It's Friday night at 10 p.m., and about a dozen people sit at two green-felt-topped tables at the Camelback Card Club when John Schnaubelt walks in. He's a large guy in his mid-40s and would have been noticeable even if he hadn't stared at the players and said, "Hello, ladies and gents!" in a suspiciously loud, looking-for-trouble kind of voice.

The card room, similar to many in the Valley that offer low- and high-stakes poker games, inhabits a small suite in a strip mall at 32nd Street and Shea Boulevard, next to a popular Thai restaurant. Besides the card tables (complete with surveillance cameras hanging over them) and an ATM in one corner, little about the club resembles a casino. The place looks like an office, with plenty of snacks and a refrigerator full of non-alcoholic beverages. A whiteboard informs newcomers that it will cost $40 to buy into a game, plus a $20 "dealer-appreciation" fee, while a bronze plaque on the wall asks players to tip a minimum of $2 per jackpot to the dealers.

Seeing Schnaubelt arrive, a man wearing a black shirt with the name of the club on it moves quickly from behind a counter at the far end of the suite, where players exchange cash for poker chips.

Despite the felony conviction of an eccentric Valley poker-parlor owner, non-tribal card clubs still proliferate here.
Despite the felony conviction of an eccentric Valley poker-parlor owner, non-tribal card clubs still proliferate here.
The Tilted Jack, a facility run by Schnaubelt where a "cooperative" of members played poker, closed last month.
Courtesy John Schnaubelt
The Tilted Jack, a facility run by Schnaubelt where a "cooperative" of members played poker, closed last month.
A submitted photo from Schnaubelt shows his former club on a busy day.
Courtesy John Schnaubelt
A submitted photo from Schnaubelt shows his former club on a busy day.
John Schnaubelt, a Valley web designer and poker lover, wants to see off-reservation poker rooms legalized in Arizona.
New Times
John Schnaubelt, a Valley web designer and poker lover, wants to see off-reservation poker rooms legalized in Arizona.
The Poker Union, at Union Hills and Seventh Avenue in Phoenix, offers tournaments and cash games nightly.
New Times
The Poker Union, at Union Hills and Seventh Avenue in Phoenix, offers tournaments and cash games nightly.
Fernando's Room (a.k.a. the Bosnian Social Club) at Northern and 34th avenues, has blacked-out windows that obscure the card tables inside.
New Times
Fernando's Room (a.k.a. the Bosnian Social Club) at Northern and 34th avenues, has blacked-out windows that obscure the card tables inside.
Harold "Bud" Lee, a former Valley justice of the peace, was convicted this year on three felony counts related to his poker ventures.
Victor J. Palagano III
Harold "Bud" Lee, a former Valley justice of the peace, was convicted this year on three felony counts related to his poker ventures.
The cops occasionally bust a non-tribal Phoenix-area poker room, but the businesses continue to flourish.
New Times
The cops occasionally bust a non-tribal Phoenix-area poker room, but the businesses continue to flourish.

Jeff Archuleta, a manager and one of the organizers of the Camelback Card Room, is shorter and many pounds lighter than Schnaubelt, but he shows no intimidation as he walks up. According to his write-up on, Archuleta has an "extensive poker background" and recently returned from dealing the 2012 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.

"You probably know you're not welcome here," he tells Schnaubelt.

Schnaubelt asks why.

"Is this a joke? You know the answer," Archuleta says. "I know you've been trashing the club every which way possible."

The players and dealers at the card tables take a momentary break from their games, listening to the exchange.

"Could you please take that outside?" an exasperated woman finally says.

And they do, sparring verbally on the sidewalk next to the parking lot in the cool night air. Their posture suggests that fisticuffs aren't imminent; the scene has the aura of an after-school showdown between former friends.

"I'll be back here with the police, probably," Schnaubelt tells the club manager.

"Yeah, I know, like you're really trying to shut everybody down. I heard about your wanting to do citizen's arrests," Archuleta sneers, barely glancing at a New Times reporter standing a few feet away. "You did the same thing everyone else is doing, and now you're going to say your shit don't stink?"

He's referring to the fact that, until two months ago, Schnaubelt was running his own poker club — The Tilted Jack at Union Hills and 19th Avenue. Archuleta says Schnaubelt is taking revenge against the Camelback club because he thinks "maybe we're stealing [his] business, or something."

Schnaubelt tells Archuleta that, late last year, another club — the Nuts Card Room in North Phoenix — got raided. And at the time, he taunts, he told an investigator with the state Attorney General's Office to check out Camelback because its owners have "deep pockets."

"Why?" asks Archuleta, sounding genuinely surprised. "You were running a club, too!"

"You're operating illegally."

"We're not operating illegally — no more illegally than any other club in town or [any club] that you would run," Archuleta says. "You're a fucking asshole, and you're a prick."

When asked by Schnaubelt how he makes money at the storefront club, which under Arizona law isn't supposed earn any "benefit" from poker games, Archuleta responds that he earns a salary and gets tips.

"How can you make a salary and [have that] not be considered a benefit?"

"I've [got] a private business owner — I run it as a private business entity," Archuleta replies, repeating that the business isn't illegal.

Schnaubelt tells Archuleta to "crawl back inside," but Archuleta responds that he'd rather stay outside and "kick off the dirt from my stoop rather than just sit out here and let it collect."

Schnaubelt says, "Maybe I'll just call 911 and report the felony going on here." Then, he gives Archuleta grief about the uniform he's wearing: "Do they make you wear that?"

Archuleta snaps back, "No, I wear it because I like to."

Schnaubelt walks toward the parking lot.

"Don't come back!" Archuleta yells after him.

