British Columbia

Richmond shuts down seniors' small-stakes poker circle

The city of Richmond recently shut down the poker circle played by a seniors' group. They were playing for cash, which violates a city bylaw.

'It was just a fabulous way to spend three afternoons a week,' says player

Members of the Minoru Place Seniors' Centre were banned from playing Texas Hold'em there because they were playing for cash, in violation of provincial gambling regulations. (CBC)

Buying into the Texas Hold'em poker circle at Richmond's Minoru Place Seniors' Centre will cost you 10 cents a chip.

But the group of about 40 seniors, ranging in age from 55 to 95, had their afternoon card games shut down recently because they were playing for cash.

Officials at the seniors' centre, which is operated jointly by the City of Richmond and the Minoru Seniors Society, told the group members they could no longer play as long as money was involved because it violates provincial gambling regulations.

Group members were crushed. They've been meeting for 10 years.

"If anybody is playing poker, it's more fun if you play for a little bit of money and it makes it more interesting," player Marilyn Berger told On the Coast host Stephen Quinn.

"We're not playing for large amounts of money, it's not about gambling, we're playing for fun." 

Marilyn Berger says the poker circle was important for her friends because it kept their minds active. (CBC)

But Ted Townsend, director of communications for the City of Richmond, said the card games violate provincial gambling regulations. Card games that involve the exchange of money are considered gaming activities and are therefore unlawful.

In addition, the seniors' centre doesn't permit card games that involve money. 

"We are quite happy to have poker and other card games happening at the centre… They're very popular and we want to support that, but we have to uphold the law." he said.

Card player Serena Lambert said the games were a chance for seniors to socialize.

"It's no fun at all, you might as well just stay home and play solitaire," Lambert said.

Serena Lambert misses the poker group. Lambert said playing for nickels and dimes makes the game more interesting. (CBC)

Another player, Charles McLaughlin, said he played cards to get out of the house and be with people whose company he enjoys. They can laugh about their moments of memory loss and be themselves, McLaughlin said.

"It has very little to do with poker... I've been by myself for a while, and I was spending too much time sitting at home so I wanted to get out," he said.

Charles McLaughlin said the poker group helped get him out of the house. (CBC)

While Townsend doesn't want to discourage the seniors' group from meeting, he said there's little the city can do if there's money on the table.

"The provincial gaming authorities made it quite clear that that type of activity is illegal, it's not the type of activity that we could get a license for… We're a public body, we have to do the responsible thing," he said.

Since group members were banned from playing at the centre, they've tried to play at individual homes, but there wasn't enough space.

Berger hopes city officials might change their minds.

"All we want to do is work with the city and amend the law to allow us to play and have some fun."