DA still looking into charges – Kettle owner questions move against poker game

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Shelby County District Attorney’s Office is still considering whether to charge the owners of The Koffee Kettle in Columbiana with a misdemeanor gambling offense.

District Attorney Robby Owens said The Koffee Kettle’s owners could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor for promoting or facilitating gambling, punishable by a fine or up to 12 months in jail.

The Koffee Kettle, which had advertisements displayed in its windows promoting weekly poker parties, was raided last Tuesday by law enforcement, resulting in the arrest of the buildings’ co-owner Judy Queen for possession of a controlled substance.

The possession of a controlled substance charge against Queen resulted from several prescription pills she had without a prescription.

Since her arrest, she said she had removed herself as co-owner of the business.

Owens said a search warrant was obtained for the raid after a complaint was filed with his office.

When asked if he plans to raid other establishments holding similar games, Owens said he will continue to prosecute businesses who advertise gambling, which is defined by state law as &uot;anytime you exchange a thing of value in a game of chance.&uot;

&uot;Gambling is against the law, so we plan to follow through,&uot; he said.

Queen, who was released Wednesday on bond, said she and her business partner Rondah Garrett consulted area businesses who facilitated poker parties and were told their games were legal if they were not financially benefiting from the games.

She said they never would have hosted the parties or advertised them if they had known they were illegal, especially since her business is adjacent to the county courthouse and district attorney’s office.

Her question, she said, is why the district attorney would raid a small business like The Koffee Kettle and ignore a similar game being held down the street at a larger restaurant with a larger attendance and more expensive buy-in.

&uot;I am very upset about all of it,&uot; she said. &uot;Why didn’t they embarrass everyone else in this community?&uot;

Tommy Zito, a manager at Bernie’s on Main, located just down the street from The Koffee Kettle, said the poker games held there were every two weeks and attended by 50 to 60 people each time, with a buy-in of $40 per person that was awarded to the winner at the end of the tournament.

The game was cancelled two weeks ago following the raid at The Koffee Kettle, but he said that does not mean they agree with Owens’ recent statements concerning the legality of business-sponsored poker parties.

&uot;We don’t know why he has done it the way he’s done it,&uot; Zito said. &uot;I guess he’s trying to make a name for himself.&uot;

Zito said Owens ate at Bernie’s during the time they were holding the poker tournament and advertising it within their building.

However, they were never told it was illegal or threatened with prosecution, he said