Ironically, given his threats to call the cops on the Camelback Card Club, John Schnaubelt's actually a strong advocate of off-reservation poker.

Schnaubelt operated his own poker parlor, and Archuleta was one of the room's dealers.

Schnaubelt's a fellow activist and friend of Harold "Bud" Lee, a former Phoenix justice of the peace once known as "the rock 'n' roll judge." A few years ago, Lee was Arizona's most outspoken off-reservation poker activist.

Lee aspired to own a franchise of poker-room locations ("Poker Wars," April 16, 2009). Because of his grand ambitions and loud criticism of state gambling laws, the ex-JP was targeted for prosecution and convicted by a Maricopa County jury this year on three felony counts.

Under gaming compacts with the state signed in 2002, only Native American communities are allowed to run gambling operations that include regulated poker games. State authorities say, in general, all poker establishments outside Indian casinos operate illegally.

Lee's activism and business ideas have been crushed by failures in the legal arena.

Yet Lee's punishment was no more than a slap on the wrist: one year of unsupervised probation. Two co-defendants earlier pleaded guilty to reduced charges. Still, Lee's club was closed and his probation terms bar him from opening another, under threat of a prison term. Another of Lee's former associates, Christine Korza, was sentenced this month to a year of probation and an $18,433 fine. Her club, Poker Nation, which Lee helped set up and which was mentioned prominently in "Poker Wars" and in the Arizona Republic, was shut down.

The 69-year-old former JP still is feisty despite his conviction. He's demanding that the federal government respond to his petition that aims to abolish the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, take away the gambling monopoly from Indian reservations, and give poker lovers the right to run games and poker-related businesses wherever they want. He's written long screeds and the beginning of a book about his poker activism for his various websites.

Schnaubelt, with a wife and young twins to help support, is nearly as obsessed with Arizona's poker laws. He opened a card room in 2010 with a novel "co-op" angle to maintain the appearance of social gambling, which isn't banned under state law as long as only players benefit from games.

The business failed and closed last month. Lately, Schnaubelt has petitioned Phoenix and other cities to allow the regulation of card rooms, which he and Lee claim cities can do legally if they stand up to the state Department of Gaming. For a day job, Schnaubelt uses his computer skills for web marketing and other services. In his spare time, he threatens poker operators with citizen's arrests and informs on former competitors and partners.

Despite the wishes of Schnaubelt and Lee, the illegal status of non-tribal poker isn't going to change anytime soon. But, then, neither is the illicit poker-parlor industry itself.

A few high-profile busts of card rooms and their operators have occurred in the past three years, including Lee's, Korza's, and the Nuts Card Room's in Goodyear, raided last December. The enforcement actions occurred under Mark Brnovich, appointed director of the Arizona Gaming Department by Governor Jan Brewer in 2009.

Though Brnovich vowed he would wage war on off-reservation poker rooms in the state, authorities continue to have a lackadaisical attitude toward the establishments. The 16 poker clubs that the Gaming Department estimates do business in the Valley seem to exist in peace. Complaints about the rooms have decreased. They're not a law-enforcement priority — and, indeed, police face no shortage of more serious crimes to investigate.

A worker at one northwest Phoenix poker room says patrons enjoy the establishment because it's entertaining and closer than driving to Indian casinos.

"We get to know people, their style of playing — it's a lot of fun," she says.

She admits that she can only hope authorities continue to look the other way.

As long as no one makes a fuss, poker enthusiasts can get their fix, a few entrepreneurs can make money, and almost everyone's happy.

Schnaubelt and Lee, of course, plan to keep raising a ruckus.

Three years ago, Lee acted as though he held a royal flush, boasting far and wide that he was eager to take on the authorities in court.

"If they have to toss this old grandpa into the slammer before we get to make our point, fine with me," Lee blustered back then.

The state called his bluff.

A former Navy enlisted man, Lee used to be known as the "the rock 'n' roll judge" because he liked to play rock music in his chambers while serving as a JP for Maricopa County's Northeast Phoenix Justice Court. He took office in 1973, serving three four-year terms. Over that time, his libertarian views evolved, and he railed publicly against victimless crimes such as marijuana possession.

"I was surprised I got re-elected the first time and stunned the second time," he says.

Before life as a JP, he had obtained a marketing degree from Arizona State University. After his time in office, he founded several "network marketing" businesses, though he "never got filthy rich like some of my friends."

Lee had a lifelong interest in poker and came up with an idea in 2005 to form a card players' association that would issue charters and business plans for off-reservation poker rooms. He convinced others that his plan was legal, and several poker rooms were launched by various owners under his tutelage. Lee claimed three years ago that he collected up to 15 percent of profits from the rooms' owners (something he now denies).

Lee ran a Sierra Vista card room that was investigated by officials who determined it was illegal and recommended felony charges against him, but then-Attorney General Terry Goddard declined to prosecute based on a "lack of resources."

The former JP took that as a green light to expand his operations, causing Goddard to revisit the issue.

State gaming agents raided a poker room affiliated with Lee's International Card and Game Player's Association, the Club Royale in Tucson, in December 2008, a few months after it opened. Undercover Department of Gaming agents spent many hours and hundreds of dollars at the club playing Texas Hold'em, and they later reported that the place sometimes brought in thousands of dollars a day.

The raid was preceded by a lawsuit against the club by the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, which runs its own casino and accused Lee of stealing the tribe's business. He's convinced that the tribe, directed by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, worked with the state to target him — though he admits he's got no proof of that. The club closed, and its two co-owners, Johnny Ray and Donna Rogers, later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor gambling violations.

