Monday, January 10, 2005

Poker tourney at BHS called illegal

Principal Razidlo will cancel event if state official is correct
By JODIE TWEED
Staff Writer
A Texas Hold 'em poker tournament planned Sunday at Brainerd High School by a student group for students and staff would be considered an unlawful form of gambling, a state gambling official said Thursday.

Principal Steve Razidlo said he would be checking into the legality of the event Friday and would cancel Sunday's tournament if it was found to be illegal.

The BHS Key Club posted fliers around campus for the poker tournament, charging participants a $5 entrance fee that would be donated to the United Way.

Razidlo said he learned about the tournament a couple of days ago and believed it to be a charitable activity planned by students. He said it had been in the planning stages, as far as he knew, for the past week or shortly before the holiday break. He said participants would be charged the $5 entrance fee and then no other money would be exchanged during the games.

But Frank Ball, director of alcohol and gambling enforcement for the state Department of Public Safety, said the tournament would be an unlawful gambling event and participants could face criminal charges from the Brainerd Police Department if someone complained and the department opted to charge the poker players with unlawful gambling.

"It's totally illegal," said Ball, when told about the high school poker tournament. "If it costs to gamble, it's illegal. It's a wonderful cause, but if they want to have a lawful raffle they have to go to the gambling control board and have a raffle. But they can't play poker and charge a fee for it because it's a third-party making money off of it."

"I will be checking into it," Razidlo said Thursday. "We don't try to not abide by the law. If it's deemed unlawful then I don't think we'll have a choice and we'll have to cancel. We looked at this as a charitable event and if it's deemed not to be a charitable event we will make the appropriate changes."

Ball, former Brainerd police chief and former Crow Wing County sheriff, said poker is based on chance, not skill. If the same group wanted to host a dart or pingpong tournament and charge an entrance fee, whether the money was donated to charity or not, it would be considered legal, he said. It also would be legal if the tournament didn't charge an entrance fee, real money wasn't involved and there weren't any prizes. There are only three forms of lawful gambling in Minnesota -- pull-tabs, lottery and horse racing, said Ball.

Ball said the key to knowing if gambling is legal or not is if a third party is making money.

"I'm in favor of the kids raising money for the United Way," said Razidlo. "We have not been in favor of gambling."

Razidlo said the high school has banned card-playing for the past couple of years after they discovered students were playing cards for money in the hallways during the school day. He said the school wanted to give students an opportunity to participate in a poker tournament as an exception to its ban on card-playing because poker is now a widely popular activity for teens and adults.

JODIE TWEED can be reached at jodie.tweed@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5858.
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