Thursday, December 31, 2009

Poker Game Robbery




AUSTIN (KXAN) - Catered food, high-profile players and thousands of dollars on the table set the scene for an armed robbery in Southwest Austin.

Sources said gunmen broke into a high-stakes poker game around 11 p.m. Dec. 9. Wearing masks, they entered the apartment, assaulted some of the players and then took off with more than $20,000 in cash.

APD confirms there was an aggravated robbery at the apartment that night involving two suspects and the investigation is still open.

"From what I understand, investigators are at a stalemate," said Commander Chris Noble with APD's organized crime division. "The victim is not being cooperative."

But, Mike Lavigne, the Texas State Director for the Poker Players Alliance , blames antiquated laws for the robbers' success and the unsolved crimes.

"A lot of times people don't even call the cops if these places get busted by a thief because it's not legal for them to be necessarily running that room in the first place," Lavigne said.

Poker becomes illegal in Texas when the House makes a cut. In the case of these underground games, poker hosts can pocket hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for putting together the events. The nights usually involve catered food, free massages and, in some cases, extra security.

"It's not seen as a crime in most parts of the world," said Lavigne. "It just happens to be the leftovers from some old laws in Texas. It's not clear what's legal or illegal in our state right now."

Participating in an illegal poker game is a Class A misdemeanor. But, even with the minor criminal penalty, police said players and homeowners are reluctant to report an attack or a robbery.

"There's no incentive, if you will, for the victim to cooperate with the police," said Noble.

Cooperating with police involves identifying the players, which will then lead to an investigation - minor questioning, at the very least. And, that will likely kill a house's customer base.

"These players don't consider themselves criminals," said Lavigne. "They just want to be able to play with their friends in an environment without being hassled."

Tim Kelly, who founded the Austin Poker Alliance , is another avid fan of the game. Kelly, however, only participates in legal games and often sets up several tables at his own house.

"We'll fill up the place," Kelly said. "But, it's secure. When they come into the house there is a set time when registration is basically over and you're not really going to get into the house unless you break in."

Kelly adds that many of the players are licensed to carry concealed handguns.

"If they do break in, the criminals are risking their lives," said Kelly.

Kelly agrees that poker laws should be loosened in Texas, but said defying the laws in place now is too great a risk.

"I won't affiliate with it simply because of the danger that you're asking about," he said, referring to games where the house gets a cut. "I won't have anything to do with it."

There were similar robberies of poker games in Houston and Dallas in the last month. In both cases, the robbers were caught.

"You don't know what you're walking into until you walk in," said Lavigne. "You know, the fact of the matter is, eventually someone is going to come through that door with a gun - whether it's a cop or a robber."

In the case of the Gaines Ranch Apartments, APD said there are still no suspects in custody and they are working on getting more information from the victim.

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