Under state gaming director Brnovich, a lengthy investigation took place into another club linked to Lee, the Ace High Card Room and Social Club in Surprise. This time, Goddard charged Lee and two co-defendants with three felonies: conspiracy, illegal conduct of an enterprise, and giving advice or assistance to a gambling operation.

His partners, Ronald Curcio and Michael Orlando, pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against Lee at his trial. Orlando — a former New Jersey resident convicted of felonies in the 1980s, including illegal gambling, fraud, and conspiracy to commit extortion — described in his plea agreement how fees collected from players at the club were used to pay him, Curcio, and Lee.

As the eight-day trial began, Lee hoped to put to use his research about the "evil" BIA and his theories of why poker, even when played for money, isn't really gambling. His court-appointed attorney advised against the tactic, but it didn't matter: The prosecution moved to prevent Lee from using these concepts as a defense, and the judge agreed.

"I couldn't even mention the Bureau of Indian Affairs!" Lee fumes. "I'm being attacked by a criminal organization!"

In early February, Lee was convicted of on all three felony counts. Not a single reporter showed up to Lee's March 7 sentencing hearing, which embitters the former "rock 'n' roll judge." In a recent interview with him and Schnaubelt, Lee grumbled that perhaps the "gambling cartel" somehow influenced the news media to keep his story quiet.

Thanks to the Internet, he doesn't have to rely on anyone to get his message out. A couple of weeks after he was sentenced, Lee bought two new domain names and launched the websites and Both help promote a book he's writing called, Out of Bounds: The Untold Story of the Arizona Poker War — Professional Poker Players vs. BIA Gambling Syndicate. He also muses on two other sites: and

In Out of Bounds, Lee expounds on his notion that the gambling status quo hurts Native Americans. He takes on Andrew Jackson, a "real douchebag" who gets the blame for Native American genocide. And more important to Lee's cause, he calls Jackson the founding father of the BIA gambling cartel. Abolishing the reservation system and handing Indian land to the Indians, without BIA involvement, has been a theme of Lee's since before his indictment. The book sample also calls out gaming chief Brnovich as the culprit who "personally led the effort to railroad" him and his association.

Another focus on is his renewed 2005 petition to the U.S. government, which he updated and posted online on November 23. In a long essay, he links his criminal case to the history of Jackson and what happened to the Indians:

"I now consider the case to be [an] opening salvo in a revival of the so-called Indian Wars fought against the indigenous tribes later enslaved by agents from the [BIA]."

Lee, who moved from Tombstone to a Tempe apartment in 2010, is appealing his conviction and insists that his goal of having the BIA abolished has a chance, if his conviction is overturned.

His light punishment, he believes, proves that the judge in his case, Bruce Cohen, became his ally upon seeing how the gaming department and the BIA treated him. He expects others will come around, too, if he can get enough people to listen.

But Lee has been harping on this issue for years, even writing a letter to Oprah Winfrey about the BIA, which he called "a goiter on Uncle Sam's neck" a few days after he was indicted in 2010. Lee doesn't believe that his campaign has made him foolish. Quite the contrary.

"The state has been made to look ridiculous," he insists. "They can't stop me from telling people they're a big bag of wind."

Lee — who lives on Social Security benefits, appears in poor health, and walks unsteadily with a cane — vows to keep up the fight until he can fight no more.

John Schnaubelt wrote in a September 17, 2010, post on an online poker forum that he had met and interviewed Harold Lee on camera that day for a possible documentary.

He defended Lee from snipes by other forum members: "He's not a crackpot, but a jackpot. Sorry to disappoint. He's pretty confident that he'll be able to defend himself against the DOG mafia. Don't be surprised when the state dismisses the charges rather than suffering the embarrassment they've brought upon themselves."

Of course, that didn't work out so great. Neither did Schnaubelt's own poker venture, The Tilted Jack, which he'd incorporated just days before Lee's indictment.

Schnaubelt says he already had sunk about $10,000 in permits and other expenses for the firm's location at 18425 North 19th Avenue at that point — so there was no turning back. He had come across the ex-judge's name in researching his own venture. When he heard of Lee's troubles, he called and offered assistance. That led to the first meeting and interview and, later, to Schnaubelt's volunteering as Lee's trial manager. Earlier this year, he sat with Lee at the defense desk every day of the trial.

Interestingly, considering Lee's talk of the BIA-controlled casinos, Schnaubelt's online résumé says he used to have Gila River Casinos as a client in a former business. In 2009, he says, he helped start the still-operating Poker Union at 7th Avenue and Union Hills. Esho Odisho, listed as that limited-liability corporation's sole member, agreed to split any proceeds with him 60/40, with Schnaubelt's meriting the smaller amount because he could invest only his time and energy, while Odisho put $30,000 into the business, he says. (Odisho's articles of incorporation state that the business' purpose is "retail sales of poker supplies.")

Schnaubelt says he split with his partner when Esho "decided to stop paying me" after 10 months. Schnaubelt finally opened his own establishment in summer 2010. He maintains that the place was "not a card room" but a "civil and social movement that may offer members a facility from time to time."

The Tilted Jack's website, which announces that the place closed last month, appears to advertise a card room. There's a picture of the "player of the month" and a list of hundreds of players and their winnings. (The top player, "Jette," is said to have won 57 tournaments and $24,205.)

Schnaubelt argues that his club represented true social gambling, that players were the only ones who benefited. However, he adds that a cooperative can hire dealers or even hire himself as a web designer — which belies the idea that only players benefit from poker at such an establishment.

Lee's association and several other clubs operate under a similar idea — they're just a large bunch of friends playing poker.

Yet the very existence of storefront poker rooms, many of which are open seven days a week and might occasionally have cash games that last until dawn, appear to violate the legal interpretations posted on the Arizona Department of Gaming's website.

