Among the stories overwhelmed in recent weeks by the 2022 World Series of Poker and other major series in Las Vegas is an event of closer interest to our Georgia readers, the raid and shuttering of the Little Kings and Queens poker club in Buford, Georgia. The club had been in operation for more than six years when it was raided in mid-June, and its owner, Dennis “Shane” Maxwell, was charged with two gambling-related counts.

Little Kings and Queens, which was once named Gwinnett County’s “Best Charity” of 2021, hasn’t officially closed its doors for good, but the outward signs are ominous. The club has removed or made private all the content that existed prior to the raid on its formerly active Facebook page. That included a video featuring Maxwell in which he described the reasons why he believed his club, which was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, was legal under Georgia law.

The problem facing the club and Maxwell is that the poker events that were being run out of the club weren’t one of the forms of gambling specifically authorized under Georgia’s charity-gambling laws, which allow for raffles… and not much else. It’s one of the ways in which the South still differs from most of the rest of the U.S. when it comes to charity-themed gambling. In the Midwest and elsewhere across the country, most forms of gambling, including poker, can be offered as part of charity fundraisers that are in turn licensed by a given state.

For all intent and purpose, Georgia has no such framework allowing for charity-based poker games or casino-style gaming. It’s a regional thing.

Too much, too far

All evidence indicates that Maxwell and Little Kings and Queens kept pushing the boundaries of what they could offer, and the raid was pushback that had been several months in the planning. According to one of the most recent features on the situation, published by Atlanta’s Fox 5, the club’s closure came following a renewed investigation by the Gwinnett County Police Vice Unit.

Poker clubs that exist in a legal grey zone, a category that surely includes Little Kings and Queens, are always targeted by authorities, usually at the urging of prominent anti-gambling citizenry. The Fox 5 feature details how investigators approached Maxwell last August and advised him that the club appeared to be an illegal gambling scheme. Maxwell continued to operate the club, with the expected result then coming last month in the form of the raid and shutdown.

Maxwell was charged with a felony count of commercial gambling and a misdemeanor count of keeping a gambling place. Authorities also seized $30,000 during the raid, which can be generally reckoned as the room’s operation funds on the day of the raid. Several dozen employees have been thrown out of work, though Maxwell remains the only person charged, and he was freed almost immediately on a very nominal $1,300 bond. Maxwell likely won’t serve extended prison time, though some larger fine, including the forfeiture of the $30,000, appears likely.

Last month, following the raid, I spoke with a Southern player who has participated at Little Kings and Queens and who was in attendance at the 2022 WSOP. He told me that the club also featured other “gambling” opportunities such as video poker/slots, and while there’s no current way to confirm that, it doesn’t seem unlikely. It’s also among the things undercover investigators would have noticed during their visits to Little Kings and Queens in 2021. It also speaks to the totality of why the club was cited as an illegal gambling operation, whether it was registered as a charitable entity or not. The visible pieces, according to authorities, didn’t match the stated claims.

Paperwork and filing gaps

Major mismatches also exist between the claimed donations made to various charities and the actual amounts that have been traced to those charities through Little Kings and Queens to date. The Fox 5 piece focused on the significant growth in revenue the club enjoyed over the years for which its charitable filings are available, then detailed how inadequate those filings were in terms of actual expenditures and charitable disbursements.

That’s another sign of larger trouble for Maxwell and the Little Kings and Queens club. For example, Fox 5 obtained from the club a list of 51 entities to which Little Kings and Queens had donated a combined $148,648.95 in 2021. The station’s feature then infers that based upon the club’s known prior growth — tax filings for 2021 are not yet available — as little as 10 percent of the club’s revenue may have gone to charity recipients.

Given what a separate Atlanta Journal-Constitution feature describes as “vague and repetitive” disclosures, this situation will likely take some time to unravel, and some form of forensic auditing may occur down the road. At some point, investigators will want to see where all the money went, and those answers won’t be known for quite some time.

It’s a safe bet, though, that Little Kings and Queens has dealt its last hand of poker.

Featured image source: Twitter / LKQ Charity Events

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