Paying to play a game that is supposed to be free. What to do?

A local sports bar has recently started a Texas Hold-'em poker tournament, to be held twice a week over a couple of months. The tournament is delivered to the bar via satellite, from NTN Communications–the same folks who also deliver trivia games to a few thousand bars and restaurants in the US and Canada.

The NTN poker game is fun, challenging, and most importantly, free–in fact, there is a disclaimer displayed on the TV monitors at the start of the game that expressly forbids the bar from charging players any fee to play, as well as disallowing any wagering of real money on the game itself. Players use play money to play the game with–useless for anything except keeping score and providing something to brag about ("Sure, I won $160,000 Monday night, but sadly, it wasn’t real cash.).

Anyway, I’ve been playing in the tournament, and I’ve been doing not too badly, if I say so myself. I managed to win everything one night, and have held on long enough in other games to (I hope!) make it clear that I can be a force to be reckoned with.

But in addition to the regularly-scheduled tournament games, it has not been unusual for players who happen to be at the bar at other times to request that the management set up a non-tournament game; just to have a little bit of fun without the tournament pressure, and to get some practice. In these “fun” games, a few side bets involving real money have been known to have been made quietly–most often between a couple of guys who are betting between themselves for a couple of dollars–in spite of the game provider’s prohibition of wagering. But nobody has been prevented from playing any game because they refuse to bet real money.

Until, possibly, recently. Yesterday, while I was killing a rainy Saturday afternoon at the bar, a “fun” game was suggested. While we were getting ready to play, another player asked if I’d be interested in “kicking $20 in the pot, just, y’know, to make it a little more interesting.” I declined to contribute, he said, “Okay,” and we began the game.

As it turned out, the game went down to another player and myself (out of eight players), before the other player finally won it all. Sure, I lost, but it was a good game, and I enjoyed myself immensely–until the player who asked if I wanted to contribute to the pot earlier approached me. “You know, we’re not happy that you didn’t contibute money to the side pot and you nearly won,” he said. I asked him what he meant, and he replied that if I didn’t want to bet real money on the game, they didn’t want me playing at all. Next time, I was welcome to play only if I bet real money in the side pot.

I was somewhat shocked. Not only is wagering real money on the game expressly disallowed by the game operator (NTN Communications), NTN also has a clause in their contracts that stipulates that no money is to be charged to play any of their games. Moreover, this bar also has a sign on the wall by the pool table stating that gambling on pool is not allowed–I’m sure the same policy would extend to any other games occurring on their premises as well. And in addition, I have a feeling that the provincial gaming and liquor licensing authorities would have some sort of law against this.

Understand, I’m no prude when it comes to gambling; and frankly, I don’t care if a couple of guys have a side bet on anything: pool, the poker game, or which raindrop will reach the bottom of the window first. Indeed, I myself have played many casino games for real money, and made any number of horse racing bets in my life. But I choose not to bet my money on some things–NTN’s poker game among them–and to be told that I couldn’t play, in spite of the contractual and legal prohibitions against such a policy, unless I bet real money, I found to be surprising.

In fairness, this policy came from another player who was, like me, just a bar patron. There was nobody in authority to clarify the bar rules on this–the manager wasn’t there yesterday afternoon, and the Saturday afternoon bar staff have only so much say in house policy. Since I’d like to stay in the tournament, and play any “fun” games that might happen at other times, I’d like some Dopers’ opinions on what I should do. Should I:

A) Let the manager know what happened, and ask him for clarification of his house policy on this issue. I don’t care if a bunch of guys want to reserve a time for a game to which only selected players are invited to play (and wager in a side pot), but I would like some clarification as to who can participate in a supposedly open-to-all “fun” game, and how much (if any) must be contributed in order to play.

B) Shut up about the whole thing, remain in the tournament, but forego any supposedly open “fun” games where I see Mr. Bettor and his friends participating. The bar has plenty of other things to do: pool, Golden Tee golf, the daily newspapers, yakking with other patrons, and more satellite TV sports than you can imagine. I need not be bored there if the other poker players don’t want me in their game.

Or is there another option that you can suggest?

Note that one option that I will not consider is to reporting this to NTN or the provincial authority. I like the place too much–I like the manager, the staff, and the other patrons (well, most of them; Mr. Bettor isn’t in my good books any more); and I don’t want to get this bar in any trouble.

Anyway, Dopers, I leave it to you. What should I do?

IANAL, and I know very little about Canadian Liqour Law, but in MD, any gambling in any tavern without a permit is strictly prohibited.

