Illegal gambling not new in Idaho

Most criminal cases in the Gem State originate when someone complains to law enforcement agencies.

jsowell@idahostatesman.comOctober 26, 2013 

When Burt "Will" Rowland and four of his friends were caught playing stud poker inside Moscow's Cornwall Building in 1902, the men were arrested and charged with violating Idaho gambling laws.

Rowland was found guilty and was fined $200 - worth the equivalent of more than $5,000 today. The judge gave Rowland the choice of paying the fine or serving one day in jail for every $2 of the fine.

Rowland challenged his conviction before the Idaho Supreme Court, arguing that the state's constitutional prohibition against card and dice games applied to the operators of the games, not the players themselves.

The Supreme Court disagreed.

"Under its terms, one who plays for money in a game of poker is guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to punishment under the statute," Justice Ralph Quarles wrote in the Nov. 14, 1902, decision.

A century later, playing poker for money, prizes or other consideration - among other games of chance - remains illegal under the Idaho Constitution. Those convicted face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

Since 1975, 297 Idahoans have been arrested or cited for gambling, according to yearly crime statistics compiled by the Idaho State Police - an average of eight court cases annually.

The specific allegations in those cases are unclear. Historically, bar and tavern owners came under scrutiny for offering slot machines and poker machines with cash payouts.

"It's certainly something that we don't see very often," said Charles McClure, spokesman for the Boise Police Department, which shut down what investigators claim were a pair of private poker parlors over the summer.

In comparison, 2,294 criminal cases were brought against bad check writers in a 10-year period ending in 2012.

Illegal gambling takes place in clubs and homes, and it's difficult to catch people in the act, authorities say.

"It's illegal and they're going to be clandestine about it," said Lt. Russ Wheatley, head of the Alcohol Beverage Control Bureau of the Idaho State Police. "Those cases tend to be surveillance-heavy."

Wheatley sent out a letter in June to the owners of the state's 5,000 bars and taverns, reminding them of Idaho's gambling laws and informing them that his office received several complaints about illegal gambling taking place in licensed establishments.

"We're being proactive and we will look into complaints," he said.

Ten State Police detectives and two sergeants were hired this year for alcohol and gambling compliance, following an additional appropriation by the Idaho Legislature. Previously, two detectives covered the entire state.

"The manpower didn't seem to be sufficient to handle the volume back then. Now we can," Wheatley said.

RECENT CASES

Last year, Fruitland bar owner Thomas Overstreet pleaded guilty to operating video gambling machines. In addition, he admitted to evading income taxes and to conspiring to commit money laundering.

Federal prosecutors said Overstreet, who is serving a 46-month sentence in a prison in Southern California, earned at least $2.4 million in illegal profits between 2001 and 2011 from video gambling machines at his Club 7. They said Overstreet, who hadn't filed a tax return since 1999, evaded paying $477,000 in federal income taxes.

In 2004, police raided 13 Idaho bars and confiscated 50 video machines used for illegal gaming. Ten of the bars were in the Treasure Valley. The others were in Coeur d'Alene.

A yearlong investigation revealed that bar employees would pay players cash for credits accumulated on the machines through play. Each machine brought in up to $2,000 a week, state police said.

The investigation took place after police received complaints from people concerned about family members losing large sums of money gambling.

That same year, 62 adults and a juvenile were cited for gambling after police broke up a cockfighting match. All of those cases were later dismissed, Sheriff Rick Layher said, when a judge ruled police illegally entered the property south of Mountain Home without a warrant.

Layher argued that under the state's cockfighting statute, deputies had the right to go in and arrest the participants. He wanted to appeal the judge's ruling but it was never pursued.

"We still haven't had that question answered," he said.

On April 23, 14 men were cited for gambling following a raid at a residence in the 0 to 100 block of North Kings Road in Nampa. Three of the suspects pleaded guilty, while the other cases are still pending.

Canyon County officials would not release a police report or provide further details on the case, citing the ongoing criminal cases, county spokesman Joe Decker said.

And on July 16, Boise police shut down what they say were two poker parlors located 1,000 feet apart in commercial buildings on West Emerald Street.

At the first raid, Timothy Lough, his wife, Jo Anne, and their son, Travis, were taken into custody. Jo Anne and Travis Lough were charged with gambling and facilitation of gambling, while Timothy Lough was charged with gambling.

Jo Anne and Timothy Lough are accused of playing a tournament-style poker game with four other people, who were cited for gambling. Police also found business cards promoting poker tournaments that listed "Travis" as the person to contact.

All of the Loughs, who did not return calls for comment, have pleaded not guilty. They're scheduled for trial in coming months.

Down the street, Meridian resident David DeBoer was arrested after police found nine people playing Texas Hold 'Em. He was charged with gambling and facilitation of gambling.

His wife, Melissa DeBoer, and the other players were cited for gambling.

The DeBoers pleaded guilty late last month to one count apiece of gambling. David DeBoer was sentenced to five days in jail and fined $250 by 4th District Ada County Magistrate John Hawley Jr. DeBoer got credit for two days he spent in jail after his arrest and the other three days were waived in favor of 24 hours of community service.

Melissa DeBoer was fined $300.

No telephone numbers could be found for the DeBoers in online listings or in court files.

Their attorney, Bill Little, told Hawley earlier in September he planned to file a motion challenging the constitutionality of the state's gambling law.

LEGAL VS. ILLEGAL

Under the Idaho Constitution, bingo and raffles operated by charities are legal, as is pari-mutuel betting on horse races and state-authorized lottery games. Casino games are allowed only on Indian reservations.

Before he could file a motion, Little had a stroke. The DeBoers told Hawley they wanted to put the case behind them rather than to hire another attorney and challenge the law.

A spokesman for the Utah-Idaho Council on Problem Gambling in Salt Lake City said there's no real way to know how much illegal gambling goes on in Idaho.

The proliferation of televised poker tournaments has spawned interest in card games, Wheatley said. While many people look at poker as entertainment, others want to make money from it, he said.

Office pools, where participants bet a few dollars on the outcome of the NCAA men's basketball tournament or other sports events, are also illegal. Yet, it appears no one has ever been charged with betting on those events.

"I can say we don't arrest people for participating in office pools for the Super Bowl or NCAA basketball tournament," said Patrick Orr, spokesman for the Ada County Sheriff's Office.

John Sowell: 377-6423, Twitter: @IDS_Sowell

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