No one is supposed to "benefit" from non-tribal gambling, directly or indirectly, under Arizona's gaming rules. The host of an off-reservation establishment can take nothing from what is wagered or won and is forbidden from using gambling to attract people to a restaurant, bar, poker-supply shop, or other entity that makes money. Even a "suggested 'voluntary' donation" from players is disallowed, the site says.

Schnaubelt claims he had the only legitimate model for an off-reservation poker club, and that's why he invested $30,000 in The Tilted Jack while knowing he wouldn't benefit. He claims he did it to advance the cause of poker.

He wanted to "protest the BIA syndicate gambling empire," avoid playing poker on an Indian reservation, and show that it was possible to run a card room "not unlawfully," he says. But he had to close after two years because the "unquestionably illegal operations surrounding us smeared us and infiltrated and recruited players, all because I was outspoken against the rooms claiming to be legal when they aren't."

Schnaubelt has asked the cities of Phoenix, Tempe, and Peoria in recent weeks to regulate card rooms. That's long been one of Lee's goals, though cities have been mostly cool to the idea. A card room in Gilbert was forced to close in 2010 after city leaders questioned its legal status.

Lee and Schnaubelt believe that cities can authorize and regulate poker rooms, legally, without complying with state gaming rules, because no specific law exists prohibiting the parlors.

They express the need to keep poker "pure," without the exploitative quirks of Indian poker tables: Dealer "rakes" of the jackpot, the steep per-hand cost to stay in games, the lottery-like random drawings of "jackpot poker." But it's difficult to separate their talk of purity of the "sport" from their previous ambitions to operate successful poker rooms.

"I never denied that I was motivated by the idea that I would gain a great business enterprise, but my goal was an [association for poker]," Lee says when asked about financial incentive.

Even harder to understand is Schnaubelt's need to give authorities detailed information about every poker room he discovers — unless Archuleta is right that Schnaubelt simply is seeking revenge against former competitors.

A player at a local club who knows Schnaubelt described him as on an "obsessive mission." Even Lee says he advised Schnaubelt against providing information to the "DOG police," because he doesn't think it's good for their cause.

Schnaubelt denies he's vindictive. He says he believes that if the authorities shut down the state's illicit poker rooms, "people will get tired of Indian casinos" and push for legal poker. His preference would be "citizen's arrests and vigilante justice," because it would be the most newsworthy, he claims. But perhaps that's just talk — he adds that while he might like to go after certain clubs with which he has a beef, his wife doesn't want him risking the family's safety.

For now, besides provoking Archuleta, Schnaubelt maintains a list of poker rooms (and their level of unlawfulness, in his opinion) at, a site that was used previously to promote one of Lee's activist groups, Arizona Poker Army.

By destroying off-res poker, Schnaubelt believes, he can save poker.

The overall number of poker clubs may be higher than authorities know because underground clubs don't have storefront locations.

In the case of the Nuts Card Room, owner Harry Glazer and his associates hosted high-stakes card games at the Bunker Indoor Golf & Training until someone tipped off Goodyear police, leading to the December raid on the Nuts club in Phoenix. (Schnaubelt says he had nothing to do with the tip.)

When one card room closes, usually for financial reasons, another opens to take its place. It seems that the few prosecutions under gaming department director Brnovich hardly have been a deterrent. Glazer, the apparent ringleader of the Nuts operation, pleaded to just one felony charge of promotion of gambling and received the same sentence as Lee — a year of unsupervised probation — though he had a different judge. Glazer was ordered to pay a $33,000 fine, which shouldn't be much of a financial hardship considering police estimate his operations brought in more than $600,000 a year.

Brnovich is a former writer and researcher for the Goldwater Institute, which strongly touts the spirit of free enterprise, and he has libertarian leanings. That makes his duty as government regulator of a gambling monopoly an oxymoron. But Brnovich, while a legal scholar and listed as an unpaid "expert" on a range of subjects for, can throw the book as well as read it. He was a former prosecutor focusing on gambling violations for the U.S. Attorney's Office before his appointment as state gaming chief.

For the 2009 New Times article, Brnovich described how unregulated gambling "can attract cheaters, crooks, and corrupting influences like moths to a flame." He claimed he would be "extremely hands-on" in dealing with gambling violators and said he intended to "find the necessary resources" and a willing prosecutor to take on Lee and other poker scofflaws.

While he did take on Lee and a few others, Brnovich admits to New Times that he didn't find the resources he mentioned back then. In fact, he says, the agency has one fewer investigator for such tasks than when he took his job. He insists that the department is doing its best with the resources it has. If lawmakers want him to bust more card rooms, "we could make it a higher priority," he says. "Before we got here," he says, "no one was investigating these cases."

He stresses that the department's main function is to help tribes regulate casinos and to ensure that the state gets its proper cut of gambling earnings. Since 2004, the department's website shows, the state has received more than $800 million as its percentage of the take — which runs from between 1 percent and 8 percent of all casinos' gross earnings.

Brnovich says he's heard tribal members talk about the off-res poker rooms, but none has asked him "formally" to do anything about them. Even if a tribe did, he says, his job is to serve the state, not the tribes.

The Indians could push the issue, if they wanted. A "poison pill" clause in gaming compacts between the state and the reservations allows tribes to ignore "limits" in the compacts if the state doesn't curtail non-Indian gambling. Without the limits, the tribes could put slot machines in every convenience store on reservations and expand casino operations.

The number of non-tribal poker rooms never has grown large enough to become more than an annoyance to the tribes.

The Arizona Indian Gaming Association didn't return calls on the matter.

