Jackson Pop Warner poker event raided

BY JOYCE BLAY Staff Writer

Staff Writer

JACKSON — Jackson Pop Warner officials gambled on the wrong fund-raising event last month when police raided the youth sports organization’s clubhouse for holding an illegal card game.

Texas Hold ’em is increasingly played on television cable game shows, but the card game is not yet legal to play at fund-raising events in New Jersey, at least when money is being gambled. Jackson police made that clear by raiding an afternoon fund-raising event held April 15 on township property at the Pop Warner clubhouse near the Lucy Holman School, off Manhattan Street.

John Dellamura, 46, of Jackson, was issued summonses for promoting gambling and possession of a gambling device. Lt. Detective John Siedler signed the complaint for the Jackson Police Department.

A Pop Warner official identified Dellamura as the person who organized the event.

Patrol Capt. Christopher Dunton said the summonses issued to Dellamura fell into the category of a disorderly persons offense. If found guilty by a municipal court judge, Dellamura could be subject to a fine of up to $10,000 and/or up to 364 days in a county jail.

According to information provided by the police department, the raid was made after a resident who wished to remain anonymous tipped police off after seeing a flier advertising the event. The flier was posted at a local convenience store.

The flier stated, “Jackson Pop Warner, Texas Hold ’em, April 1, $100 buy in/no rebuy, April 15, $50 buys in, no rebuy, Jackson Pop Warner building, 135 Manhattan Street, next to the Lucy (Holman) school parking lot, 7 p.m. registration, 7:30 p.m. game time, For information call Mike Lopez.” A phone number was provided on the flier.

Police said Texas Hold ’em is a form of poker that is played in tournament style. Winners are determined by which players are able to remain in the game the longest. If money is being gambled, the house retains a percentage of the money paid to play the game.

Police asserted in the prepared document, which was not the actual police report, that the local youth sports organization had not applied for or been issued a gambling license by the township for the dates indicated on the flier.

According to Jeff Lamm, a public information officer with the state Division of Consumer Affairs, Texas Hold ’em is too new for the state to have yet addressed its popularity as a means of raising funds.

Dunton said the incident is still under investigation.

Michael Lopez, 40, the public relations officer for Pop Warner whose name appeared on the flier, said in a May 2 telephone interview with the Tri-Town News that he did not know the event was illegal.

“[Dellamura] came to the organization and offered to run the fund-raiser for the price of 15 percent,” said Lopez. “He said, ‘You’re allowed to have it,’ and I took his word for it.”

According to Lopez, Dellamura promised to attract as many as 40 people to play the game at $60 per person.

“As far as I was concerned, I thought it was OK,” said Lopez.

Lopez said that while Pop Warner did not have a permit for the Texas Hold ’em game, for which none is available, the organization did have a permit for a 50/50, a raffle in which the winner’s name is drawn from among all those who entered. The winner shares half the jackpot with the organization holding the contest.

During the raid, police confiscated the equipment used to play Texas Hold ’em as well as $2,400 that had been raised by the event, said Lopez. He said police permitted the group to go back inside the building to hold the 50/50 raffle after the raid was concluded.

Lopez defended Pop Warner’s efforts to raise funds.

“I’m a union carpenter and I see fliers for Texas Hold ’em (fund-raisers) all over the state,” he said. “The only other place for a kid to go in this town is the roller skating rink. There’s no movie theater, there’s no bowling alley, but there’s a skating rink. We have a football field that cost us $85,000” but also costs a lot to maintain.

Added to the organization’s problems, the township has still not issued a permanent Certificate of Occupancy for Pop Warner’s clubhouse, which was built on public land leased to the group. The organization is unable to use the facility since its temporary Certificate of Occupancy expired, said Lopez.

“Some people donated [as much as] $80,000 in materials for the construction of the building and we were going to have a dinner for them [there], but now we can’t,” he said. “We had an inspection today (May 2). [The township] might give us another temporary C.O. I don’t know how it works.”

Recently, children and adult members of Pop Warner sold flowers in the pouring rain to raise funds for the organization because they were not permitted to hold such events in the building that was constructed for their use, said Lopez.

“We put carpeting on the floor and the township said [it wasn’t in the plans that were approved], and then they told us to put a wall around the furnace, so I put sheet rocking around it and then they told me to tear it off,” said Lopez. “Seven hundred kids signed up for cheerleading and football. That’s why we’re holding these fund-raisers.”

Expensive maintenance for Pop Warner’s football field, including sod, drainage and other associated costs, necessitate constant fund-raising activities, according to Lopez.

Construction code official Barry Olejarz declined comment when called on Monday. He referred the Tri-Town News to township administrator Andrew J. Salerno.

Salerno said the township was sympathetic, but that the issue was not whether the organization could hold fund-raisers.

“You’ve got to follow the rules,” he said. “Nobody’s trying to stop them from holding fund-raisers. The township is saying there is a method required by statute that you have to follow.”

Salerno confirmed that alcohol was consumed on the Manhattan Street property during the April 15 poker event, which may also have been a violation of the township administrative code.

“The mayor and the Township Committee may permit [such consumption upon approval],” Salerno said. “That didn’t happen in this case.”

Salerno said that any person or organization seeking to hold an event on township-owned property in which alcohol is consumed would have to request permission from the committee beforehand. If granted, the governing body would then pass a resolution legalizing the exception to the administrative code.

He said there may have been an implicit exception to that law in Pop Warner’s lease.

“There was no resolution permitting the consumption of alcohol, but the lease may have permitted it by the absence of specific language,” Salerno said.

Gambling is controlled with a permit from the state, he said.

“We were never asked [while I was administrator] about what fund-raisers are appropriate and which are not,” Salerno said. “Since this incident occurred, we are discussing” that topic with Pop Warner.