Police ask prosecutor for gambling guidance

Poker players beware.

Playing for money in Missouri could be unlucky – even for those who win every hand all night long.

Authorities are taking a tougher stance on poker games for money after a Monday meeting between the Jasper County prosecutor and Joplin Police Department.

The prosecutor clarified Missouri’s gambling law and how it relates to games such as the increasingly popular Texas Hold’em variety of poker.

“I had a conversation with Joplin police Lieutenant Carl Francis, and we talked about the definition of games of chance,” said Prosecutor Dean Dankelson. “I don’t think anyone is looking at breaking up games at someone’s house, but the law doesn’t differentiate between games at a home or games at a business. Any game of chance that meets the definition of gambling in state law is against the law.”

Joplin police Cmdr. Jim Hounschell said the conversation came after a Saturday incident in which police were called via an anonymous tip to a Main Street business about a poker game in which players paid a $20 fee to play and the winner of the game took home the pot.

Hounschell said no one was arrested in this incident.

“We only took a report, and we’ll turn that over to the prosecutor,” he said. “After talking to the prosecutor, we will, in the future, shut down these games and cite the people involved.”

Dankelson said that with the increasing popularity of games such as Texas Hold’em, people should make sure they are aware of the law when it comes to gambling.

“I can’t recall ever prosecuting anyone for playing Texas Hold’em,” Dankelson said. “What I would advise business owners is if you are thinking about holding one of these tournaments in your business, contact an attorney and get their opinion as to whether what you are doing is allowed.”

Ben Parker, of Manhattan, Kan., represents a Web site, www.barpoker.com, that sponsors Texas Hold’em tournaments at locations across Missouri and Kansas, including one on Tuesdays and Saturdays at Mike’s Bar and Grill in Carthage.

“Our Poker Qq Online tournaments are free. There is no cost to play,” Parker said. “The winners get a $25 gift certificate. There are no cash prizes. We haven’t had any problems in Missouri because we are not doing anything illegal.”

Valerie Earl, a co-owner of Calypso Scuba and Ski in Joplin, staged an underwater Texas Hold’em tournament at her building last weekend to raise money for the Southwest Missouri Chapter of the American Red Cross.


Earl said she checked with the Joplin Police Department about what she could and could not do while planning the tournament.


“That’s why we used washers instead of quarters for chips, to avoid any appearance that money was involved in the tournament,” Earl said. “The officer told us that any time you have anything having to do with a game of chance, cards and money, it’s probably breaking the law. Everything we did was based on collecting money for the American Red Cross. We had prizes, and all the money went to the Red Cross.”