Residents in the neighborhoods around the card rooms haven't complained much lately, Brnovich says.

Schnaubelt says a gaming agent told him two months ago that the state believes as many as 30 to 36 illegal card rooms operate in the Valley.

Asked about that, Brnovich says he thinks there are fewer rooms than three years ago when he went after Bud Lee. But he adds, "We don't know how many more would have opened" if it weren't for the enforcement deterrent, he says.

Pressed for actual numbers, Brnovich replies flippantly, "Stats are for losers."

However, Brnovich's chief of staff, Rick Medina, replied later to New Times with the numbers.

Gaming intelligence agents estimate that 19 illegal card rooms operate in Arizona, with 16 of them in the Valley.

This is the same number of card rooms that agents believed the Valley had three years ago, when authorities went after Lee.

With resources tight, off-res poker rooms appear destined to stick around. If members of the poker community, especially John Schnaubelt, learn to play well together — and not upset the BIA cabal.

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=== UPDATE ===

=== PHOENIX NOV 2013 ===

Politicizing poker starts with getting the facts. The first fact is that the Governor unilaterally "zoned" poker exclusively to BIA reservations in 2002 so that non-Indians cannot obtain a "regulated exclusion" for any poker games where a third party benefits. Is it a good deal for the citizens of Arizona and the State to have the international sport of poker monopolized by a little over a dozen BIA casinos operating poker rooms in our State? I think not. But that's my opinion. The facts on this matter are shrouded. I called the ADoG and asked them for the aggregate poker revenue generated last year by the BIA tribes. They told me, quite seriously, that this is proprietary information, even in the aggregate. They told me, quite honestly, that they respect tribal sovereignty and will not release that information to the public, and not to anyone in fact, including the governor, who signed the exclusivity agreement over poker. How crazy is that? We can't get the facts that would help politicize the monopolistic claims over poker that the BIA has over non-Indians!

That's part of the problem with having a quasi-state, pseudo-police authority not being supported by taxpayers and serving at the pleasure solely of the governor of Arizona. Undeterred, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act to the National Indian Gaming Commission asking for the aggregate poker revenue generated by Arizona's tribes for an arbitrary fiscal calendar year (2011). This request was denied by the FOIA officer who stated that no such records are retained. I appealed this initial decision, stating that the NIGC must have such records, because their fees are based on the reported revenue (by gaming type) generated by each tribe, which is submitted quarterly. The appeals officer told me that the initial decision was not in error... get this... because prior to this year tribes reported on "calendar years", not "fiscal years". Egads. Seriously? But, in the NIGC's defense, the appeals officer did say that in trying to meet with the spirit of my request, he requisitioned the information for the year in question from the NIGC's accounting department. The answer: The 8 gaming tribes that reported poker revenue in 2011 totaled about $30 million aggregate gross. 

Two things struck me here. First, that only 8 of the 17 (at the time*) tribes with poker rooms even reported revenue to the NIGC. This is probably because 9 of the tribes have opted to "self-regulate" their Class II poker operations without assistance from the NIGC. This is something that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act allows gaming tribes to do for Class II games. Begs to question just how accurate and true any revenue reporting  (if any) to the Arizona Department of Gaming is made by these nine tribes, doesn't it? Who is policing the police? It's not the tax payers, that's for sure.

The second thing that I found fascinating is that historically, the tribes have "tithed" around 4% of  their revenue to the euphemistically named "Arizona Benefits Fund". You may hear that this amount is closer to 5% over the span of the past decade, but Arizona doesn't really "benefit" by the amount of money that goes towards 100% of ADoG's operating budget or the money spent on problem gambling programs. The ABF money earmarked for these areas should really be considered part of the BIA's operational budget because without BIA casinos neither the ADoG or the problem gambling programs would exist. Back on point: using the NIGC FOIA data,  $1.2 million was what the State saw from BIA poker rooms operating in 2011. By comparison, our neighbor California saw 88 licensed off-rez cardrooms in 2012 generate $880 million gross revenue. Revenue that is taxed locally and by the State (for GENERAL fund use no less!) at 8-15%. Using 10% as the median, that's $88 million for the government cut. A far cry above what the BIA generates for Arizona with their exclusive monopoly over poker.

The solution still remains legislative, judicial or executive. All three branches of government can make the change necessary to free poker in Arizona from the BIA crime cabal. And it is a crime cabal, make no mistake folks. Gambling is illegal, a felony, in our State. The IGRA law created a compacting process that required States to negotiate with the BIA tribes that wanted a casino. Arizona did, because not doing so would allow the BIA tribes to get their compact approved by the Interior Department regardless of State laws and with no State input/cut negotiation. Three years later, in Florida v. Seminole, the forced negotiation was ruled unconstitutional. Too late? No, it was not. Arizona governor Fife Symington famously claimed he would not negotiate any more compacts and in 2003 he would not renew those that were already executed. This threat is what prompted the BIA tribal gaming syndication known as the Arizona Indian Gaming Association to lobby hard, spend millions, and put prop 200 and prop 202 on the 2002 ballot. Prop 202 passed, by a mere 20 thousand votes. This was "the people" speaking, and saying "let's keep Indian Gaming" and "let's allow the tribes to cut the State in for 2 to 8% of their Net Class III win" and "while we're at it, let's grant the tribes exclusivity over regulated gambling so that non-Indians can't have it, not even for Class II poker, although Class II Bingo is already regulated off-rez so the pale skins can keep that.

