Virginia Charitable Poker Spat Gets Feisty Amid ‘Disastrous’ Non-Rollout

Posted on: October 4, 2021, 04:56h. 

Last updated on: October 5, 2021, 04:42h.

The chairman of Virginia’s Charitable Gaming Board (VCGB), Chuck Lessin, is under fire from the Office of the State Inspector General (OSIG) over an apparent conflict of interest, The Virginia Mercury reports.

Virginia poker
Chuck Lessin’s Pop’s Poker, seen above in a recent photo, is operating without a permit or a framework of regulation. (Image: NBC12)

According to the state watchdog, Lessin failed to recuse himself from writing regulations for charitable poker games. Texas Hold’em tournaments were legalized by the state legislature last year.

OSIG says the conflict arises because Lessin now operates his own poker room, Pop’s Poker, at his sports bar and bingo hall in Richmond.

But Lessin says he did nothing wrong, and he declared his personal interest in charitable poker at the time regulations were drawn up.

Integrity Jeopardized

But OSIG said he should not have been part of the process at all. The idea that operators should be allowed to write their own rules could “damage the integrity of the charitable gaming program,” the agency wrote in its report.

“Board members not properly recusing themselves in accordance to [sic] both the code and their approved bylaws damages the integrity of the board and the overall commonwealth’s charitable gaming oversight,” said OSIG.

The agency recommends curtailing VCGB’s powers. It says changing its role from a regulatory to an advisory one would better serve the financial interests of charities.

But according to Lessin, state officials made no mention that he should recuse himself from the process at the time. Unlike other state gaming boards, such as the Virginia Racing Commission or the Lottery Board, there are no rules against VCGB members having a direct stake in gaming.

In fact, six of the board’s members must be directly involved in the charitable gaming industry by law. Meanwhile, Lessin was appointed to the role by the state legislature.

Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax), acting as Lessin’s attorney, described the OSIG take on the situation as a “report in search of a villain.”

Rollout on Ice

Virginia’s charitable poker bill directed the board to write the rules, which it signed off at the end of the year. But state officials became unhappy with the process, suggesting it was ripe for abuse.

Earlier this year, the state legislature halted the proceedings until 2022 via an amendment to the state budget, voiding the board’s regulations and freezing the issuance of permits.

Lessin sued, arguing he should have been given a license because the board had signed off on the rules before the legislature’s U-turn. But in May, a judge in Richmond ruled against Lessin, concluding no one had an inherent right to a state-issued poker license.

That didn’t stop him and others from forging ahead. Despite the lack of permits and a regulatory framework, he began running tournaments at Pop’s Poker last month.

At a Senate hearing on gambling issues last week, Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond) described Virginia’s botched rollout of charitable poker as “an unparalleled disaster.”