion, issued Aug 21., said jackpot poker played for money in California is unlawful because luck rather than skill determines the winner, the game involves a prize and players have paid for the chance to win that prize.

L.A. County Clubs Objected

Four Los Angeles County card clubs, contending that jackpot poker is a game of skill and has been played throughout the state for at least 100 years, filed a suit in Superior Court last week to block a possible ban.

Ron Sarakbi, general manager of the California Commerce Club in Commerce, said the club has offered jackpot poker from the day it opened in 1983.

"It's very popular," said Sarakbi, who estimated that the game accounts for 20% to 30% of the club's business. "We're a little confused why all of a sudden it's an issue."

Attorneys for the four clubs--the California Commerce Club, the Bicycle Club in Bell Gardens, and the Eldorado Club and the Normandie Casino in Gardena, agreed before Superior Court Judge Miriam A. Vogel to postpone a hearing on the issue until Oct. 2.

Card club attorneys and club owners argue that jackpot poker is a game of skill because knowing how to play the game and being good at it are prerequisites for winning.

"If you don't know the rules of poker and you sit down to play, obviously your chances of winning are infinitesimal," said Blaine Nicholson, a spokesman for the Normandie Casino. "You have to have the skill to know what to keep in your hand, when to draw, what to throw away. In our opinion, skill enters into that whole decision-making process."

Jackpot poker is usually a form of low ball poker. In low ball, the player with the second lowest hand can win the pot--as long as another player in the game holds the lowest hand possible. The lowest hand, called a "wheel," occurs when a player holds the ace, 2, 3, 4 and 5 cards. The second lowest hand, called a "sixty-four," occurs when a player holds the ace, 2, 3, 4, and 6 cards.

Players contribute to a communal jackpot, which builds until one player gets a "wheel" and another gets a "sixty-four" hand.

Jackpots Can Grow Slowly

Nicholson said jackpots at the clubs typically average around $6,000 to $10,000, but can build to $30,000 or more over a period of weeks or months.

State officials say that is a form of lottery which, under state law, is illegal.

"The chance aspect clearly predominates over skill," said Mike Broderick, manager of the gaming registration program with the attorney general's office in Sacramento.

Deputy County Counsel Kevin Brazile, who represents the Sheriff's Department in the case, said the department agreed with the attorney general that jackpot poker is illegal and wants to ban the game.

Attorneys for the clubs contend that jackpot poker is merely low ball poker, and that, like many other forms of poker, it is legal in California, depending on local regulations. Poker clubs are illegal in Los Angeles, for example, but permitted by the cities of Bell Gardens, Commerce and Gardena.

Point of Law

Alexander Pope, an attorney for the Bicycle Club and the California Commerce Club, said the clubs will argue in court that the game should not be banned because jackpot poker "is not prohibited by any statute or by the constitutional provision against lotteries."

Pope said the two Gardena clubs have offered jackpot poker for nearly a decade, the Bicycle Club for six years and the Commerce Club for about five years.

"They've really, we feel, gone way overboard trying to apply the lottery to jackpot poker," Pope said. "The two aren't similar in any way. If this is illegal, all gambling is illegal."

In recent years, other games offered by the card clubs have come into dispute. Law enforcement officials have contended that the lucrative Asian forms of poker, including pai gow and Super Pan 9, violate state law by allowing the clubs to act as bankers.

In March, Sen. Robert Beverly (R-Manhattan Beach) introduced legislation that would overhaul the state's 1891 gambling law by, among other things, redrafting the list of allowable games.

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