By DAN DEARTH
6:11 PM EDT, June 17, 2011
Representatives who say they are affiliated with the World Poker Tournament Amateur Poker League are trying to get permission to hold poker games at area bars.
During a hearing Wednesday before the Washington County liquor board, Tony Vista and Mary Hagemann said they want to stage the events to benefit a local charity to be named later.
Vista said they wanted to distribute prizes and possibly cash to the winners, but said they wanted to be careful not to break the law.
"We'll come in there for three or four hours, provide free music and provide some entertainment for the general public to come in and raise some money for a charity," Vista said.
Betting, wagering and gambling are illegal in Maryland, but there are some exceptions, according to the Maryland Attorney General's website.
Vista said the poker tournaments would be played by teams instead of individuals.
As an example, Vista said the first player to lose would receive 50 points, and the winner would get one point.
"The team that accrues the least amount of points wins the tournament," he said.
Robert E. Everhart, chairman of the Board of License Commissioners for Washington County, told Vista that the liquor board has little jurisdiction over gambling except in cases where alcohol is served. He asked Vista if he had checked with the Washington County Gaming Commission.
"The gaming commission says they have no say .... That's what they have told me," Vista said.
He said the poker tournaments wouldn't be considered gambling because the players wouldn't have to pay a fee to participate.
Jim Hovis, director of the Washington County Gaming Commission, attended Wednesday's hearing.
He said afterward that he didn't have an opinion on the matter because poker doesn't fall under the gaming commission's control.
"Our only authority is on tip jars, bingo and coin-operated amusement devices," Hovis said.
Vista told the liquor board that he also checked with the Washington County State's Attorney Office about the poker proposal, but that office directed him to the liquor board.
But Washington County State's Attorney Charles P. Strong said in a telephone interview Friday that he had not talked to Vista.
"We never met with him," Strong said.
Vista told the liquor board that he had an e-mail from the state's attorney office to verify his claim.
Vista forwarded the email Wednesday to the liquor board, which provided a copy to The Herald-Mail.
The e-mail was drafted by the Washington County Attorney's Office — not the Washington County State's Attorney's Office as Vista said during the hearing.
Assistant County Attorney Kirk C. Downey said in the email that "any determination regarding the legality of any poker tournament would be made" by the state's attorney's office.
But Strong said that was not the case.
"I have never given an opinion. It's not my function to give an opinion," Strong said. "We prosecute violations of the law. We are not administrators of gambling."
He said the Maryland Attorney General's Office would be the agency to contact to get an opinion.
The liquor board agreed to discuss the matter with other county agencies before moving forward.
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