Local Enforcement

Part 2

Aside from the legalities, as I see it the gentlemen simply wish to participate in some minor side betting. Which, potential illegality aside, is their right to do. If you don’t want to gamble, you don’t have to participate. If it is illegal, it is quite possible that the management is simply turning a blind eye towards it to ensure the patrons continued business.

Inform the manager/proprietor of the bar of the situation. I’m sure they don’t want to lose their license with NTN, or their license to sell liquor just as much as you don’t.

If you’re expected to pay-to-play, then do so. If you’re uncomfortable doing this, don’t stick around. I guess I don’t see the issue.

I’m perplexed at how this tournament works. The cards are sent to you by satellite? In a bar?

The side betting is largely irrelevant to the situation, which is whether or not someone deciding to start a poker game is required to invite you to play. He’s not. The reason he decides not to invite you doesn’t matter. If he starts the game he can invite whomever he wants and exclude whomever he wants.

That said, the guy’s a jerk. If he’s so hot to play poker for money, a deck of cards costs about a dollar and a cheap set of chips can be had for not too much more. Let him keep cards and chips in his trunk and play wherever, whenever.

I’m sure if you wanted to play the satellite game and he didn’t let you, and made a stink about it with management, you’d get your way. Me, I wouldn’t have much fun getting into a game that way, regardless of the reason I wasn’t included.

I would let the manager of the bar know what happened and let him handle it from there.

I am curious…

If you had won the “fun” game (where you did NOT contribute any real money to the pot), what would you have done with the pot?

Absolutely nothing. The way I see it, since I had no stake in the pot, I also had no right to it if I won the game. The player who came in second would have taken the pot, assuming he contributed to it.

Otto, it’s a little difficult to explain here, but here’s a link to NTN’s web site. It will help explain how their satellite system works, and there is a link to the poker game off the main page.

Just to clarify, I have no problem if this guy wants to start a private game that includes betting, and invite select players who want to contribute to the pot–even if invited, I’d stay out if betting money was a prerequisite. My problem with the situation was that this “fun” game was supposedly open to all players, regardless of their wish to bet or not; and indeed, there were only eight players in the game (the NTN system at this bar can handle up to ten). Consequently, none of his betting friends were denied a chance to play, and thus bet. Another player and I declined his offer before the game started, and he replied “okay,” which I took to mean that not betting in this game was fine with him. But by the time the game was over, he had apparently changed his mind.

Anyway, tonight is a tournament night, so I just might have a quiet word with the manager. If I do, I’ll post a follow-up. Thanks for the advice so far!

It sounds like the guys in the bar want to get a cash game going and use the satellite service as the “dealer”. Am I correct?

That said, either buy-in or sit out.

Look, laws like “anti-prositution” and “no gambling” are like “prohibition”. They’re instituted by people who think they know what’s best for you.

If a few guys want to harmlessly circumvent the laws, more power to them. If you report them to management, you’re a snitch. Period.

I also say you should buy into the game. Money is what poker is all about. Without money, it’s just mental masturbation.

So some guys want to have a little “pay for play” game on the side? I think you should either ante-up or don’t participate.
Or if you really enjoy making enemies and spoiling things for others, then rat them out to the manager.

Ugh. Looks awful.

I wouldn’t go quite that far. Nothing wrong with playing for play money as a way of learning the game. If I hadn’t had play money options available when I first started playing I wouldn’t have made the leap to real money. It only turns into masturbation when the majority of the other players adopt the “it’s only play money, screw it” attitude.

You’re half right. They want the satellite service to act as the dealer, but they don’t want to bet real money according to the rules of poker. They just want to throw real money in a pot, play the game with play money, and the one who wins the most play money takes the real money pot. I’m not sure if that makes sense, but that’s what they’re doing.

Yes, but the game is currently advertised by both the satellite service and the bar as both free and not for gambling purposes. In other words, according to the current game rules and bar policy, I don’t have to buy-in at all. Now, if the bar manager decides to change that and institute a “buy-in or sit out” rule, I have no problem with that either–I simply will stop playing.

But where I do have a problem is when another player–not the bar manager and not the satellite service–sets himself up as the decision-maker as to who may and may not play. Further, he seems to base that decision on whether players wager in his side pot–a pot that is neither organized by the house nor held by a neutral third party. I don’t believe that he can use the satellite system to cheat, but having seen him and his friends in action, I wouldn’t put it past them to find ways of disturbing or distracting others into losing their money in his pot.

