Iowa’s Department of Inspections and Appeals is offering a warning to hospitality businesses thinking of staging a pokerfest. Spokesman David Werning says the warning was prompted by the latest poker craze called “Texas Hold’em.”Werning says a lot of bars and taverns in particular are calling the agency to ask if it’s legal to put on “Texas Hold’em” tournaments. He credits the game’s increasing popularity to publicity from cable-TV shows on the World Series of Poker. But state law strictly limits what rules can be applied to such games, since it falls under the definition of gambling. Basically, gambling’s illegal in Iowa outside the licensed venues like racetracks and riverboat casinos. Bars ARE allowed to get a “social gaming license” that lets them permit people with a bona-fide social relationship play cards in their establishment. Werning says that doesn’t mean a place of business can offer card-games with gambling to anyone who happens to be a customer. He says a players’ group has to have some kind of social relationship, even if that’s friends or neighbors with a social connection — not just the fact that you all happen to drink at the same tavern. He says there are rules like: no more than fifty-dollars can be won or lost in a 24-hour period, the game can’t be promoted, there can’t be a designated dealer and the house can’t take a cut of the money gambled. It’s supposed to be strictly a social event. With the growing popularity of the idea, Werning says any place of business thinking of offering a tournament to attract customers would be well-advised to contact an attorney or the local city or county attorney’s office to confirm just what they’re allowed to organize under state law.
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