Ex-charity poker supplier charged with illegal gambling

Lauren Abdel-Razzaq
The Detroit News

A former member of the Michigan Charitable Gaming Association faces up to two years in prison after pleading guilty Monday to maintaining a gambling house for gain in Waterford.

Joseph B. Puertas, 54, owner of the Shark Club at 6665 Highland Road, was charged with illegal gambling following an investigation conducted in February 2012 by the Michigan Gaming Control Board and the Michigan State Police.

Puertas served on the gaming association’s board of directors from 2009 to 2011.

Michigan law does not allow for poker and gambling without a special “Millionaire Party” charity license from the gaming board. In the case of the Shark Club, charity poker games were being held without any charity involvement, according to Rick Kalm, executive director of the gaming board.

“Shark Club previously hosted millionaire parties, and our investigators discovered poker games were being played on multiple occasions at the Shark Club without any charity involvement,” Kalm said in a statement. “By running an unlicensed gambling business at the Shark Club, Puertas undermined all charitable gaming.”

The bar had its charitable gaming license revoked in 2012. Puertas forfeited more than $11,800 in proceeds from the poker games, which were played between February 10-13, 2012.

Katherine Hude, executive director for the Michigan Charitable Gaming Association, said Puertas was a licensed supplier during his time on the board.

“We had no reason to believe he was engaging in any illegal actions,” said Hude. “When these issues came up he immediately came to us and resigned. He did the proper thing.”

Puertas was charged with running a gambling operation without a license, which is a felony. He later pleaded guilty to a lesser two-year misdemeanor charge. He could also face up to 1,000 in fines. His sentencing is scheduled for July 2 in Oakland County Circuit Court.

The case is one of several initiated by the Michigan Attorney General’s Office and the gaming board as part of an attempt to crack down on illegal charity poker games.

Puertas’ case is going on while a civil case involving the state’s gaming control board and the Michigan Charitable Gaming Association goes through the courts.

In March, the two sides presented arguments before the state Court of Appeals. The court appearance was the latest in nearly two-year long saga over rules that place greater restrictions on how charity poker games must be conducted. Both sides are waiting for the court’s opinion to be issued.

The Michigan Gaming Control Board says operators were taking advantage of charities and skimming funds from them when hosting charity poker events.

Some of the same charities, the gaming board says it is trying to protect, have joined the lawsuit alongside the Michigan Charitable Gaming Association. They argue that even with money being taken out of the pot, the charities can earn far more than if they were to run events on their own.

Emergency rules governing charity gaming in the state are set to expire in July. It is not clear what will happen to gaming licenses after that, although Kalm has said he doesn’t plan to suspend all charity poker games.


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