The unconstitutional law that created the initial compacts abrogated state law that says gambling is a felony. The governor unilaterally changed that, going against the law of the land. Whoever sat down and said "I know how we can get around State laws against gambling for the BIA tribes" committed conspiracy, just in talking about it. The actual act is nothing short of racketeering and a manifestation of that conspiracy and felony gambling to boot. Prop 202 is a conspiracy, and the legislative body knew it, but wrote the law anyway. The conspiracy was created by the BIA gambling syndicate, that was in the habit of approving gambling compacts prior to any federal regulatory framework that came with the IGRA in 1987. 

The better solution, is to cut off the head of the monster that the BIA has always been. To learn more, please visit, and click on the links page for days worth of information and empirical data that supports these claims.

*Twin Arrows casino added an 18th poker room when they opened their northern Arizona casino in 2013. They probably have signed the Poker Memorandum of Understanding, and are on the path to self-regulate their poker room, but the revamped ADoG website no longer makes this information readily available. Hmmm. More covering up against an increasingly aware and wary public?


Let's free native American's from BIA enslavement. It's been nearly 200 years for the process of assimilation that was to take a generation or two, and the longer we wait to abolish this aberration of the longest standing US government bureaucracy, the more deeply entrenched we become in continuing the insanity. Nobody sees the native Americans. They are a forgotten race, nobody cares, they are still considered livestock by the federal government, who recently admitted to bilking their trust for $5 Billion in two settlements with dozens more pending. Dismantle the BIA and hand over the trust responsibilities to an Indian consortium. Stop feeding the casinos that further the ethnic cleansing agenda of the BIA internment program known as Indian Reservations. Doesn't matter if Indians want to be freed from the federal teat or not, they are not free people, and cannot be until given fee simple title to their lands, and they are allowed to take over the vast BIA trust.


Good, leave them indians alone man!


Actually who cares,We should have open gambling here in ARIZONA  all the time and make it legal.The indian tribes are raping us right and left.A drink at a casino costs more than a drink in a fairly nice BAR.Hell in the 50 and 60"s all the big hotels in SCOTTSDALE were ser up to have gambling,but the MORMON church put the end of that over the yrs.


Im sure cops have better things to do, like deal with some real crime?


If I were Archuletta, I would sue for slander for saying "You're illegal" in front of a New Times reporter, and libel for seeing it in print. What better way to prove your operation is not illegal and on the up and up? Of course, if I were Schnaubelt, I probably wouldn't even need legal council to defend against such a claim.

Poker clubs have a few options at their disposal: Hire a lobbyist to change the laws, petition legislators and political leaders, seek a declaratory judgment in court, or go off-the-radar. I used to grind these clubs, mainly Chip 'N Chair and The Nuts, but stopped going after I was detained and released in The Nuts raid for two hours. That was CRAZY! AK-47s in my face and zip tied. I will not go through that again, EVER!

I still support activists like Lee and Schnaubelt, but don't see anything changing any time soon. More likely, these off-rez poker clubs will be shut down one by one or in a major sweep. It's unfortunate, as I totally understand Schnaubelt and Lee's arguments against the BIA and tribal exclusivity. I just don't know if they have the voice to get it done. We'll see what happens with Lee's appeal on his First Amendment claim. Good luck.


Well, I must give Ray Stern’s article on the Arizona Poker War higher marks than the puff piece worked up by Mr. Rubin. However, once again you declined to take any notice of the real issues underlying my true motives. The fact is that I personally hand carried a Notice to local and state municipal enforcement authorities PRIOR TO OPENING any facility in the State. 

No other card room in the state can make that claim. In Tombstone I even addressed and received the backing of the City Council at a formal meeting. In May of 2005 I made sure that Attorney General Terry Goddard, along with the Cochise County Attorney received written notice of our plans to open a card room for the ACL membership. It was hand carried and delivered in person. 

As I informed Ray in our conversation with John a few weeks back; it is all over my website: I am fighting for that Petition. Oddly, you didn't even notice one had been lodged.  

Also, it is incorrect that the Department of Gaming shut me down. These coward never even suggested to me or my lawyer that I was unlawful at anytime when I was still conducting business. I notice that you also failed to notice that this agency is paid exclusively from the fruit of the BIA gambling cabal. Their bogus complaint of a lack of resources is odd? Again, not note taken that the DoG police receive no tax money. Which they boast about on their website. 

The don't mention the fact that the DoG controls the kickback fund comprise of the BIA cartels booty from the immoral rigged slots they operate. Czar Brnovich and the DoG control a ONE HUNDRED MILLION DOLLAR annul slush fund euphemistically called the Arizona Benefit fund. This fund is not paid in lieu of taxes. It is simply a paltry single digit kickback for Arizona leadership allowing their banished crime cartel to victimize the state with impunity.

It is absurd to here Czar Brnovich talk as if they are poorly funded by the State and are understaffed. The DoG agents control the entire Arizona Benefit Fund, which as far as decent people are concerned is merely laundering the illicit fruit of an amoral crime cartel

To quote Mr. Stern’s research: “Since 2004, the department's website (the DoG) shows, the state has received more than $800 million as its percentage of the take — which runs from between 1 percent and 8 percent of all casinos' gross earnings.” Your article failed to note that the BIA gambling cartel does the books and no one from Arizona can audit those books. Nor, does the DoG have enforcement authority over their paymasters. 

I am certain that I informed Ray that I never personally operated a poker room. I organized poker players association with the hope that it would evolve into a PGA type organization. I certainly did not face down a long prison term to defend poker. 

I also strongly resent the implication that I was forced to close by the DoG or the Court. I was never approached by the DoG until long after I had ceased to operate. I had been out of business a year before the indictment. My indictment only came months after loss of revenue and low membership forced my associates to close our last facility. True the bogus badges from the BIA gambling cartel police intimidated members into disassociating from our clubs forced the closure.

