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Owners of Liberty poker club to seek order to remain open

Friday, April 30, 2010

By jeanne starmack


Owners of a private poker club that opened two weeks ago are in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court today to keep it from being shut down.

Club Infiniti is a members-only club but was open to the public for membership.

It opened April 16 at the MetroPlex Hotel and Convention Center on Belmont Avenue with its zoning and building occupancy permits in order, said township attorney Mark Finamore.

Whether it’s been in compliance with Ohio’s gambling laws is what’s in question now, he said.

Finamore told the township before the club opened that to convict someone of violating gambling laws, prosecutors have to prove that person profited from the gambling itself.

Finamore said private poker clubs make their profits from hourly or daily usage fees and membership fees rather than a take of gambling winnings.

Finamore said that after the club opened, Police Chief Richard Tisone told him his department would investigate to make sure the club was not violating gambling laws. He said he doesn’t know what prompted the investigation. Tisone could not be reached to comment.

Finamore said Tisone called after the investigation and said he believed there were violations. He said he advised Tisone to take the evidence to Prosecutor Robert Johnson of Girard Municipal Court, who reviewed it.

Tisone was going to ask the club owners to close it voluntarily so he wouldn’t have to file charges, Finamore said.

In a filing for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction, club owners Craig J. McCormick and Kevin Forestal said MCormick spoke with Tisone on April 22. Tisone told him to close the club over the weekend or police would raid it, file charges and seize tables.

In their filing for a restraining order, the club owners argue that closing it will hurt them financially.

They want the court to prevent police from filing criminal charges against them, the club and its members and to prohibit the township from closing the club.

They want the court to prevent police from seizing equipment.

They ask the court to prevent the township from taking any action until the court has determined the legality of the club.

They want the court to prevent the township from revoking or suspending the club’s zoning and occupancy permits.

They ask the court to allow the club to stay open during the civil action and during the pendency of any criminal charges.

In their complaint for declaratory judgment, the owners want the court to declare the club is legally compliant.

“This is unheard of,” said Finamore, adding that he doesn’t know if a court has the right to prohibit the filing of criminal charges.

“It will be interesting to see if the judge grants this,” he said.

The hearing was set for 10 a.m. before Judge Peter Kontos.