Elks face loss of license

Gambrills club members called to liquor panel about poker night

November 28, 2007|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,Sun reporter

The betting was low-stakes, but an Elks Club in Gambrills could lose its liquor license after police found a group of men playing Texas Hold 'em poker in a back room of the lodge.

After receiving a tip about illegal gambling for at least the second time in a year, police officers entered the Bowie Elks Club on Defense Highway on Aug. 13 and found eight men around a casino-style poker table in a game room. Police seized about $400 in cash and notified the men that they could face criminal charges.

Such charges haven't materialized, but the men - along with the leadership of the Elks Club - have been summoned to appear before the Anne Arundel County Liquor Board on Dec. 11 for gambling and illegal-conduct violations. An attorney representing the liquor board said the lodge could face a fine and suspension or revocation of its liquor license.

Despite its popularity, playing poker for money is against the law in Maryland. The same game that helped Severn accountant Steve Dannenmann win $4.25 million in 2005's World Series of Poker has also resulted in raids and arrests across the state.

"Many people think if it's a closed environment that it's OK, when in fact it's not," said Sgt. Sara Schriver, a spokeswoman for the Anne Arundel County Police Department.

Eugene D. Mattison, an Upper Marlboro attorney who is listed as the Bowie lodge's leading knight, said he just recently became aware that the incident was going to come before the liquor board. Mattison, along with other Elks leaders, were not among the men participating in the poker game, but their names appear on the lodge's license.

"I haven't gotten any information as to why they want us to appear," he said yesterday. "We've been told that the state's attorney decided [the incident] did not warrant further action."

Sara H. Arthur, co-counsel for the liquor board, said the board can pursue sanctions even if police and the state's attorney's office opt against criminal charges. "We have a different standard," she said.

Last August, Mattison had adamantly denied that Texas Hold 'em games were being played at the lodge, according to records. The liquor board had received a tip - documents show that the board was contacted by someone who complained that "if one person can do it, why can't everyone?" - and sent a letter to Mattison, reminding them that such tournaments were not allowed.

"Bowie Lodge 2309 has never held a Texas Hold-Em event. In fact, the lodge has been approached by outside companies to sponsor such events and our club manager with the approval of the House Committee vetoed the proposal," Mattison responded on Aug. 29, 2006.

This year, an anonymous source told investigators that Texas Hold 'em games were played every Monday, with money kept in a secure briefcase kept near the pool tables.

According to a police report, the players ranged in age from 32 to 75 years old. Several said to the officer that they were "only playing low-stakes poker," pointing out that the white chips had a value of $1 and the red a value of $2.

William J. Seibert, a leading knight for the Elks Club, said he was not aware of gambling and rarely socializes at the lodge. He said he joined for the charitable events, such as raising money for scholarships and local charities.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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