9 arrested as authorities raid 2 Houston poker rooms

HOUSTON – Authorities raided two Houston poker clubs and arrested their owners and operators on Wednesday following a two-year money laundering and engaging in organized crime investigation. 

Nine people were arrested Wednesday as authorities raided two poker rooms in Houston during a money laundering investigation, prosecutors said.

The raids happened at the Post Oak Poker Club at 1001 West Loop South and the Prime Social Poker Club at 7801 Westheimer Road. 

At the Westheimer Road location, both local and federal officials could be seen removing computers, hard drives, cameras and surveillance video equipment from the building. Video from SKY2 showed multiple police cruisers at the scene.

VIDEO: SKY2 flies over Prime Social Poker Club

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said the nine owners and operators of the establishments that claimed to be legal under state law were arrested and the bank accounts, worth millions of dollars, were frozen.

Daniel Kebort, William Heuer III, Alan Chodrow, Sergio Cabrera and Kevin Chodrow were each arrested as part of the investigation at the Post Oak Poker Club, prosecutors said. Dean Maddox, Mary Switzer, Brent Pollack and Steven Farshid were arrested as part Prime Social Poker Club investigation, prosecutors said. 

The DA's Money Laundering Division and HPD Vice Division collaborated on the investigation.

“Poker rooms are illegal in the state of Texas,” Ogg said in a written statement. “We are changing the paradigm regarding illegal gambling by moving up the criminal chain and pursuing felony money laundering and engaging in organized crime charges against owners and operators. Players are not being targeted.”

"We cannot allow illegal gambling to go on," Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said in a written statement. "It drives organized crime and fuels other criminal activity.

The Post Oak Poker Club opened in 2017 and was one of the first such establishments in Houston. Owners said the business was legal because the club took in no money from any of the games.

According to Chapter 47 of the Texas Penal Code, gambling is against the law unless the following conditions are met: 

1.    The player is in a private place.
2.    No one profits from hosting the game.
3.    The risk of losing and chances of winning are the same for all participants.

The Texas attorney general was asked last year to give an opinion on the legality of such businesses, but he opted to let courts decide the issue.

"The law is very vague," professional poker player and Poker Lab Radio host Derrick Cavaco said. 

"The action here, the players here, the oil money, the deep pockets, it's a sick poker scene," he said. "And that's not going away. All they'll do, unfortunately, is force it all back underground."

Some players said they didn't know what was going on.

"Nobody seems to know anything right now, so that's kind of why I came over here to try to find out," Sean Maggio said.

Poker players who arrived at Prime Social found a parking lot filled with undercover officers bringing out computer hard drives and more.

According to the District Attorney's Office, prosecutors said the defendants made a profit from illegal gambling.

"They don't take a penny out of that money," Wayne Dolcefino, a consultant for Prime Social, said.

A spokesperson for Prime Social said the poker club is hardly operating in the dark and has even done lots of charity work in the community.

"I just don't believe the guys that I know have done anything wrong. And I believe they've been very, very meticulous about the way they keep records," Dolcefino said.

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