SIKESTON -- Hoping to give back to the American Cancer Society, cancer survivor David Howard recently looked to the resurgence of poker for help.
"Every year I participate in the Relay For Life, but this year I wanted to do something more," said Howard of Sikeston. "As big as poker is I thought I would try a poker tournament."
But Howard had just one question: How do you host a legal poker tournament in Missouri?
To find the answer, Howard first approached Scott County Prosecuting Attorney Paul Boyd, who suggested Howard contact the Missouri Gaming Commission.
"He told me everything -- all of the rules," Howard recalled about talking with the Missouri gaming official. "For example he said you can't require an entry fee, but you can request it."
Gambling games, such as poker, blackjack, craps or similar games are only authorized aboard Missouri riverboat casinos; however, under Missouri law, there are only two ways to hold an unlicensed gambling activity or event in Missouri:
"No. 1 is if they're going to give out any prizes -- whether a ribbon, trophies or splitting the pot -- they can do that by requesting a donation and not requiring anybody to pay to play," Boyd said. "If payment is required, it becomes illegal gambling."
If a player wants to play and not pay a donation, you must let that person play, Boyd said. If any pressure is put on the non-donating player to donate by the host or any associate of the host who is holding the tournament or gambling event, the donation is considered a "required entry fee" making the event an illegal gambling activity, Boyd said.
"So I can request $40 on my fliers, but if somebody doesn't want to pay, you can't make them," Howard said. "And I don't think that would be an issue because the whole purpose is to raise money for an organization -- but if that person loses a lot of money, you are liable. So it's a catch-22."
The other option is they can require people to pay money to play, but if required to pay, they can give no prizes, Boyd said.
Although Howard received the OK from all county officials, after two weeks of research, he doesn't think there's not enough time publicize the event, originally scheduled for May 21. Instead he plans on organizing one for next year.
When contacted by phone, a spokesperson with the Missouri Gaming Commission said ultimately it's the prosecuting attorney who is in responsible for enforcing gambling law violations.
And currently there aren't any problems with illegal or legal poker tournaments in Sikeston, said Capt. Dan Armour with the Sikeston Department of Public Safety.
"As long as they're following state statute we have no issues. If there's illegal gambling we will deal with them accordingly," Armour said.
Boyd admitted he doesn't think most people are aware of the laws pertaining to types of gambling activities authorized in the state. And he's sure Howard isn't the only person who needs the information.
"Basically the main thing to know is if they're running any of these activities that they do so by the law," Boyd said. "And hopefully they will."