Poker runs illegal under state gambling statutes
There's no charitable gaming exception in Kansas law.
BY ANGIE HAFLICH
In poker runs, motorcycle riders pay an entry or registration fee and then drive to various locations to pick up playing cards, and at their final stop, the person with the best hand wins a prize.
These have become an increasingly popular way for both individuals and organizations to raise money. However, a Kansas law states that, like raffles, this is illegal.
Bill Miskell, public information officer for the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission, said that a common misconception is that poker runs that are put together as charitable or fundraising events are legal.
"Kansas is one of the four states in the United States that has no charitable gaming exceptions to their laws," Miskell said. "Under Kansas law, there is no charitable exception to the Kansas gambling laws, and it would require a change in statute to make those kinds of events legal for certified, not-for-profit (organizations)."
The law is covered under the gambling statute, KSA statute 21-6403.
"What is illegal in Kansas are lotteries, and lotteries are games that contain the elements of consideration, chance and prize," he said. "If an activity involves those three factors, then that is an illegal activity under Kansas gambling laws."
Consideration, he said, means an entry fee or bet. However, under the definition of a lottery as defined by the statute, lotteries operated by the state pursuant to the Kansas lottery act — such as the Kansas Lottery and casinos — are exempt.
The Garden City Telegram recently canceled its Texas Hold 'Em tournament, which was to be held Aug. 17 at the Clarion Inn, 1911 E. Kansas Ave., because this law was brought to the attention of Editor-Publisher Dena Sattler.
"With the uncertainty surrounding the legality of poker runs and other related fundraisers, we felt it best to err on the side of caution," Sattler said.
The tournament was put together as a fundraising event for The Telegram's Newspaper in Education (NIE) Program, a longtime Telegram program that puts newspapers in classrooms as a learning tool. Teachers throughout Garden City and the region participate and use the papers for various lessons in reading, math, geography and other areas.
Several poker runs have taken place in Garden City this summer, and in recent years, with most of them as fundraising events.
"I think that there are an awful lot of fundraising events on a regular and ongoing basis that are not in compliance with Kansas law. I think the majority of the people who hold these events don't realize that they're violating the law," Miskell said.
Kendall Adler, president of the Takedown Club, a parent support organization for the Garden City High School wrestling team, is one such person. He held a poker run on June 9 and had no idea it was against the law.
"I tried to get all the information that I could, as far as having one and doing it and everything. And I talked to hundreds of people before we even set out to do ours, and I'm certain that not one person knew that," Adler said.
Miskell said prosecuting a violation of the law is at the discretion of a local county or district attorney.
Finney County Attorney John Wheeler said it is not something he would put at the top of his priority list.
"I've only got five months in office, and I've been doing this for 20 years. And over those 20 years, there have been multiple murders, rapes, sexual assaults against our children; fires, arsons, death, and then we have poker runs that to my knowledge have never benefitted the house in any manner, and it's only been to raise money for good charitable purposes," Wheeler said.
He said poker runs help others without utilizing tax money.
"We have a group or organization that sponsors something that's fun for a lot of people and raises money for a charity, and we call it a crime," Wheeler said. "And it just seems to me to be contradictory, contrary, and I wish the Legislature would take a look at it after all these years."
Miskell said that when it is brought to the KGRC's attention that a poker run or Texas Hold 'Em tournament is taking place, the KRGC will contact the individual or organization that is conducting it, advise them that it is illegal, and then work with them to find a way to make the event compliant with the law.
"What we've been encouraging people to do now, for about six weeks, is to put a deck, a regular 52-card deck, mount all the cards on a piece of cardboard, and when the first rider rides up, hand the rider a throwing dart, say 'there's the line, stand there and hit whichever card you can hit with that dart,'" he said. "So he is working on a predominant game of skill instead of a game based predominantly on chance."
Because all three elements of consideration, chance and prize must be present for an event such as a poker run to be deemed illegal under the Kansas law, eliminating just one, such as chance, makes it legal.
For more information concerning the law, contact the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission at (785) 296-5800, or visit its website at krgc.ks.gov.