Local police raided a pair of Houston poker clubs, arresting their owners and operators last Wednesday, May 1, after a two-year investigation confirmed they were money laundering and engaging in organized crime.
A total of nine people were arrested on Wednesday afternoon as local law enforcement raided two poker rooms located in Houston during a money laundering investigation.
The two poker clubs were: the Prime Social Poker Club at 7801 Westheimer Road and the Post Oak Poker Club at 1001 West Loop South.
As part of the investigation at the Prime Social Poker Club, the people arrested were Dean Maddox (owner), Brent Pollack (general manager), Mary Switzer (comptroller) and Steven Farshid (assistant GM). Also as part of the investigation at the Post Oak Poker Club, the people arrested were co-owners Alan Chodrow, Daniel Kebort, Kevin Chodrow, Sergio Cabrera and William Heuer III.
Prime Social Poker Club
Poker players were clueless when they arrived at the Prime Social and found the parking lot teeming with undercover police officers carrying out computers and hard drives.
The day of the raid was unfortunate for the Prime Social patrons because there was a tournament scheduled that time. Their buy-ins and also their chips in play, became instantaneously worthless when police barged in and froze all assets.
According to the District Attorney's office, prosecutors said the defendants made a profit from illegal gambling activities.
A consultant for Prime Social, Wayne Dolcefino, said, "They don't take a penny out of that money." He emphasized the poker club is not operating in the dark and had even done lots of charity drives in the community, "I just don't believe the guys that I know have done anything wrong. And I believe they've been very, very meticulous about the way they keep records."
Post Oak Poker Club
The Post Oak Poker Club opened its doors in 2017 and was one of the first poker clubs in Houston. Its owners said the business was entirely legal because the club did not take any money from all of its games.
The two-year investigation involved state undercover officers posing as players. They were "asked to pay a membership fee, a door fee, and a fee to play at a poker table."
Poker rooms in Texas have operated under a gray area, employing a business structure similar to that of a country club on a membership scheme. Players just pay a fee to play. The club does not take any rake in the games, but instead they get their revenue through hourly fees and memberships.
Gambling is Illegal - Texas Penal Code
As stated in Chapter 47 of the Texas Penal Code, gambling is against the law, unless the following conditions are met:
1. The player is in a private place.
2. No one profits from hosting the game.
3. The risk of losing and chances of winning are the same for all participants.
Last year, the Texas attorney general was asked what he thought about the legality of such businesses, but he said he will leave the courts to decide on this issue.
Poker Lab Radio host and professional poker player Derrick Cavaco said, "The law is very vague. The action here, the players here, the oil money, the deep pockets, it's a sick poker scene. And that's not going away. All they'll do, unfortunately, is force it all back underground."
The HPD Vice Division and the DA's Money Laundering Division joined forces on this investigation.
Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg stated the nine people who were the owners and operators of these two poker establishments that claimed to be legal under state law were arrested.
Ogg said in a statement, "Poker rooms are illegal in the state of Texas. 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."
Operating since 2017, police claim the two clubs have made $10 million in bank deposits. Those bank accounts are now frozen and will be seized.
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said, "We cannot allow illegal gambling to go on. It drives organized crime and fuels other criminal activity. We're not going to tolerate it. We got two of the bigger ones today and this is just the beginning. We need to shut them down. If you want to have these kinds of establishments, the legislature needs to authorize it, otherwise we're going to do our job and shut them down."
Charges levied against the nine people arrested in the raid include money laundering, gambling promotion, and engaging in organized criminal activity.