As to my earnings the DoG introduced all of the money I ever received and it was less than two thousand dollars a year. I never collect any of the up front fees that were originally sought. In fact, I lost money every year I operate my players association. Some of my associates, Poker Nation for one, never paid a penny to me or the ICGPA. I actually fronted her money to operate, and even that was never repaid.\

I also notice you did not mention the courts gracious comments toward me at my sentencing. The Judge was a good deal more than just “lenient”. However, how would the press corps know, they were not in attendance. You act as if I am a weirdo simply because I have never heard or seen a case where a judge is facing felony conspiracy and racketeering charges and the media doesn't find it newsworthy. Sure, I a nutcase.

Thanks for mentioning my websites. The has been up for several years.

Here is what I do know; the issue I am fighting to guard is the right to file a 1st Amendment petition to demand a redress of grievances, and not be indicted for doing so. That is the main issue on appeal. The right of the State to interfere with the free will of professional poker players is a sub issue as far as I am concerned.

As to the BIA crime cabal and the racist reservation system taxpayers are blindly funding I would ask folks to answer this riddle:

How can a crime cartel exist anywhere in the geographical boundaries of the state, unless public officers disobeyed their oath given to the people to uphold and enforce all the laws of the State; including the anti gambling statutes? Then how can the BIA bureaucrats, who have stipulated to pilfering billions of dollars from the taxpayer ward they are charged to protect, be allowed to open a felony business enterprise? Can they also open a drug cartel within State tribal lands?

The answers can be found at 

Judge Harold Lee Convict at Large


Good article Mr. Stern. Presented fairly and without bias, complete with expletives. I enjoyed the read.

"By destroying off-res poker, Schnaubelt believes, he can save poker" is a bit of a stretch though. By opening conversations with Phoenix, Glendale and Peoria (Tempe and Litchfield Park are on the list of next cities) to introduce them to their constitutional rights to franchise, regardless of a civil agreement the Arizona Executive signed ceding "jackpot poker" to the tribes", I hope to provide a way for currently illegal cardrooms to legitimize operation.Short of operating as a cooperative, where every member can freely be an equal owner with equal vote, open books and complete transparency, I would never step foot in another operation outside of Indian Country. If we can be expected to play poker responsibly and socially as adults in our homes, then it stands to reason that we can play poker responsibly and socially as adults in any facility we jointly and collectively own and control.

My goal, all along, has been to create a place where we, the people, the citizens of Arizona, (read: ME) can play poker without having to travel to an untaxed other nation-state where the rake the pots with impunity. I want a room I know is safe, that I have some say in how it’s run and what it does. Until that happens, or until The Tilted Jack Social Poker Club Cooperative opens another facility (undoubtedly with the blessing and/or knowledge of the local municipality), I'm sticking with gin rummy, bridge, canasta and euchre as my card game of choice.

The article talks about Lee's appeal, but not what is being appealed, specifically, his first amendment right to petition the government for a redress of grievances, which he did in 2005 and many times since.

• Brnovich says the ADoG is hurting for money? That's hard to believe when he administers a $100MM a year slush fund.

• If you call the National Indian Gaming Commission office office in Phoenix, they will tell you that they, and not the ADoG, are responsible for oversight and enforcement of tribal poker rooms, which they still consider Class II gaming. The bigger story here is what, and how much, of the activity in tribal poker rooms is actually monitored, and just how much money the State is getting from the poker activity. I'm willing to bet it's less than $10M a year for all casinos in the State. And that's just bad fiscal responsibility... granting a virtual monopoly on the sport by effectively "zoning" it to tribal casinos, where the State has no audit power, and I would contend, no way of telling us just how much money comes into the Arizona benefits fund from poker. Is the Class III Net Win coming from ALL poker activities, or is it just from Jackpot Poker tables, or is it just from the amount of money collected from the Jackpot (Class III) rake? Because keep in mind, for 20 years, 1982 (Fort McDowell opened) till 2002, tribes and the NIGC contend that poker in Arizona was a Class II game, and it still is today. Class II games, like Bingo, pull tabs, and poker, are not subject to state laws and may not therefore be contributing at all to the state in any way. Who really knows? Mr. Brnovich wouldn't tell me, even if he could.

• 17 different MoUs were signed by the governor of our state. What the article does not mention is that in 2002, just ten years ago, the tribal poker rooms were in the same boat as all the off-res cardrooms are today, and using the same arguments cardroom operators are using today to defend their constitutional rights to freedom and liberty. The problem most current cardrooms have is they infringe on the jackpot poker with promotional awards, which constitute Class III gaming on reservations and is definitely luck-based, non-calculated risk type gambling. Aces cracked? Bad beat jackpot? Your game is not only illegal, but infringing on the tribal exclusivity and the poison pill clause of their gaming compact.

• How is that the governor, after twenty years of claiming tribal poker rooms were illegal, was able to sign 17 poker MoUs without that being considered conspiracy? State leaders claiming that “Congress made them do it” doesn't hold up under scrutiny, as that element of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 was held to be an unconstitutional overstepping of Congressional bounds. See Seminole vs. State of Florida regarding State's rights. Of course, Prop 202, twenty years after we've already had tribal gaming in our state, is just more lipstick on the same pig. Could citizens rightfully pass an initiative to legalize murder, rape or illicit drugs? How did we get around State laws without committing conspiracy? Someone had to sit down with someone else after 20 years and say "OK, look, here's how we can get around the state's laws regarding Class II non-banked card games like poker for the tribal gaming interests, and here’s is how the state can make money at it too."

