Poker has long been allowed in California. But the state has warned casinos that the jackpots

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Poker has long been allowed in California. But the state has warned casinos that the jackpots -- in which players can win thousands of dollars for losing -- are illegal lotteries.

Card rooms typically collect $1 from every pot, amassing thousands of dollars a day, and use the money to reward players who lose despite holding exceptionally strong hands. These tough-luck gamblers qualify for the casinos' "bad-beat jackpots" -- consolation prizes that often far exceed the amount of money scooped up by the winning players.

In a 2005 advisory, then-Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer cautioned casinos that the promotions violated state law unless players were allowed to win the jackpots without paying the fee. It's the same legal principle that requires McDonald's to give away game pieces for its popular Monopoly game to consumers who ask for them, regardless of whether they buy anything. Recreational poker players Dennis Chae and Jeff Kim contend in a lawsuit that the Bicycle Club, Commerce, Hustler, Hollywood Park and Hawaiian Gardens casinos would not allow them to compete for the jackpots unless they played at tables that collected the $1-per-pot fees, even though their ads said no purchase was required.

Their lawsuit, filed May 1 in Los Angeles County Superior Court, seeks class-action status and alleges that tens of thousands of players could become plaintiffs. It accuses the casinos of false advertising and unfair competition and seeks monetary damages and an injunction ending the jackpots.

Haig Kelegian, managing general partner of the Bicycle Casino in Bell Gardens, described the lawsuit as a stunt that had little chance of succeeding. If players at his casino ask, and very few do, they can play at tables that don't collect the $1 fees, he said. "They're just doing this to try to figure out a way to sue somebody," Kelegian said. "We have always had no purchase necessary."

Andy Schneiderman, vice president and general counsel for the Commerce Casino, said in a statement that the casino's bad-beat promotion "complies with all legal requirements." Officials with the other casinos listed in the lawsuit did not respond to interview requests.








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