Palmer Lake, Colorado, April 26, 2005--Local law enforcement agents burst into Guadala Jarra restaurant in Palmer Lake, training their already-drawn guns onto the heads of the sea of criminals seated at the tables. Laser sighting allowed them to train red dots on the points at which their bullets would penetrate the skulls of the dangerous occupants of the restaurant. Police officials barked out orders to the restaurant, and managed to keep the crowd at bay by threatening to splatter brains all over the poker cards and chips on the tables.
Apparently there's a lull in murder, robbery, jaywalking, and other major crime in the town of Palmer Lake. The quiet and somewhat upscale community of Palmer Lake sits at elevation 7225 feet, north of Colorado Springs. It is a small town, but like most Colorado towns, the welcome sign tells you the elevation, not the population. Looking Palmer Lake up on Google, I note that its population is only 1776, even smaller than I thought.
Due to its scenic beauty nestled at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Palmer Lake's tag line is "almost heaven." The great part is that this motto also aptly describes the new world order in Palmer Lake, in which poker players bringing $15 to play Texas hold'em do so at the risk of getting sent to their maker.
Palmer Lake brought in the big boys from Colorado Springs (population 375,000, elevation 6008 feet) for the raid, given that there's not a whole lot of "force" at the proud Palmer Lake police station. The official Palmer Lake site  lists a chief, three full-time officers, and five part-time officers.
That's one gun for for every 273 residents, including men, women, and children. Not enough guns to splatter dozens of brains all at once, so Palmer Lake joined forces with Colorado Springs Metro Vice, Narcotics and Intelligence Unit to make the raid.
In all, Palmer Lake's finest arrested the owner Jeff Hulsman and twenty-four other patrons of Guadala Jarra restaurant. The poker players and owner all thought they were following the arbitrary laws set up by the government. Hulsman had opened the games to the public and made them clearly visible, suggesting that he believed he was running a legal event.
According to the owner, the house took no rake, the general rule for distinguishing between harmless poker games and dangerous poker games. Officials debate this point, claiming that higher liquor costs for players in the poker room than for the remainder of the restaurant (to which the owner replies, happy hour had just ended, hence the confusion of the officers). Another odd part of the law indicates that players must know each other outside of the poker arena. Doesn't everybody know everybody else in small, uptight towns like Palmer Lake?
The raid was a major sting operation, and officials spent a month in preparation for it after finding out about the game. Never mind Andy Griffith walking into the restaurant and having a talk with the owner: "You know, Jeff, what you're doing isn't legal, and you're going to have to shut it down." "Oh, thanks Andy, I'm sorry, I wouldn't have held the poker game and risked felony arrest as well as loss of my liquor license if I thought I was doing anything wrong. As far as we knew, we were doing everything by the book." (That last line is an actual quote from a waiter at the restaurant.) Instead, the smart-ass, arrogant police chief Dale Smith says, "Normally, we don't give warnings for felonies." Looks like Barney Fife has gotten a promotion.
The poker game is indeed dangerous. It threatens the state's legalized lottery and the legalized limited stakes gaming allowed in local communities including Cripple Creek, Central City, and Black Hawk. My immediate suspicion is that vested interests in the casino towns have paid good amounts of "protection" money to the state liquor board. I expect numerous additional violent raids in the near future, given the rapidly rising popularity of hold 'em poker tournaments in the establishments around town.
There's little need for much comment on this story. Its outrageousness speaks volumes about the dangers of the state's power. For all the whining about corporate monopolies, the state has a real problem with competition. Dare to threaten state-sponsored corruption (alcohol, gambling, tobacco) and you run the risk of incurring their wrath. Ultimately the guns and laser sights are all about making sure you recognize that the state has to get its cut. In that vein, among many others, it's clear that the state is very similar to organized crime. In fact, the state is far more dangerous than organized crime, since there's not much that can stop their oppression.