All in all though, the best story concerning Valley cardroom industry to come out of any paper since the standalone storefront cardroom industry started around 2006. Thanks Ray, and keep up the good work. I'll let you know if my wife changes her mind and allows me to go all 13-3884 on some of these cardrooms. Clearly if they know they are operating illegally, they are unethical, and it only stands to reason that other sorts of illegal activities are going on, from defrauding DirecTV with the NFL Sunday ticket for public viewing, to utilizing shills and staked players or shady card mechanics as dealers. 

There's no telling what type of collusion can be going on in these unregulated cardrooms, but I guarantee that they are due for an Arpaio-style media-attention grabbing raid sometime soon, because they aren't going away, they aren't becoming less popular, and one prosecution per year doesn't cut it.

If a gray market Valley poker industry can support 16 to 19 illegal cardrooms today, think about how many it could support if properly legitimized by a municipality, county, or state. Bingo, another Class II game, is played off-res and on. Why not non-promotional award non-banked card games like poker? Even Arpaio calls poker “an amusement”. Even at the state level, such traditional poker doesn’t infringe on tribal “jackpot poker” exclusivity, and if the tribes have retained their right to conduct such games as non-banked poker, then too so must we all, even if that right can only be exercised through one of Arizona’s 92 cities and towns. Why? Because the Supreme Court has already ruled that the state-tribal Class III compacts are NOT a violation of citizens rights to equal protection of the law because it is a government-to-government negotiation and relationship, not a government-to-race or –class of citizen relationship.

Lastly, people other than myself have tried to organize all the cardrooms so that we can approach the government with a pie ready to be sliced up. With cardroom operators lining their pockets with illicit proceeds in closed-management private ownership operations, that's never going to happen, and as the ADoG told me, if cardrooms were regulated, half of 'em would close down immediately because the owners have felony records and would not pass certification requirements.


@swanson01john and in the late 80s over 250 bars and restaurants were operating mini-casinos in the Valley thanks to a "social gambling loophole". Who cares? A lot of people do! (Read all the "closed" threads on the forums concerning Arizona and illegal cardrooms - search for posts by a person going by the name of WillBeDone for a laundry list of other violations besides illegal gambling.) 

Without regulatory oversight from some government or quasi-government agency, illegal cardroom operators will continue to knowingly break the law. And do you, as a poker player, as an observer, or as a fan of constitutional rights, really want to see the criminals winning that Arizona Poker War? We SHOULD have open gambling here in Arizona all the time and make it legal. Regardless of the Indians and their monopolistic claims over poker. But we don't get there by allowing illegal cardrooms to "release the pressure of prohibition". We need a civil-regulatory, not criminal-prohibitive approach. Getting there takes time, and more voices than mine. That's why The Tilted Jack Social Poker Club Cooperative exists. A grass roots civil and social movement to educate, create awareness, and enact change in public policy. One city at a time. Talking to Peoria tomorrow.


@bobbjobob To me, that's the problem. Allowing an unregulated, unlicensed cash intensive industry to carry on in the hands of criminals serves no purpose except the criminals. Yes, poker and cardrooms are a relatively victimless crime, so law enforcement claims they have a lack of resources and just turn the other way. But this isn't good for the Tribes and their supposed exclusivity over the sport, it's not good for the cities, towns, and counties that could be tapping into this valuable resource, it's not good for the players that patronize illegal or gray market cardrooms because they could be walking into an establishment that for all looks and purposes is as wholesome and genuine as can be on the surface, but that sheen could be hiding the seamy underbelly of organized crime and all sorts of other criminal elements that are attracted to any cash-based business, and it certainly isn't good for the sport of poker to allow unchecked games in commercial establishments to continue to illegally benefit private ownership interests.

People have tsk tsk'd me and said "don't you have something better to do?" All this passion and knowledge you have could go towards a much more worthy cause than poker. Others have wagged their finger at me for calling out illegal cardrooms, as if any citizen should be vilified for blowing the whistle or calling attention to crime in our neighborhoods. Really?

Now, how hard is it, or how expensive would it be, for a city to simply issue a cease and desist to the cardrooms operating in it's jurisdiction? Or how hard is it to make one visit to any room and see a tip, or a fee, being collected and taken off the table. Authorities make it sound like shutting rooms down is akin to moving a mountain. Silly. In fact, they turn their heads so far away from the problem that one must logically question if some good old fashioned kickbacks aren't going on.

Butthe poker issue is just a small part of a much larger problem and a gross injustice that has indeed been the goiter around Uncle Sam's neck for centuries.

John Schnaubelt



First, I have never owned a poker club outside of Cochise County, where I had the full support of local authority. In fact, my lawyer and I were in negotiations at the State Senate when we were attacked by the DoG enforcer at an ICGPA sanctions club in Tucson in 2008, in a successful effort to bust the ICGPA players union. 

The DoG's extortion tactics began in full force years after local authority had begun to license our facilities. So called undercover DoG police raids began in earnest shortly after we had been assured by the Arizona Attorney General's office through the media that we would not be prosecuted. The DoG attack was executed with the full knowledge that I had personally filed a 1st Amendment petition for a redress of grievance to allow us to open poker clubs for our adult membership. 

The only clubs I ever opened and operated were in Cochise County. The Sierra Vista club is still open and operating with the full knowledge of municipal enforcement authority, I even have written thank you note from the City Parks and Recreation Department thank me for organizing the sport in their Community. The facility continues to operate today. 

Mort to the point; with providing hundreds of professional games daily throughout the state. It was this massive uncontrolled environment that caused the ACL player association to petition the State to stop misapplying the gambling statutes to the international sport of poker. The sport of poker must be allowed to self- police its players the same as all other strategic competitions.  

Respectfully Judge Harold Lee 

Convict at Large (with portfolio 

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