Saturday, September 29, 2007

"Unlawful" gambling at fire halls charged

"Unlawful" gambling at fire halls charged
By Chris Foreman
Saturday, September 29, 2007

State police are accusing a veteran Westmoreland County lawyer and a
business partner of participating in unlawful gambling by organizing Texas
Hold 'Em poker tournaments at fire halls in Hempfield and Seward. Defense
attorney Lawrence J. Burns, 63, of 16 Romar Ave., Derry Township, and James
L. Hricko, 41, of 1400 Swede Hill Road, Hempfield, both were charged
Thursday with three first-degree misdemeanor counts of violating the state's
gambling devices statute.

Since early August, state police have executed three search warrants in
connection with the case, seizing almost $43,000 in alleged gambling funds,
Trooper Rebecca Fabich and Cpl. Robert Erdely said Friday in a news release.

Fabich went undercover on May 16 to play in an advertised poker game and a
cash game at the Adamsburg and Community Volunteer Fire Department in
Hempfield, police said in an affidavit of probable cause filed with the
criminal complaints.

The Hempfield tournament was advertised through a sign outside the fire hall
and a Web site,, registered to Burns, the affidavit states.
Less than three months later, police raided a tournament at the Seward
Volunteer Fire Hall, according to documents Burns' attorney filed last month
seeking the return of seized money and property. The charges filed this week
do not describe the Aug. 3 game in Seward.

Law enforcement authorities contend poker tournaments that are advertised,
and held for profit and not for the benefit of a licensed charitable
organization, are illegal.

Ken Wees, the president of the Adamsburg department, said the company
allowed the hall to be rented for the poker tournament but didn't receive
any percentage of the winnings.

"The only way we benefited was because he rented the hall," he said.

Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck said the case arose from a
complaint to authorities. He was not aware of any similar charges in Western
Pennsylvania for operating a poker ring.

"It's unlawful gambling, and it's not authorized by any statute," Peck said.

But Burns and his attorney, David J. Millstein, insist poker is not gambling
under state law because it is a game of skill.

Unlawful gambling, Millstein said, is defined as paying to participate in a
game predominated by chance to win an award.

"Our position is it's no different from playing in a golf tournament,"
Millstein said.

Millstein filed a motion seeking to recover more than $11,000 and other
property police confiscated from Burns' home and office and the Seward hall.
The remaining money was seized Aug. 22 from a bank account.

Westmoreland County Judge Richard E. McCormick Jr. scheduled an Oct. 9
hearing on that motion.

The president of No Dice, a regional organization opposed to
government-sponsored gambling, said it's ironic the state is cracking down
on a poker ring at a time when it's luring gamblers to recently opened

"It is common for states that legalize gambling to step up enforcement
against illegal gambling so as to crush the competition," said Bruce Barron,
of Bethel Park in Allegheny County. "Casino-state governments overlook the
hypocrisy because they are addicted to the revenues."

Hricko, who allegedly told Fabich in May he was Burns' partner, declined to
comment yesterday when informed of the charges by a reporter. Hricko
previously has hired Burns to represent him in unrelated court matters,
according to Westmoreland County records.

Burns and Hricko will receive the charges by mail.

District Judge Mark Mansour of Hempfield will schedule a preliminary

Chris Foreman can be reached at or 724-626-3561. Back
to headlines

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