It was one of the biggest poker nights ever held at Rafferty's, in Greeley, Colorado. The owners even had to resort to bringing out a third table for the evening of August the 12th to accommodate the 30+ players who had come to play in the $20 tournament. Suddenly though, police officers swarmed the bar and were everywhere. Mary Paiz, one of the organizers of the game had a sinking feeling of dread, "When the police came in, I knew exactly what was going to happen."
The police were there to not only break up the game but when all was said and done, five people had been arrested - Paiz, Kevin Raley, Jim Vaughn, Tim Ouellette and Brandon Waddle. The five small stakes, recreational poker players never had it in mind to become martyrs for game. The players had actually gone out of their way to create a poker game that was legal by researching Colorado law and even went so far as to create bylaws for their game which was held twice a week. "That's the irony of this," said Vaughn. "We were doing everything we could to do it legally."
According to Colorado law, illegal gambling precludes any "bona fide contests of skill." All involved felt confident that Texas hold'em more than qualified for that exemption. The players were convinced they had done nothing wrong according to the law, but as the reality of their situation began to sink in and the fact that they were facing a lengthy and expensive legal battle hit them, it made them begin to rethink their position. "If the police hadn't made as big a deal of it as they did, we probably would've taken a deal," said Ouellette.
The Poker Players Alliance stepped in to lend their support to the players, even paying for an expert witness in the case. The five defendants had to file their cases individually and Raley was selected to be the first to face trial. After a five day trial he was found not guilty. "It is further confirmation that poker is indeed a game of skill, not chance," commented Gary Reed, the Colorado state director of the PPA. "At the same time, the not-guilty verdict cements the rights of Colorado citizens to enjoy the American pastime of poker and will allow law enforcement to use its scarce resources to investigate real unlawful activity in the state, not poker games." The remaining four cases were then dropped without prejudice. Other states are beginning to see poker related trials and this landmark Colorado case is sure to factor into those decisions.
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