Know when to hold ’em: the Barney Fife approach to gambling
As you dutifully fill in your brackets for the NCAA basketball office pool this week, you may not know that you are, in fact, breaking the law. That’s right, if North Carolina’s Finest decided to put some teeth in the existing statutes, we’d all be watching the regionals from the Barnes Motel and other similar county incarceratory emporiums. If BJ thinks it’s crowded now, this would be worse than when Andy left town and put Barney in charge and he dang near locked up all of Mayberry, including Opie and Aunt Bee.
Thankfully, common sense prevails ‘— or at least it has so far ‘— but there are other cases where it hasn’t. I mean, no lawman in his right mind along Tobacco Road is going to enforce this silly, antiquated law (unless he’s smoking some of that whacky ‘backy), but technically there’s nothing preventing some loose cannon out there from rounding up all the miscreant Mavericks and making them pay for their sins and moral transgressions.
Lately we’ve seen some instances of Barney-esque behavior in which a little police restraint would’ve prevented enforcement of some laws that are somewhere between borderline and needless. Not to point fingers at any city, county or state lawmen, but folks, we’re starting to look like a Fife-dom around here.
I guess it started when some Buford Pusser type decided to start enforcing the video poker statutes. This idiotic and outdated law, in essence, says that it’s OK to play video poker ‘— as long as you don’t win anything. As long as no money changes hands (other than the quarters you’re feeding into the machine) everything is hunky dory, but if you manage to beat the odds and actually win a few shekels, then all Hell breaks loose. The way I read it, The Heat can take the player downtown, take the proprietor of the venue downtown, take the owner of the machine downtown, take the machine itself downtown ‘— and then take the money!
On the scale of threats to society, playing video poker ranks somewhere between driving to Virginia to buy lottery tickets and putting a sawbuck on the Duke-Carolina game. In other words, no threat at all.
And speaking of non-threatening behavior, I’m sure you read about the Great Texas Hold ’em Caper a couple of months ago. A friend of mine had set up a high-stakes game in an office on Pisgah Church Road, necessitating a full-blown sting operation to root out the evildoers. Acting on an anonymous tip ‘— probably from someone running a rival game ‘— they wound up busting 15 or 20 guys, including a doctor and several rather prominent businessmen. Not only were they gambling and swilling hard liquor, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them were smoking cigars and using profanity. While all the charges wound up being dropped except for those against my friend, aka ‘The Ringleader,’ guess who kept the pot, which was considerable?
Thank you, Johnny Shaftoe.
But more than the government confiscating the kitty, my problem is this: Has anyone noticed that there’s a poker craze sweeping the country? At least five cable channels are currently airing regular poker tournaments; celebrities are popping up all over, playing poker for charity; NASCAR sponsored a tourney in Vegas last weekend for a worthy cause; ESPN has a hit series, ‘“Tilt,’” about professional poker players; poker gear was flying off the shelves this Christmas.
Jeez, poker has become as mainstream as’… well, betting on the NCAA tournament. What in the name of Yancey Derringer did you expect? Should anyone be shocked that games are popping up all over the place, even right here in River City?
But if that bust seemed a specious indicator of law enforcement priorities, this next one is straight out of Mayberry. Seems Barney and his posse of Goober and Floyd sniffed out a group of Vegas whales at Sin City South, or as we like to call it around here, Ham’s. Yep, I kid you not, Ham’s. That bastion of sin and degradation has been augmenting those Kosher dogs and Italian subs by running a Texas Hold ’em tourney in which the grand prize is (gasp!) an all-expenses-paid trip somewhere. Criminy, they’re not even playing for money! But there’s some fine print in the way the law reads that makes them all culpable.
Clearly, we’ve got to nip it, nip it in the bud. If you let Ham’s get away with it, next thing you know they’re anteing up in Anton’s, calling in Carrabba’s, raising in Ritchy’s, feeding the kitty in Keegan’s.
If the laws are going to be enforced this diligently, don’t be surprised if Gomer shows up at the water cooler as you’re making out your brackets, waving his arms and hollering, ‘“Citizen’s arrayest, citizen’s arrayest!’”
To comment on this column, e-mail Ogi Overman at firstname.lastname@example.org.