The irrepressible retired judge Harold Lee continues to defy the authorities in Arizona with his private poker room concept, and now plans to open further operations in Phoenix, according to The Arizona Republic newspaper.
Lee argues that poker is a contest of skill, and club members who play for money are not in violation of state law unless the game's host takes a cut of the prize money. Consequently, he operates his no-limit games through a league where members pay a membership fee and are asked to tip the volunteer dealers as they see fit.
And he seems to be on the right track: Texas Hold'em games he has operated have been referred for criminal prosecution several times by agents of the Arizona Department of Gaming, but he has never been charged.
The Attorney General's Office this week issued an e-mail statement to the newspaper saying it declined prosecution because there is "no reasonable likelihood of conviction."
Lee also is planning a new poker club in Tucson. The expansion of his league and the attorney general's opinion create questions about whether more private poker rooms could sprout up in Arizona, home state of the arch enemy of gambling, Senator Jon Kyl.
The judge has branded his Phoenix venture "Arizona Card Room of Northwest Phoenix", following a franchise agreement with Poker Nation….and he says he will go to jail if that's what it takes to prove that poker is not gambling and is no different to sports contests where winners receive prize money.
Gaming Department agents investigated Lee in 2006 and 2007, each time requesting felony charges. In January, when an Arizona Republic reporter asked about those referrals, Attorney General Terry Goddard's spokeswoman said no action was taken because of a lack of resources. Goddard decided to reconsider after viewing Lee's Web site but again declined to file charges.
Seena Simon, spokeswoman for the Gaming Department, said that a separate criminal referral submitted to the Cochise County Attorney's Office in January was also rejected.
Lee's relationship with the gaming authorities has been confrontational. He claims he represents poker players in Arizona under the auspices of a not-for-profit organisation called the International Card & Game Players Association. And he has alleged that the state Gaming Department has been derelict in regulating tribal casinos even as its agents seek to have him arrested.
Lee contends that tribes conducted illicit poker games that were not allowed under a compact with the state and collected a percentage of prizes in violation of Arizona law. The Gaming Department spokeswoman claimed that Arizona's gaming compact with tribes was amended in 2002 to include poker and to let casinos take a portion of each pot.