Poker Champ Says NC Gambling Bust A Waste Of Police Time, Money

A poker champion cited on a misdemeanor gambling charge in a weekend raid on a clandestine casino said Tuesday that the police could have been more useful battling serious crime elsewhere.

Maciek "Michael" Gracz, 26, a World Series of Poker winner from Raleigh, said it was a waste of tax dollars for more than a dozen officers to spend about eight hours at the scene Saturday night and early Sunday.

"They could go catch sexual predators or something that has a real impact on society," he said.

"If they had gotten two guys to come there, they could have asked us to leave the premises and we would have left."

"It is illegal in North Carolina, I understand that. In every state, whether it's legal or not, people are playing poker."

Gracz said it's silly that he can't play poker in North Carolina when he can travel just a few hours and play legally elsewhere.

Gracz won $1.5 million during a cruise at the Million Tournament in 2005.

He also writes poker tips on CBS and his own Web site.

Officials said the operation was sophisticated.

The plain, one-story building off N.C. Highway 242 near Benson was surrounded by a fence, had pro-style gaming tables and a kitchen and food staff.

Agents seized about $70,000 in cash.

"This wasn't a basement card game," said Pat Forbis, a supervisory agent of the state Division of Alcohol Law Enforcement, describing it as "a small version of a Las Vegas or Atlantic City casino. It was all top-of-the-line stuff."

Forbis said 60 people were charged with engaging in a game of chance, or gambling, and 11 were charged with operating a game of

"The point is it is illegal," he said.

"The analogy is if you catch someone smoking marijuana they say why aren't you trying to get a coke or heroin dealer. The law is the law and it's not up to ALE to systematically chose the laws we enforce."

Gracz said he believes poker isn't a game of chance but "is a game of skill over a long period of time."

He cited the case of William E. "Billy" Baxter, whose appeal against the IRS resulted in the 1986 Nevada federal court ruling that his earnings should be taxed as earned income instead of higher-bracket unearned income.

In that case, U.S. District Judge Bruce Thompson of Reno, Nev., said Baxter used "extraordinary poker skills" to earn $1.25 million from 1978 to 1981.

It's different in North Carolina, where the state Court of Appeals ruled in May that poker is a game of chance.

The ruling came in the case of a man who wanted to open a poker club in Durham.

"Although skills such as knowledge of human psychology, bluffing, and the ability to calculate and analyze odds make it more likely for skilled players to defeat novices, novices may yet prevail with a simple run of luck," the appeals opinion said.

"No amount of skill can change a deuce into an ace."

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