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Non-profit poker tournaments on the rise

Everyone seems to be playing poker, and their charities are making money off it. Churches, schools, and not for profit groups are calling the government's bluff, raising thousands of dollars through popular Texas Hold'em poker tournaments that state officials say are illegal. 

For the last two or three years, this poker craze has swept across the United States. Most of these organizations have found that holding poker tournaments are easier and more profitable than traditional bake sales, carwashes or other types of fundraisers. 

"It's on TV, people are playing it in their homes, everybody seems to be playing," said Joy Holland, development director of St. Mel Catholic Church in Woodland Hills, which held a poker tournament Saturday to raise money for a new sound system. "I don't play - it's not my thing - but I've already been called by three or four parishes. They want to do it, too." 

But the state Attorney General's Office says most charity poker tournaments are illegal, and the organizer could face a year in jail or a $5,000 fine for the misdemeanor violation. 

"California law is rigid and inflexible when it comes to nonprofits and charitable gambling," said Nathan Barankin, communications director for the Attorney General's Office. "There are no exceptions written into the law. Even if you're not playing for real money, it's illegal.



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