Let's keep the fun outside state line - Saturday 12th of March 2005

Well, let's see if we can suck all the fun out of everything.That seems to be the thinking of state and local law-enforcement officers, who have decided that free, no-strings-attached poker games are a form of gambling.

Restaurants and bars around the state are trying to capitalize on the national mania for the poker variation called Texas hold 'em.

In places like Atlanta, players pay a fixed price to play a game and are awarded non-cash prizes.

With North Carolina's zero tolerance for any kind of poker-playing, bars and restaurants here knew better than to charge a fee.

So they just invited customers to play for free, with prizes sometimes awarded. But the games were shut down recently and will remain shut down until the state Attorney General's Office issues a legal opinion on them.

And if you're wondering what's in it for the restaurants and bars putting on the games, they say it was good for business on slow nights.

Here's the statute that lawmen have used in closing the games: "Any person or organization that operates any game of chance or any person who plays at or bets on any game of chance at which any money, property or thing of value is bet" is guilty of gambling.

So what thing "of value" is being bet here? How can it be a wager when you don't have any money involved? Aren't money being bet and prizes being awarded two entirely different things?

By this same over-enforcement, officers should be able to shut down scratch-and-win contests at fast food chains, shouldn't they?

A little common sense here: If you're not wagering anything, it ain't gambling.

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