Gambling

Watauga Poker Club Owner to Plead Guilty to ‘Organized Crime’

Posted on: March 18, 2024, 07:09h. 

Last updated on: March 18, 2024, 07:09h.

The owner of the Watauga Social Lounge Poker Club in Fort Worth, Texas will plead guilty to one count of engaging in organized criminal activity and another of gambling promotion, PokerNews reports. A third charge against Joe Vongkaysone, of keeping a gambling place, has been dropped as part of his plea deal.

Watauga poker club, Joe Vongkaysone, Fort Worth
An image taken during the October 2022 police raid on the Watauga poker club in Fort-Worth, Texas, in the middle of a tournament. Forty-nine players were charged with illegal gambling, although the charges were later dropped. (Image: PokerNews)

The club was the largest and most popular in Texas until it was raided by police mid-tournament in October 2022. Dozens of employees were arrested, and 49 players were charged with the offense of “gambling — cards, dice, balls,” although most of the player charges were later dropped.

‘Inequitable’ Plea Deal

Vongkaysone will avoid jail thanks to the deal, but will agree to forfeit $170K in penalties, plus interest. Authorities seized around $205K during the raid. This included the roughly $132K prize pool for the top finishers in the club’s Fall Classic Poker $100K GTD Main Event, which was in full swing at the time of the raid.

Vongkaysone said in a statement he had intended to fight the charges but ran out of money after spending $195K on legal fees defending himself and eight staff members.

Making the tough choice to accept an inequitable plea bargain, surrender the forfeitures, and bear inflated attorney fees was far from easy,” Vongkaysone said. “… My heart goes out to every individual who got entangled in this unfair situation – the players, employees, and all my investors. Truly, it’s a regrettable predicament for everyone involved.”

It’s not immediately clear why Vongkaysone’s club was targeted while others in the Dallas area have been left unmolested.

Legal Loophole

In Texas, as elsewhere, all gambling is illegal unless specifically authorized by the legislature. But the state’s poker clubs argue they operate legally via a loophole in the law.

Chapter 47 of the Texas Penal Code states: “It is a defense to prosecution [for gambling]” if “the actor engaged in gambling [is] in a private place; no person received any economic benefit other than personal winnings; [and] except for the advantage of skill or luck, the risks of losing and the chances of winning were the same for all.”

The clubs claim they are “private” businesses that do not take a rake from games. Instead, they charge customers an hourly rate to be at the venue.

Detractors say the “private” carveout was intended for private home games, and the clubs are not private places because they can attract hundreds of players daily.

The  City of Dallas is currently locked in a legal battle with several local card clubs. In December 2022, a Dallas County district judge ruled that the clubs could stay open until the matter of their legality is finally resolved in the State Supreme Court.


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