Injunction Allows L.A. County to Avoid State's Ban on Jackpot Poker

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The state attorney general's office and local law authorities said this week they are ready to begin enforcement of a ban on jackpot poker at more than 300 clubs statewide, but the ban will not be in effect in Los Angeles County because of a Superior Court ruling issued earlier this month and expanded Monday.

Under the ruling by Judge Miriam A. Vogel, Los Angeles County card clubs may continue to offer jackpot poker, which Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp has called a form of illegal lottery, until the issue is resolved at trial.

In jackpot poker, players compete for two pots--one that accumulates over days or weeks and a regular pot that is decided on each deal. The jackpot grows until it is won by a player with a specific hand that varies depending on the game being played.

Vogel issued a temporary injunction Oct. 2 preventing the Sheriff's Department and the attorney general's office from enforcing a ban on low-ball jackpot poker in Los Angeles County, but said she would need more time to decide whether the injunction should extend to other forms of poker when played in connection with a jackpot.

This week, Vogel expanded the injunction to include seven-card stud, Texas hold 'em and straight high-draw poker.

The question of the legality of jackpot poker became an issue in August, when the attorney general issued an opinion that the game is an illegal lottery because players must pay to play, and because it involves a prize that is won in a game where chance predominates over skill.

Four Los Angeles-area card clubs sued to block the proposed ban and won the temporary injunction preventing its enforcement in the county. The four clubs are the Eldorado Club and the Normandie Casino in Gardena, the Bell Gardens Bicycle Club and the California Commerce Casino in Commerce.

"Until the preliminary injunction is lifted, we are at liberty to continue to play the games," said Richard Dear, an attorney for the two Gardena clubs.

Deputy Atty. Gen. Keith Borjon, who represented the state Department of Justice and the attorney general's office in Monday's hearing, said the state is considering an appeal.

Alexander Pope, an attorney for the Bicycle Club and Commerce Casino, said club owners are hoping the issue will be decided at trial.

"The orderly thing to do is to call off the dogs and not attack jackpot poker, set this for an early trial, try it, and whoever loses can decide whether to appeal," Pope said. "The disorderly thing is to let all . . . clubs around the state thrash around and each one have to wrestle with local law enforcement."

Mike Broderick, manager of the state gaming registration program in Sacramento, said state officials are standing firm on enforcing the ban.

"We're moving full steam ahead as far as enforcing the cease-and-desist order in other counties," Broderick said. "We will be sending out special agent personnel to check on clubs to see if they have followed our request."

Ron Sarakbi, president of the California Card Club Owners Assn. and general manager of the Commerce Casino, said the association had hoped to reach an agreement with state officials to prevent enforcement of the ban statewide until the legality of the game is decided at trial.

"I've been bombarded with telephone calls from small clubs across the state asking what are we going to do," Sarakbi said. "My advice has been to do whatever the attorney general's office requires you to do. I'm trying to work out a peaceful solution (where) the status quo would apply throughout the state until the courts decide."

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