Attention card sharks: There is finally a place in Boise (besides your buddy's garage) to show off your best "Ramblin' Gamblin' Willie" impersonation. The month-old Boise Card Club is a legal clubhouse for poker and other games, but players won't get shot like Willie did because no money actually changes hands. It's not gambling, but players can practice their poker faces, play with other members and hang out in the dark Orchard Street lair stocked with casino-quality poker tables, black leather couches and a giant screen TV.
It's no doorless Skull and Bones establishment, but the Boise Card Club sign is discreet, and with the small sign and spray-painted windows that blend in with the white facade of its strip mall home, it can be confusing for an outsider. However, distinctly different from the ways of a fraternity or secret society, BCC membership is open to everyone.
"I've been playing poker for 10 years," says Boise Card Club owner Jason Kemper. "This is just something we decided to start up to give poker players in Idaho a place to play cards."
Lifelong Boise resident Kemper has spiked, bleached hair. When we meet at the club, he's dressed casually in a white T-shirt and denim shorts. At age 30, it would appear that he's in the bull's-eye for the unscientific poker playing demographic made famous by Bravo's Celebrity Poker Showdown.
Kemper says the club is already doing well and that membership is steadythough he won't reveal numbers. He's also secretive about members' names and won't even disclose whether some of Boise's notorious public gamblers have joined his club. Kemper does admit, when pressed, that membership skews about 85 percent male. However, this isn't a boys' club, he insists, and invites me to check it out on Thursday night, which is free to the public every week.
He discloses that the club has hosted a female massage therapist who makes bank by kneading the members' shoulders for a buck a minute. He suggests that I, too, could also make beaucoup bucks if I wanted to be a waitress at the club serving non-alcoholic drinks. (Booze is not served at the card club, but it just so happens that BCC is strip mall neighbors with McCleary's Pub.) Making bank seems somewhat implausible, because people aren't earning any money with which to tip waitresses and they aren't getting drunk either (which is the first rule of good tipping from what I understand).
Let me note again, for good measure, that the Boise Card Club is legal. They have accommodated state statutes to ensure that 1) the business stays afloat and, perhaps more importantly, 2) that Kemper stays out of the slammer. Idaho gambling rules are tough.
Amber French is a detective for the Idaho State Lottery Commission, which regulates all gambling in the state. According to French, to constitute gambling, a situation must include three elements: prize, chance and consideration, which means putting up and risking anything of value. "When you take out one of them, it is OK," says French. "As long as you have those three elements, it is gambling."
French is familiar with the Boise Card Club; she and other Lottery officials met with Kemper before the club opened to double-check that everything was legal.
"In my opinion, he didn't do his homework," says French. "They were originally going to give prizes based on the card games. But we told them, 'You gotta do it this way,' and they did." Now everything is squared away and BCC does give away prizessuch as big-screen TVs and vacationsbut not for gambling.
"Since they require some payment up front to play, they can't have prizes (for poker)," says French. "They have prizes on Xbox because that's based on skill, not chance."
So since skill versus chance is a determining issue in the legalese of gambling, it would seem that some players who study the nuances of the game might argue that poker requires skill, not just chance. They can forget fighting for that cause, however, because it's irrelevant since the Idaho gambling statute specifically names poker as gambling.
Idaho Code 18-3801, which defines gambling specifically, includes as illegal "a sporting event, the operation of casino gambling including, but not limited to, blackjack, craps, roulette, poker, bacarrat [baccarat] or keno."
So BCC plays by the rules without gambling, and players shouldn't expect a change. Kemper has a serious business plan. Even though no money can be won, members pay a fee to join. Membership starts at $10 a month for an all-you-can-play buffet of games. In addition to poker, there's gin, Halo on Xbox, chess and a surplus of board games (including Stratego, Axis and Allies, and Risk, for those kind of gamers, too). It is open all day Monday through Saturday. Members can upgrade to a second-level membership, including free non-alcoholic drinks, or to the VIP membership that Kemper gets a little cryptic about elaborating onprobably because the special VIP section in the back room is still under construction. But construction be damned. Even with parts of the place roped off, the game at the Boise Card Club is on!
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