Club Royale Tucson closes

The Club Royale Tucson private poker club that has been a thorn in the side of the Arizona state gambling authorities for many months (see previous InfoPowa reports) has closed after reaching a deal to end a civil suit brought by a local Indian tribe. But apparently the police investigation lingers on, with reports that the local police and gaming authorities have obtained search warrants for the club and the residences of the two owners.

Former judge Harold Lee and Donna and Johnny Ray Rogers owned the club, challenging state authorities on its legality. But when the Pascua Yaqui tribe decided that it would seek protection against its competition by initiating a law suit, the pressure of state and civil litigation proved too much. The action by the Pasqui Yaqui, who operate two of the four state compact-regulated casinos in the Tucson area, was the last straw.

The Arizona Daily Star reports that Club Royale opened late July 2008 and within weeks had more than 500 members, attracted by the club's no-limit Texas Hold'em poker games, a variation of the poker game not offered at the state's Indian casinos.

The Arizona Tribal-State Gaming Compact, established in 1993 and renewed in 2003, prohibits no-limit betting.

The newspaper reports that the police began investigating the club in August, having received complaints from neighborhood associations. The police sent in undercover officers posing as poker players, who claimed that players had to purchase chips and that the club took a fee, or rake, from players on each poker hand. Some members had to pay a $20 club membership fee and at some points, the club was making upwards of $550 an hour, a police spokesman claimed.

When the business began profiting from the gambling, it became an illegal operation, the spokesman added. With the exception of regulated casinos, poker rooms are illegal in Arizona.

It has been claimed that one of the owners, former judge Harold Lee, is involved in two other illegal card rooms operating in Phoenix and Surprise. He was working to set up a franchise of illegal poker rooms across the state, the police alleged.

The Club Royale had eight tables that seated nine players each. There were paid dealers and video surveillance cameras used to monitor players, as well as armed, uniformed security guards.

During the subsequent service of the search warrant, police seized the tables, cameras, chips, gambling records and other evidence consistent with an illegal operation, although no arrests were made. The case will be presented to the Pima County Attorney's Office to determine whether charges will be filed.

The Pascua Yaqui Tribe filed a civil suit on August 18 against Club Royale, claiming that the operation was illegal because it violated state gambling laws. The suit also complained that Club Royale's ability to operate outside of the state gaming compact gave it a competitive advantage over tribal casinos that must adhere to the compact's guidelines on no limit gambling.

Hearings had already been set for late January 2009 when the owners of Club Royale folded, agreeing to close in exchange for the Pascua Yaqui Tribe's dismissing its suit without attempting to recover lost revenue.

Club Royale's fight made the local media headlines on several occasions, mainly with attacks by Lee against the protectionism and exclusivity of state and Indian gambling in Arizona, which has 22 legal casinos operated by 15 different tribes. According to local reports, Lee was disappointed in the decision to close and woujld have preferred to continue fighting.

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