Charity 'poker runs' will have to fold\nAttorney general rules motorcycle clubs' events are illegal gambling\n\nBy R.G. RATCLIFFE\nCopyright 2005 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau\n\nAUSTIN - Motorcycle clubs that stage "poker runs" for charity will find\n2006 less bountiful because Attorney General Greg Abbott ruled Tuesday\nthat such fundraisers amount to illegal gambling under Texas law.\n\n\nPoker runs typically have a participant paying a registration fee or\nhave the motorcycle rider purchase cards or hands at various rally\npoints. At the end of the run, a cash prize is usually awarded for the\nbest hand, the second-best hand and the worst hand.\n\nAbbott ruled that a poker run with cash prizes would amount to a lottery\nunder state law. He said an organization that kept part of the proceeds\nfor charity would violate the state's prohibition on gambling.\n\n"Even if the contribution goes to a charitable cause and the nonprofit\norganization will pay prizes from other money, a participant pays money\nfor the chance to win a prize," Abbott said. "Thus we conclude ... the\nnonprofit organization would become a custodian of a bet in violation\n(of the state Penal Code)."\n\nThe ruling will broadly affect motorcycle organizations across Texas. At\nleast seven have posted poker runs on the Internet through March.\nCharitable poker runs in the past year have been hosted by motorcycle\nclubs as well as police and fire departments around the state.\n\nThe poker run that prompted Abbott's opinion was organized by the Blue\nKnights Texas XXXI chapter to raise money for Galveston County Deputy\nSheriff Michel Roy, who was injured in April when his squad car collided\nwith a drunken driver's vehicle.\n\nThe Blue Knights is a motorcycle club consisting of active and retired\npolice officers.\n\nThe club's advertised run said riders could buy hands for each with\nno limit on the number of hands that could be purchased. At the end of\nthe run, prizes would consist of 0 for the best hand, 0 for the\nsecond-best hand and 0 for the worst hand.\n\nEvent drew complaint\nGalveston County Criminal District Attorney Kurt Sistrunk said he\nreceived a citizen complaint on the poker run the day before it\noccurred. He said he called Blue Knights officers and asked them to call\nthe event off.\n\n"There was no getting around it, in my estimation, they would be\nviolating the law if they pursued that event," Sistrunk said.\n\nBlue Knights chapter President D.J. Alvarez said after that call, the\nclub continued with the poker run, but canceled the cash prizes.\n\nAlvarez said only three or four riders backed out of the Blue Knights\nrun that weekend, but he said Abbott's ruling will have a serious impact\non charitable poker runs across Texas.\n\n"You have poker runs every weekend," said Alvarez, a lieutenant in the\nGalveston Police Department. "They're all for cancer organizations,\ncharitable organizations."\n\nHe said they are especially useful in raising money for injured police\nor firefighters.\n\n"Where in a matter of three hours can you raise ,000?" Alvarez said.\n\n'We can get around it'\n\nWhile Abbott's ruling specifically addressed the Blue Knights' poker\nrun, Sistrunk said he reads it to outlaw all such fund-raising\nactivities by nonprofit groups.\n\n"They're going to have to come up with a different way of collecting\nmoney," Sistrunk said.\n\nOne of the biggest poker runs in the Houston area is sponsored by\nCompetition Motorcycles of Pearland.\n\nOwner Jesse McCulley said his run is meant to promote motorcycling, with\nall the money being paid out in prizes. He said he understands that\nmakes it legal because no one benefits but the riders who participate.\n\nMcCulley said Abbott's ruling will negatively affect charity events if\nthere are no cash prizes for poker runs.\n\n"Some people are going to come out of the kindness of their heart," he\nsaid. "But let's face it, if you cut out that little piece of cheese at\nthe end of the trail, participation is going to decline."\n\nSputnik, chairman of the Texas Motorcycle Rights Association, who does\nnot use a last name, said he does not believe Abbott's ruling marks the\nend of poker runs.\n\n"We can get around it," Sputnik said. "We can give trophies, and we can\ngive cash money on the side."