VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) - His house of cards has collapsed, and now one of the area's most famous restaurant owners is fighting to stay out of prison.
Capt. George's Seafood Restaurant owner George Pitsilides maintains the game police broke up in April 2011 was legal. The Virginia Beach Commonwealth's Attorney argues they were illegal games of chance. Pitsilides went to court, and WAVY.com was the only news outlet there.
Pitsilides' side wanted the charges dropped, but that did not happen. Towards the end of the year, a jury will decide whether Capt. George is on a sinking ship.
Pitsilides stood accused of operating a continuous gambling operation, specifically Texas Hold Em.
"We believe Texas Hold Em is a game of skill, and all of the experts we have submitted to the court will testify it is a game of skill," said Pitsilides' attorney James Broccoletti.
The most compelling information came from Card Dealer Randal John. He dealt cards at the gambling house across the street from Capt. George's Seafood Restaurant. Pitsilides was often there along with his co- defendant Lisa Marie Crain, who was more of a server of food and drink. John said Virginia Beach Police would often show up too.
"They would come in and ask what was going on, and we'd say we're playing poker...no one ever stopped us, and no one ever said it was illegal," said John.
Commonwealth's Attorney Harvey Bryant said, "We don't know who the officers were, but they gave us enough information to infiltrate the game with an undercover agent."
Testimony suggests the poker games were friendly, and invite only.
"Everyone was friendly and everyone was friends," John added. Four to 12 players would sit around a table, and once you sat down, you were expected to stay at least three or four hours. Pitsilides and Crain would take the money, put it in a metal box, and put it in a back room or the attic until it was time to go home.
Crain's attorney brought up the Virginia Beach Fraternal Order of Police held similar games, but were told by Bryant to close down the games and no one was ever charged.
"No charges were ever filed or taken out with regard to the Fraternal Order of Police, and they were given the opportunity to shut down their game, and no one was ever charged," said Adrianne Bennett. "I think these folks are being targeted because they are individuals who are successful financially. So, I guess it makes it a more interesting story, I suppose."
Commonwealth's Attorney Harvey Bryant said the FOP case was different.
"The FOP was leasing space to another organization who put on the games. It was not continuous...Pitsilides has prior convictions, and knew what was going on in his gambling operation," Bryant said.
Pitsilide's side argued the State Codes are vague, especially in defining what is an illegal game of chance and a legal game of skill.
"Therefore, if it is a game of skill, it is not gambling. If it's not gambling, it is not illegal. If it is not illegal, there is no crime," Broccoletti said.
The Commonwealth argued in the game, what ends up in your hand is completely chance, and if you need an ace and you have a two, no skill is going to change that.
"But are you holding an Ace or a two? That is the crux. You don't know what I have, and therefore betting is an aspect of skill, folding is an aspect of skill, preserving your hand is an aspect of skill," Broccoletti countered.
Broccoletti will tell a jury the General Assembly laws are poorly drafted and vague, and the laws defining games of chance and games of skill can change from one Hampton Roads city to another.
Broccoletti also said any money that card dealers took from the table during big chip hands was to pay for food, drink, and other expenses in putting on the games. Broccoletti said at no time did the "House" ever keep any money.
Commonwealth's Attorney Harvey Bryant said the only people who say poker is a game purely of skill are the ones who want to legalize illegal games.
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