CIgars & Poker Don’t Mix – A David Garofalo Editorial

Why Don’t Cigars and Poker Mix…
Because Cigar Stores and Bars are Businesses.


CardTableI’m a card player, I’ve played in tournaments and I even owned and operated an online site called Cigar Poker Room of all things, years ago before the laws were changed. I’ve never been at the World Series of Poker but it’s on my bucket list for sure. At the same time, I’ve been operating a cigar shop for 30 years now and I’ve learned that sometimes Poker and Cigars just don’t mix.

A cigar bar and store in a Weston, Florida drew national attention as investigators from the Sheriff’s Office the arrested two men on suspicion of keeping a gambling house. Mr. McGuinness and Mr. Husley were taken into custody at the Smoke on the Water Cigar Bar which Mr. Husley owns.

mugshotsThese guys were arrested on suspicion of keeping a gambling house. The warrant accuses them of unlawfully exercising control or maintaining a gambling table or room…for the purpose of gambling…in a place where they had control or management. I’m quite sure we have a lot of cigar shop owners and consumers who have seen a poker table in their cigar shops so this might be an interesting subject to dig into too… so let’s do it.

McGuinness was observed setting up the poker table and dealing cards in a Texas Hold ’em style tournament at the cigar bar according to an arrest report. But here is the kicker, McGuinness lists his employer as Bar Poker Pros LLC., a company that lists weekly charity tournaments held at bars around South Florida. The site also says its games support over 50 charities. But a cigar shop is not a legal or licensed poker room and the authorities have begun to put the hammer down, so be warned.

dogspokerWhat’s wrong with a handful of guys killing an afternoon at a cigar shop? Its good clean fun, right? Sure, unless unlawful activity is being conducted. Playing poker is not against any law but doing it for money is, and that’s where things apparently went wrong as far as the law is concerned. Today, let’s be Monday morning quarterbacks and let’s look at what might not be good business in respect to the cigar shops themselves.

The local cigar shop is the modern-day pub, barber-shop and hang-out for lots of cigar enthusiasts. After work or on a day off, spending a few hours to meet up with friends or meeting new ones is the plan for lots of people. The owners of the cigar shops make a living selling cigars to these folks while providing them with a comfortable seat and sometimes other amenities.

You might see a Domino Table, Pool Table, Chess or Checkers. You might see multiple Televisions, an outside deck or even a Poker Table. These amenities are there for the convenience and added benefit to you, the cigar smoker, and they are there to simply complement the enjoyment of the cigar you have hopefully bought at the very store you are smoking it in. If you didn’t buy the cigar there, you really shouldn’t be there at all, but this is a discussion for another time.

CAOChipsGood clean fun, hurting nobody and at the same time adding to overall experience of the cigar. That is why these amenities are there and the only reason they should be there. The longer the time spent in a cigar shop should equate to the more money that is spent by the customer. Just like the before dinner drink at a restaurant or the dessert, coffee or after dinner drinks adds to the check, the longer you stay at the store, you should be inclined to light up another cigar obviously purchased only from that same shop where it is being smoked. Maybe you will be trying something different, a cigar that your new friend told you was delicious. Maybe something you see highlighted, featured or recommended by the clerk in the shop. This is the purpose of the cigar lounge and this should be the purpose of the amenities offered.

When the amenities are used as a form of profit to the cigar shop such as “a take from every pot” on the poker table, this is where things get ugly in my opinion for a few reasons. The attention is no longer on cigars, the profit of a take from the pot is pure profit with no added expense. The feeling in the cigar shop has now changed and it becomes segregated, to the haves and have-nots. The old boys club has now taken over and control the lounge, the game and the establishment, while never forgetting you may be breaking the law. This is where a cigar shop could be getting a bad name or worse.

I consider a good cigar shop as a clean and honest establishment. When I got into the cigar-shop business in 1985 I remember a landlord refusing to rent me a storefront because I was a cigar shop and he thought I was “of course” really only a bookie joint. This was the way the industry was looked upon in the 1980’s but the cigar boom of the 90’s changed all that, and a tobacconist operating a cigar shop was finally looked at as legitimate. The cigar shop owner was now looked at as an expert, a Sommelier if you will, but not with wine…with cigars… we have come a long way. Arrests like the one in Florida takes us all backwards whether it be factual or not, rightful or ridiculous… we’ll let the courts decide the outcome on that. For them and all cigar shop owners, I sincerely hope they are exonerated, but for now what should cigar shops do to clean up their act?

magazinesMagazines… if you are going to have them in your lounge, for patrons to relax and read when there is nobody to talk to or if they choose to keep to themselves. These magazines need to be tasteful. Gone are the days, or should be the days of the Playboy and Penthouse magazines tossed around the shops. Keep it classy. A pile of outdated magazines is not reading material, it’s a mess if you ask me.

Television should be geared around the patrons and not the staff or owner of the store. Stay away from politics and religious shows if possible, also in conversation. I’d even stay away from finance as a bad day brings people down… people don’t want to go to the cigar shop to get depressed. Sports is always a good bet. That goes for music too, a good shop should try to play for the masses, meaning a multitude of people not a small niche who like underground 80’s punk with country influence or something very narrow.

I think the games being played in a retail establishment should be quiet ones if at all, simple and non-offensive to others not playing. I know this will not be a popular statement to the consumer but it is true. It should not control the lounge but enhance it. If added, it should help the business and not hurt it, and by all means never be illegal. The cigar shop is a business, for profit, it is not and should not be just a hobby or a hang out. It’s a business and needs to be treated as such. The heart and soul of cigar smoking was born in cigar shops, and it took a long time to build a good reputation. We are no longer lumped in with strip joints and corner bars but I’m afraid that bad decisions by retailers could bring us back to those times.

Cigar Retailers: In the growing cyber world, as our ways to communicate expand, the oldest way of communication, verbal, is fading. The cigar shop is one of the few places I feel it is still alive and well. Conversation in the cigar shop is the best amenity it has to offer but some retailers are not using this amenity to its full potential. It’s free and it’s special, as there are not a lot of places it can be pulled off properly. Keep the communication flowing.

Cigar Consumers: Support your local Brick and Mortar Cigar retail shop, by always buying and smoking only cigars purchased in the shop. Pick up after yourself, and chip-in and pick up after those less considerate. Keep it clean and legal too. Don’t bring in Cuban cigar or any cigars for that matter. Don’t gamble or do anything that could jeopardize the license, business and future of the owner who is in business for profit. Understand that profit is not a dirty word and allow them to conduct business and be part of their success and instead of part of their problem. In the case of the two Florida accused, the warrant accuses them of “unlawfully exercising control in a place where they had control or management.” Whether they had control or not, they ultimately get the punishment. The people doing the unlawful activity (doing the gambling) appeared to just walk away, while the owner of the cigar shop was arrested and will go through a long and expensive legal battle while hurting his business and reputation.

Playing cards is all fun and games but conducting a retail establishment is business. In a cigar shop, sometimes cigars and poker just don’t mix.

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