Consumer services

Virginia Beach poker room closes again

A Virginia Beach poker room has temporarily closed – again.

The Beach Poker Room, which previously closed in July, just celebrated its reopening in September.

“Due to many unfortunate circumstances…Beach Poker Room is temporarily (sic) closed,” the company said on its Facebook page this month. “We are all very grateful for the support you have shown us over the past few years. Now we ask that you stay in touch while we work on a solution.

The reason for the closure is unclear. But Virginia has recently started cracking down on charity gambling. Under a new state law, those who conduct charitable gaming without a license can be hit with fines of $25,000 to $50,000. Some, meanwhile, argue that repression harms legitimate charities; others believe that stricter regulation was necessary.

It is unknown who runs the Beach Poker Room. His the website says it was opened in 2020.

On its Facebook page, the poker room is described as a charity organization. The group, however, is not listed on GuideStar, the website that maintains a database of IRS-recognized nonprofit organizations.

The poker room told the Virginian-Pilot that it offers charity games, but did not respond to a question about its charitable status on GuideStar.

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, known as VDACS, which regulates and oversees charitable gaming, declined to comment on the shutdown.

The poker room did not respond to a request from The Pilot on the reason for his quitting. However, in an encrypted message sent from its Facebook page, the company apparently questioned why other establishments offering poker in Virginia Beach continued to operate.

Tad Berman, a self-proclaimed “citizen watchdog” who has gone after establishments he says falsely claim to be gambling charities, said he was not surprised by the closure.

The poker room regularly and openly announced on its social media page that it was continuing to hold poker games even after the new fines took effect, he said, and should therefore have expected to attract the attention of the authorities.

Berman, a retired horse racing fan and bouncer, often attends state games meetings and speaks with lawmakers about his concerns. He also runs a Facebook group dedicated to discussing integrity in games.

Berman said it was disappointing that the Virginia Beach resident Amy Solares, vice chairman of the state’s Charitable Gaming Board, which oversees charitable gaming, has ties to the poker room.

“She should know more as a board member,” said Berman, who lives in Richmond.

Solares, who is running for a seat on the Virginia Beach school board, said she had no connection with the poker room. The only connection is that a charitable gaming group in which she has a financial interest and the poker room are tenants of the same building.

The partnership in which she has a “limited interest” – which she declined to name – runs charity bingo games out of Bingo Palace, where the poker room also held its games.

A private landlord, whom Solares declined to name, owns the building and sublets it to different entities. Her too emphasized that she has never been involved in any form of illegal gambling.

Solares said Berman was “constantly trying to shut down charitable gaming,” including legitimate organizations. Berman, however, said he only wanted to make sure all the games were played legally.

“I like to play poker, but if we want to have (charity games) it has to be done legally,” he said. “You have to watch him like a hawk. When all that money is at stake, there will always be people trying to get their hands on it.

But Solares said some charitable gaming establishments have been unable to obtain the necessary permits to avoid a massive fine. The VDACS, she said, appears to be “unsuited and unprepared” to handle the charity poker licensing process.

That’s not the case for charity bingo, Solares said, likely because it was legalized decades ago in the Commonwealth. (The state did not decide to legalize charity Texas Hold’em poker games until 2020.)

A recent report by the Joint Audit and Legislative Review Commission, which conducts research on behalf of the General Assembly, confirms Solares: He concluded that the VDACS is ill-equipped to oversee charitable gaming.

“Charitable gaming regulation is a minor function for the VDACS, whose primary objectives are to promote the growth of Virginia agriculture, provide consumer protection, and encourage environmental stewardship,” indicates the report. “VDACS does not have enough staff to conduct a sufficient number of audits or inspections of organizations that sponsor charitable games.”

The report says the department has 21 positions dedicated to charity gaming, but says 10 of the positions are empty and “have been difficult to fill.”

In addition to the VDACS, two other state agencies also regulate gambling: the Virginia Lottery oversees the state’s lottery and casinos, while the Virginia Racing Commission oversees live horse racing and horse racing machines. horses.

Instead, the state report recommended creation of a single state agency to regulate all gambling except live horse racing. He said the Virginia Lottery could better fulfill that pivotal role.

Meanwhile, whatever the reason for its closure, it looks like the Beach Poker Room will be missed. More than a dozen customers of the establishment responded to Facebook’s announcement with comments deploring the closure. One commentator criticized the state.

“Virginia needs to seriously understand all this game (stuff), it’s getting very boring,” said one Facebook user identified as Bill Thruman wrote.

Some Virginia Beach lawmakers agree with that sentiment.

Of the. Glenn Davis called the charitable gambling fines “crazy and absurd” and said he believed the General Assembly was serving the newly legal casino industry at the expense of local charities.

“They’ve made it almost impossible for charities to do the kind of fundraising that they’ve done to create an advantage for corporate casinos,” said Davis, a Republican. “It’s clearly a David and Goliath situation.”

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Of the. Tim Anderson, R-Virginia Beach, said he also voted against the fines because he didn’t want to create more challenges for charities. But he also acknowledged there were issues within the charity gaming community.

“Often the vendors walked away with a much bigger cut than the charities themselves,” Anderson wrote in an email. “Many members of the General Assembly wanted to balance this equation. However, what we ended up with is no better in my opinion.

The delegate said he hopes the legislature will dump the current gambling laws and start again in the next legislative session.

Another type of game – games of skill – has also become a point of contention in the Commonwealth.

Games of skill are like slot machines, but the winners aren’t determined by luck alone; users must interact with the game. Over the past few years, Virginia has been back and forth about whether games of skill are allowed.

A court hearing later this year will decide the matter.

Katie King, [email protected]