Hell, maybe I should just fire up one of my PC casino games and play against the computer. Probably spend less in beer that way… :smiley:

Oh well, if you have proof that they’re cheats, bust 'em every which way. Cheats and angle shooters are the lowest of the scum.

Followed, IMO, by snitches.

If the ‘way it is’ there is pay to play, then pay or don’t pay.

I think most replies miss the point, which is about changing the rules in the middle of things (“It’s okay to not chip in/We’re upset with you for not chipping in”) and dictating that Spoons is not allowed to join in such a game in the future. This was compounded by the insulting insuation that he would have blithely taken their money without having risked his own – the jerk who expressed that may be sleazy enough to do such a dishonorable thing, but he had no ground to accuse Spoons of aspiring to do so.

I can’t see what the fool was upset about. It’s easy enough to award the pot to the best-performing contributing player, so there’s no good reason to exclude anyone who doesn’t want to contribute. It’s asinine, short-sighted, and petty.

I say report him to the bar management, expressing extreme displeasure that jerk-boy has taken it upon himself to mandate who gets to play and why.

But that’s not the way it is, nor the way it has been. The problem is that’s the way someone wants to make it, and he doesn’t have the right to do so in a bar he doesn’t own using a system (NTN) that he doesn’t control.

Except that management probably has a right to know if people in the bar are engaging in conduct that might cost the establishment its licence.

I have no personal problem with gambling at all. If people want to do it, more power to them, and i don’t think it should be illegal. But the bar owner shouldn’t lose his livelihood because some of his patrons aren’t willing to follow the law.

Here in Baltimore, the local authorities have been cracking down on poker tournaments in bars and restaurants, much to the chagrin of the local Texas Hold 'Em-playing population.

I was wondering when someone would come to their senses. Thank you, Gary T. You said it better than I could have.

As promised, an update.

Monday night was a regularly-scheduled tournament. I did have a word with the manager (it was hardly “snitching;” it was merely asking for clarification of bar policy), and the policy is as follows:

On tournament nights, if there are more players than seats at the table, then seats are allocated based on a complicated formula involving a player’s previous standings and the amount of the sponsor’s beer that the player consumed on tournament nights. Sounds silly, but if you qualify to play under this formula, you’ll be playing, whether or not you choose to participate in any side pots that may be available.

At other times, if a “fun” game occurs, players can decide among themselves how they want to play the game. If a side pot is a prerequisite, then they can agree to play that way. If it is not, then it is not, period. Changing the rules cannot happen once the game starts.

Any side pots, at any time, are to be played discreetly, quietly, and preferably without the bar’s knowledge.

That’s all fine by me. Knowing that they like to have a side pot, I can avoid playing with Mr. Bettor and his friends on Saturday afternoons, but they cannot deny me a seat at the table on tournament nights, as long as I qualify to play.

I should qualify to play in the next tournament, by the way, in spite of not doing as well as I would have liked last night. My King-high straight lost to an Ace hight straight. Oh well, that’s the way the game goes.

Thanks again for all the replies.

A Further Update…

Seems that the Texas Hold-'em poker tournament that I was referring to above has been shut down by the provincial licensing authority. The bar is allowed to continue operating as a bar, and it can offer such diversions as pool tables, TV sports, karaoke nights, and other typical bar activities. It can even continue to offer regular NTN trivia games. But it cannot offer any kind of poker game, whether NTN’s or a real game with real cards. Not even for play money.

I got a phone call last night from one of the regulars, who filled me in on this. He was a little difficult to understand, probably because he’d been drinking there all night long. Anyway, between rants directed at the provincial government, he inferred that it had something to do with a poker game happening without the government’s approval. A little Googling by me found this Alberta Gaming and Licensing Commission (AGLC) page, which kind of explains everything. Of particular interest is this sentence:

That about sums it up–the bar conducting the tournament is not a casino facility; therefore, the government will not grant a license to play poker in the bar; and thus, poker is not allowed in the bar. The AGLC page goes on to talk about forms of gambling and the Criminal Code of Canada, so I suppose an argument might be constructed in favour of a game involving play money. But until the AGLC changes its mind and/or there is a change in the gambling legislation, it looks like we’ve played our last tournament game. According to my drunken contact last night, the bar owner doesn’t want to jeopardize his bar (and thus, his livelihood); so he plans to comply with the authorities and won’t allow the game to be played in his premises again.

Pity. I nearly won last Monday–the game went down to another player and me. But his cards we just a little better than mine, and I ended up placing second. Would have been nice to have been the final winner of the tournament, though.