published Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

23 arrested poker players dealt options in courtroom

It was a full house in Hamilton County Sessions Judge Ronald Durby’s courtroom Tuesday as about 20 poker players appeared in court on gambling-related charges.

A total of 23 poker players caught playing Texas Hold ’em in an office suite off Brainerd Road went before the judge. On March 21, Chattanooga Police Department officers raided one of the games, which were part of a six-week tournament.

On Tuesday, most of the players appeared in court to learn where the chips would fall in their court cases. Three of the defendants appeared with hired legal counsel; the rest appeared without attorneys.

“If you punish everybody who plays poker, there wouldn’t be a whole lot of room left in the jail,” said Marty Levitt, a defense attorney representing one of the players.

Assistant District Attorney Dave Denny offered the defendants two options.

“I explained to them I would give them the option of pleading guilty to the gambling charge and receiving a 30-day suspended sentence with a $50 fine and court costs,” Denny said. “Or they could apply for a something called a diversion if they had no prior criminal history. They could admit to the judge they were gambling — pay a $50 fine, stay out of trouble for 30 days and pay a $150 expungement fee if the TBI clears them to get that off their records.”

Denny said nearly all the players opted for one of the two options, with the split about half and half.

To go to trial with a case like this, Denny said, “You would have to overcome whatever juror bias there would be against strict enforcement of the gambling law. I don’t know how difficult that would be.”

In this case, most people just want to put the incident behind them.

Michael Thurman, who was one of the players, pleaded guilty with eight others before Durby.

“It would cost more to fight it. I just want it over,” he said. “We’re all kind of mad about it, but what can you do? Everyone plays poker in town.”

Denny said plea deals are typical in cases like this one.

“Most people just want some resolution. They don’t want to drag the thing out and have a huge fight in the courts over it,” he said. “They just want it to be over and to move on.

“It’s kind of an embarrassment. They just want to get it in the past as soon as possible.”

But even the judge seemed to have a sense of humor about the situation. When Denny called the players outside the courtroom to offer the plea deal, about half the people in the room exited.

“Is that the gambling bunch?” Durby asked.

“Y’all don’t get out there and roll dice,” he told them.

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GlacierClipper said...

With all the major crime taking place, why waste tax dollars on busting up a poker game? Unless the payoff is made in stole goods or drugs.

May 25, 2011 at 12:43 a.m.
McRand said...

30 day suspended sentence? Kind of much, don't ya think? Who are they hurting with their private gambling? Why don't you go after the big gamblers like the stock market; the dealers and the players, or the banks and the people they hurt with their latest scam. A lot more evil there than in a little innocent poker tourney. Bingo anyone?

May 25, 2011 at 9:11 a.m.
Leaf said...

This piece was flush with puns. Beth Burger is quite a joker.

May 25, 2011 at 9:33 a.m.
dave said...

Chattanooga has a murder or two a day and our police have time to bust a few folks playing poker? Perhaps they should also be going for all those repeat jaywalkers. Give me a break. Perhaps we need to re-examine our priorities? 1. Stop the Murders. 2. Stop the violent crime THEN maybe then...look for folks violating minor laws of a dubious nature. I mean just recently an organization sold "chances" to win a house...for a good cause but it is still "gambling". Get your Priorities straight.

May 25, 2011 at 9:50 a.m.
dao1980 said...

Busting up poker games is waaaaaay safer than actually getting down and dirty with violent criminals.

May 25, 2011 at 10:43 a.m.
potcat said...

When football season starts, if you know the right people or should i say Bookie, you can get all the Parlays one wants and bet to their hearts or wallets desire! Chatt. Town is a Bookies Paradise or i should say Gamblers...can anyone say payoff or look the other way!

May 25, 2011 at 12:16 p.m.
7Seventeen said...

Well, they were offered pre-trial diversion which would leave them with nothing on their records and $200 lighter in the wallet. They don't deny that they were gambling, so why not just admit it to the judge and get it over with?

That must have involved some top notch police work, sniffing out an illicit poker tournament like that. I'll bet(!) some real criminal masterminds were operating that racket.

May 25, 2011 at 1:45 p.m.
chet123 said...

BIG DEAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

May 25, 2011 at 9:14 p.m.
CAPTDASH said...

WHAT, with ALL of the Violent Crime in Chat, cops waste time on a Poker Game. I am glad I stayed home tonight instead of going to play at my weekly game that I have been playing at since i was about 15. I am now 41.

Why don't cops go lock up all of the bankers and oil companies for robbing us blind. that maes as much sense as messing with a Poker game. The judge should have dismissed the case to prove a point that there are higher priorities for the cops than a poker game.

May 27, 2011 at 12:15 a.m.
free_slots said...

Let the people have fun!

February 3, 2012 at 12:53 a.m.
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