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Wednesday, June 20th, 2007

Poker May Spread in Bayou State

BY TOM SOMACH

A bill that would allow bars and restaurants in the State of Louisiana to hold Texas hold ‘em tournaments is headed to the State Senate for debate after winning approval from a State Senate committee.

The tournaments have been the subject of controversy because the State’s top liquor regulator says they violate Louisiana’s gambling laws.

Supporters of the bill say they don’t view the poker games as gambling as long as the bars and restaurants don’t get a cut of the wagering, the so-called “rake” that legal poker rooms and casinos take out.

The bill in question, sponsored by State Representative Warren Triche of Thibodaux, La., would allow the businesses to hold poker tournaments once a week for people at least 21 years old, as long as the owner doesn’t get part of the proceeds and doesn’t charge an entrance fee.

The bars and restaurants wouldn’t be able to operate the tournament, furnish supplies like cards and poker chips, or advertise beyond their regular business signs.

Opponents say the tournaments would hurt charitable gaming operations, and they said the bill would expand gambling in Louisiana to more than 20,000 establishments.

Triche sponsored a similar bill last year, but it couldn’t get passage in the State House.

This year, the State House narrowly approved the measure.

A State Senate judiciary committee agreed to it in a 3-1 vote this week, sending it to the State Senate floor.

If it receives State Senate approval, it faces an uncertain future because Governor Kathleen Blanco has opposed it as an expansion of gambling.

Orleans Parish, the county where New Orleans is, is excluded from the bill.

New Orleans already has legal casinos.

(E-mail Tom Somach at [email protected])

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