By Michael Jacobs

michaeljacobs@reporternewspapers.net

The Sandy Springs SWAT team raided a private home in the Huntcliff neighborhood Feb. 1 to break up what was alleged to be a commercial gambling operation.

Inside the house at 400 Waterpine Court, police found two poker tables with seven people playing cards, arrested 14 of about 20 people there, and seized $2,682 in cash, a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun and assorted poker paraphernalia. The loot included a “large amount” of $5 and $1 poker chips, which are typical of small-stakes no-limit Texas hold’em.

The poker game differed from a typical home game because the organizers took a cut of the stakes, police spokesman Lt. Keith Zgonc said. That made it a commercial gambling operation under Georgia law.

The police operation involved 35 officers for more than two hours, Zgonc said

The raid came as poker prosecutions across the country stumbled. Judges in Colorado and Pennsylvania last month ruled that poker is a game of skill and thus not subject to state gambling bans. Poker Hall of Famer Mike Sexton testified this month in a South Carolina case in which the defense used the same argument.

Commercial gambling is a rare conviction in Georgia. State Department of Corrections records show that since 1983, only 26 people have served prison time for commercial gambling. Most served six months or less.

In the Sandy Springs raid and the five-day investigation before it, police found no evidence of crimes other than gambling, Zgonc said.

“Organized gambling does not appear to be a big problem in the city,” he said.

Dist. 2 Councilwoman Dianne Fries, who lives less than a mile from the raided house, said she stumbled upon the scene around noon that day. “It’s unusual to see that many vehicles in one place, let alone police,” she said, adding, “The operation was large but went very well.”

Three men face felony charges of running a commercial gambling operation and are due to appear in Fulton County Superior Court.

Allen Edwards, 42, of Roswell is accused of being the organizer. “All parties wrote statements advising that they do receive text messages from Edwards,” the incident report reads.

Also facing felony charges are Robert Logan of Sandy Springs, who turned 25 five days after the raid, and Robert Kinner, 26, of Woodstock. Logan told police he works as a bartender during the games. Police said Kinner had the .40-caliber handgun concealed in a hip holster but lacked a permit for a concealed weapon. In addition to the gambling charge, he faces two misdemeanor counts and a felony charge related to the weapon.

All three men were released from the Fulton County Jail on $50,000 bail Feb. 3.

The other 11 arrests were for misdemeanor violations of city ordinances, although the police reports don’t distinguish between poker players and others. All are due in Municipal Court on March 18: Dominic Manicone, 18, of Lawrenceville; Michelle Lee, 22, of Athens; Justin Moody, 24, of Kennesaw; Ernie Hathaway, 24, of Atlanta; Nikita Sapp, 25, of Roswell; Mohammad Rommey, 26, of Ocala, Fla.; Rory Henton, 27, of Marietta; Joy Lee, 28, of Suwanee; Christopher Diaz, 29, of Dunwoody; David Mallory, 30, of Roswell; and Scott Richardson, 32, of Cumming.

Zgonc didn’t have details on how some of the people in the house avoided arrest.

The homeowner, John Quick, reportedly lives out of state and doesn’t face charges.

Police said the house was a part-time rental. Both the foreclosure and the rental status make the house unusual in Huntcliff, Fries said.

Zgonc said police received a tip of a planned home invasion. The resulting investigation uncovered the regular poker game.

If the raid leads to felony gambling convictions, they could be the first in Fulton County since the mid-1980s. The Fulton District Attorney’s Office did not provide information on the fate of two men charged with felonies in a Roswell poker raid in April 2007.

Fries’ concern, however, isn’t the fate of the suspects, but her quiet neighborhood. “I’m glad the Police Department moved them out.”