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New law becomes an unintentional threat to poker runs

Amendment to House bill leads to fees, doubt

It seemed like an innocuous addition to a bill last spring.

A Senate amendment to House Bill 2520 made poker runs a part of the state’s Charitable Games Act. The events are a popular way of raising money for charitable causes.

A little over a month after the bill was signed into law, an organization that pushed for the amendment has changed its mind.

And a Springfield not-for-profit nearly saw its fundraiser scuttled because of confusion over the law.

State Rep. Kay Hatcher, R-Yorkville, who sponsored the bill in the House, said the idea of adding poker runs to the Charitable Games Act was brought to her by ABATE, which stands for A Brotherhood Aimed Towards Education and lobbies on behalf of motorcycle interests.

“This was an effort on their part to quantify what they are doing,” Hatcher said. “I’m a big ABATE person.”

Hatcher, who rides a motorcycle herself, said poker runs have been a staple for antique car groups, sports car organizations, and motorcyclists for decades.

“It is the lifeblood for fundraising for folks who are literally on the move,” she said.

Illegal gambling

In poker runs, participants travel to a series of five locations, often bars, where they draw a card from a deck. This becomes the basis for the participant’s poker hand. At the end of the run, people with the best poker hands can win prizes.

In some cases, marbles of different colors are drawn, and at the end of the run, a value is assigned to each color. People with the most valuable marbles win.

Bob Myers, ABATE’s lobbyist, said the idea for the amendment was in response to what the organization saw happening.

“Down here, one of the liquor agents was going around to all the establishments and tearing down our fliers for our events,” Myers said. “Ninety-five percent of our events are for charity purposes. They threatened the bars that this is gaming, they can’t have this.”

“The Liquor Commission and Revenue Department have a legal responsibility to discourage and deter illegal gambling,” said Revenue spokeswoman Sue Hofer.

Myers said lawyers for the Legislature recommended placing poker runs in the Charitable Games Act.

“We thought we had this settled,” Myers said. “Apparently the Department of Revenue has other ideas. It’s about money and them taking it away from people.”

Why regulate it?

Myers said he’s unhappy that the state is requiring each bar participating in a poker run to obtain a provider license. That can run from $50 to $150 for 3 years, Hofer said.

Also, the charity needs a license to conduct the event. It is $200 now and will go up to $400 for 2 years on Jan. 1. Proceeds of the event are subject to the state’s 3 percent tax on charitable games. Money from the tax is used mainly to enforce the charitable gaming law, Hofer said.

“The law establishes the definitions of what this kind of charitable event is,” Hofer said. “The law requires there are fees imposed on the operators and providers of such games.”

Myers said he thinks the end result will be far fewer organizations willing to raise money through poker runs.

Rep. Rich Brauer, R-Petersburg, is working on legislation he hopes is ready for the veto session that will change the poker run law. He is considering making poker runs raffles that will bring them under the jurisdiction of county governments.

Ripple effect

Confusion over the law apparently carried over to an event planned by Computer Banc of Springfield.

Executive director David Fowler said he was approached by a group of veterans interested in creating a charity ride as part of Computer Banc’s upcoming 15th anniversary. Proceeds from the ride would be used to provide at-risk veterans with computers.

“When we first started our planning, we were using the term poker run,” Fowler said.

However, the organization quickly decided to call the event a charity ride and not have any gambling involved.

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