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September 1, 2009

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Poker was their passion, but 2 men may get dealt a jail term

A SHANGHAI court late yesterday was pondering whether two foreigners would spend up to three years in prison for running a gambling house that allowed them to pursue their passion: Texas hold 'em poker.

The men admitted they knew gambling was illegal. But they said they were running more of a club than a profit-driven casino and didn't think authorities would consider their actions to be a serious crime.

Judges at the Shanghai No. 2 Intermediate People's Court, which heard the case yesterday, said it was rare for foreigners to be caught running a gambling house here. The court did not say when it would announce a verdict.

Prosecutors charged that Patrick Liang, 27, a Chinese Brazilian, and Al Gokcimen, a 44-year-old Australian, conspired to open a gambling house in February. They rented an apartment on Xinzha Road, laying out more than 60,000 yuan (US$8,778) to equip and open the place and paying 9,600 yuan in monthly rent.

The duo then invited other gamblers to play the highly popular Texas hold 'em, in which each player receives two cards face down and shares three cards that are dealt face up.

At first, players were charged 40 yuan an hour to join the games at the apartment, which earned 8,000 yuan in the first month. In mid-March, Liang and Gokcimen decided to bring in two other partners, Hu Weimin and Qi Fei, and the four agreed to collect 3 percent of the table stakes as profit, prosecutors said. Hu and Qi will be dealt with at a separate trial.

Police raided the poker parlor on March 19, catching 17 gamblers and confiscating 29,800 yuan in bets.

The defendants told the court they decided to open the place because they were poker fans themselves.

"I used to play poker at gambling houses run by friends and had to pay more than 10,000 yuan each month just to play there," Liang said at the hearing. "To save money, I decided to open a gambling house myself and discussed the idea with Al."

Liang said the men called their enterprise a club and claimed that it was legal in many foreign countries. Liang said he knew it was illegal in China but didn't think he would face criminal charges.

"We were too naive," Liang said.

He stressed that neither he nor Gokcimen intended to earn a living on the gambling house profits. He said he made money by teaching violin and translation and the Australian had a job as a corporate consultant.

"We didn't actually make any money," Gokcimen said. "I was foolish to have made the decision."


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