Richmond Gambling Den for Seniors, or Good Clean Fun?

A group of Richmond gambling seniors have been told to take their games to a private residence, or face the penalty. No more 10-cent Texas Hold’em nights. No more $1 cribbage or bridge games. Gambling, no matter how cheap, is illegal in British Columbia, Canada, and they must abide by the law.

The message seems a bit harsh for a 40-strong group ranging in age from 75 to 95. These are senior members of society – our parents, grandparents, in some cases, great-grandparents. At one time, their lives were just as busy as today’s young and middle-age, working-class citizens, juggling employment and families.

These seniors are retired. Their families are busy. Grandchildren are in school. Truth be told, they don’t have a great deal of entertainment to look forward to. That was the argument of many members of the Richmond gambling group; particularly the Texas Hold’em players who’ve gathered three days a week at Minoru Place Senior Centre for the last decade.

Group of Richmond Gambling Seniors at Minoru Place

Game-Loving Seniors outside Minoru Place, photo Alan Campbell/Richmond News

70 year old Marilyn Berger, who joined the group five years ago, was livid when the centre’s management shut down their games.

“This group has been going in there for about 10 years, three times a week on a Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, betting 10 flippin’ cents a chip!” Berger seethed.

She said the games last about three hours, and that it only cost her, on average, “$2 for a wonderful afternoon of fun and friendship. They’ve known fine well for years what we and all these other groups of seniors do and nobody ever said anything.”

Berger believes the legality issue arose from a “troublemaking” player who stormed off to the front desk during a game a few months back. That’s when she says the front desk managers started taking notice, despite the fact that they knew, and “didn’t care the ten years before then.”

Not long after, Berger says the group was handed a letter two months ago informing them their activities were illegal. They could continue playing, but could no longer do so for money.

Berger explained just how close the group is, and how important their camaraderie has become, holding “Christmas parties and a summer barbecue” each year. While they can still do these things, Berger asked the Richmond News, “What’s the point of playing poker when there’s no money involved?”

81 year old Charles McLaughlin, another member of the Richmond gambling groups’ regular Texas Hold’em games, agreed. He said their cheap gaming afternoons do way more for the members than move pocket change around.

“People come here to get out of the house,” he said. “By stopping this, they have virtually sent people back to their homes to hibernate.”

Harry Walters, 88, isn’t just a fan of the group’s poker games. He’s also a retired Vancouver police officer and former gaming inspector for BC. After looking into Richmond gambling laws, he claims there’s nothing illegal about their activities.

“The only time it becomes illegal is when the house, for example, makes some money out of the game,” said Walters.

While that’s true, in part, there’s also the issue of conducting the games in a public forum, such as a senior citizens centre. They could easily take their games to a private residence – as some already have – but the group says it’s unquestionably less convenient, and not nearly as much fun.

Kathleen Holmes, President of Minoru Place, said they’re looking into a way to circumvent legal issues. Instead of playing for money directly, they might be able to play for points, with a monetary prize going to the winner at the end.

“We’re looking into that right now,” she said.

Ted Townsend, a spokesman for the City of Richmond, said they’re not trying to stop the senior groups from having fun, “but it can’t be for money.” He supports the center offering a range of life-enhancing activities for seniors, but at the same time, added, “we have a responsibility to abide by the law.”

For now, the Richmond gambling group is forced to take their gaming elsewhere.

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