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Bars Test Laws on Gambling With Moneyless Poker Games

Bars Test Laws on Gambli With Moneyless Poker Games By JODI WILGOREN NY TIMES ST. CLOUD, Minn., Feb. 19 – Not 20 minutes into a No Limit Texas Hold’em poker tournament at the Granite Bowl bar and grill here, State Senator Mike McGinn pushed his entire pile of chips into the pot. State Senator Dave Kleis hardly hesitated before following suit, and State Representative Tom Hackbarth quickly joined the “all in” chorus.

“No wonder we’ve got budget problems at the state,” cracked their colleague, State Senator Brian LeClair, who had folded his own cards long before.

“Well, it’s other people’s money,” Mr. McGinn said of the taxes that fill state coffers. “It’s kind of the same thing.”

Actually, the eight lawmakers gathered around the green felt here on Saturday afternoon, all but one Republicans, were not playing for money at all, but for T-shirts proclaiming, “Poker is Not a Crime” – and to make a point. Betting with chips that had been seized last summer in a police raid on the Granite Bowl’s free weekly poker tournaments, they came to support a bill sponsored by Mr. Kleis, who represents St. Cloud, that would explicitly legalize Texas Hold’em (but not other forms of poker) so long as prizes do not top $200.

As televised tournaments make Hold’em ever more popular and mainstream, Minnesota is one of at least half a dozen states grappling with a new phenomenon: poker games with little more than bragging rights at stake. Law enforcement agencies and liquor commissions in states with lotteries, racetracks and even casinos have arrested bar owners and players in recent months, threatening fines or jail time under statutes that proponents of poker see as anachronistic.

On Wednesday, even as Mr. Kleis’s bill adding Texas Hold’em to the state’s list of legal card …