Illegal underground gambling activities alleged
A two-year investigation into possible illegal gambling activities has resulted in raids by Houston, Texas, authorities on a pair of so-called “social” poker clubs. On May 1, officers from the Houston Police Department, in conjunction with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, raided the Post Oak Poker Club and Prime Social Poker Room, both located in northwestern Houston.
According to local reports, the two social poker clubs were among several targeted by authorities conducting investigations into Houston’s blossoming underground-poker scene. Despite the most popular variant of poker (Texas Hold’em) getting its name from the US state, real-money poker games are illegal virtually everywhere in the state.
Private poker clubs have begun to flourish by attempting a legal workaround of Texas’s strict anti-gambling laws, which allow poker to be played in private, but only as long as no rake or other operational fees are taken by the house as part of running the game. Instead, as verified by undercover officers’ statements, the Texas clubs charged a membership fee, a nightly door fee, and then a third fee to be allowed access to any given poker table, even if no rake was charged directly at those tables.
In many ways, the raids on the Texas games mirror those that closed down several famed poker clubs in Paris, France, earlier this decade. Among the clubs forced to close amid that series of raids was the famed Aviation Club, not far from the Arc de Triomphe.
Nine charged with felonies
Nine people named as owners or operators of either of the two clubs were arrested and charged in connection with the clubs’ operations. All nine were charged with money laundering in excess of $300,000, a Class A felony in Texas, and some face other charges as well.
Arrested in connection with the Post Oak Poker Club were five men alleged to be part owners of the club: Daniel Jeffery Kebort, William Jack Heuer III, Alan Harris Chodrow, Sergio Diaz Cabrera, and Kevin Louis Chodrow. Four more arrests occurred in connection with the Prime Social operation, including owner Dean Maddox, comptroller Mary Switzer, general manager Brent J. Pollack, and assistant general manager Steven Farshid. Seven of the nine made their initial courtroom appearances on Thursday in Houston.
Poker players were not charged in connection with the raids, nor were dealers of the games or other low-level employees. However, the raids and shuttered clubs necessarily impacted a couple of sizable poker tourneys scheduled to be held at the venues in the early days of May.
“Moving up the criminal chain”
Though the two clubs and several other similar facilities had operated in what they believed was a grey area of the law, the responding authorities had no doubt of the clubs’ illegality.
“Poker rooms are illegal in the State of Texas,” said Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, in a prepared statement. “We are changing the paradigm regarding illegal gambling by moving up the criminal chain and pursuing felony money laundering and engaging in organized crime charges against owners and operators. Players are not being targeted.”
“We can’t allow illegal gambling to go on,” Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo added. “It drives organized crime and fuels other criminal activity.”
The joint investigation and raids were conducted by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office’s Money Laundering Division and the Houston Police Department’s Vice Division. The seven defendants who appeared in court on Thursday were each freed after posting bonds ranging from $20,000 to $50,000.