Chris Moneymaker's Kentucky poker club pulls tables under threat of county-level prosecution

Haley Hintze Author Photo
Haley Hintze
Posted on: February 15, 2023 05:50 PST

Chris Moneymaker's new social-poker club in Paducah, Kentucky, Moneymaker Social, has ceased its poker operations for the time being under the threat of prosecution from the McCracken County (KY) Attorney's office and its newly-elected County Attorney, Cade Foster.

Moneymaker Social halted its poker operations on Tuesday night after receiving notification from the McCracken County office the prior Thursday, just as a major $50,000 guaranteed event began at the club and stretched through the weekend. Moneymaker was immediately in touch with Foster’s office about the situation, as it reversed an earlier written, county-level approval of which Foster had knowledge.

Moneymaker Social will remain open while offering pool, darts, and other entertainments while it explores its legal options and other possible business opportunities, which could run as far afield as recasting itself as a sports bar with an added “Moneymaker” theme. Meanwhile, Moneymaker and the club’s Paducah-based counsel, Michael Byers, will continue discussions with McCracken County officials about what services the social club can offer. 

Regardless of future opportunities, however, the cessation of poker at the club represents an unexpected roadblock. Speaking to PokerOrg, Moneymaker decried how certain rich, private entities, such as country clubs, could offer similar games as Moneymaker Social with no hindrance – or even special licensing. “I don’t think you should have to be in a country club to play poker. That was the idea. We want to be a country club but for blue-collar people.”

The club announced its at-least-temporary cessation of poker services on its Facebook page, briefly stating, "Unfortunately we have shut down the poker part of our business until further notice. We will remain open and pivot to other activities."

Prior approval at state and county levels

The Paducah club, near the Ohio River in northwest Kentucky, had opened only in September after receiving approval from both the Kentucky Secretary of State's office and then-McCracken County Attorney Sam Clymer that the club’s planned operations were legal. Clymer, though, did not seek reelection and returned to private practice, and a private-practice attorney from the area, Cade Foster, was elected in November to fill Clymer’s former role.

Though Foster was aware of the earlier process in which written approval for the club was sent from the McCracken County office to Byers, the situation had changed. The initial written approval was one of the conditions Moneymaker required before undertaking the project. That prior approval is likely also why the club wasn’t raided or shut down immediately, but was instead allowed to complete the weekend’s planned events.

Moneymaker shared with PokerOrg that the McCracken County office even contemplated two counts against Moneymaker as the owner of the club – a misdemeanor charge for gambling and a felony charge for gambling advertising. Moneymaker shared that one of the reasons for pulling Moneymaker Social’s poker offerings was to protect his employees from any sort of gambling-related charges in a newly uncertain situation. He has also continued his employment of staffers for the time being.

Rejected liquor-license application may be connected to McCracken County reversal

Moneymaker Social applied for a liquor license – commonly called an “ABC” license, for Kentucky’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control – but was denied by an ABC official under the grounds that the Paducah social club “offered gambling”. That letter in turn was forwarded to the new McCracken County Attorney, Foster, which may have influenced to some extent the reevaluation of Moneymaker Social as a business.

However the process played out, the end result was the same. “The goalposts have moved,” said Moneymaker. “Now we’re in the process of finding out what we can do.”

Paducah an alternate club location

How Moneymaker Social ended up in Paducah is its own winding tale. Moneymaker initially explored opening a club in Texas, perhaps in Dallas. Then the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, freezing live-poker operations and business plans around the world. By the time restrictions eased, Moneymaker believed he’d lost his early-mover edge.

Then a couple of Moneymaker’s friends recommended he get in touch with Byers, an attorney and Tennessee native who’d relocated to Kentucky years earlier. The local legal presence aided the club’s initial licensing success, at least until the recent liquor-license application went awry.

As it stands, the situation surrounding Moneymaker Social is entirely a county-level legal concern. Two other social-poker clubs remain open for operation elsewhere in Kentucky and a third is planning to open in the coming weeks.

(Author's update: This version corrects an original version that stated that current McCracken County Attorney Cade Foster worked as an assistant to former CA prior to Clymer's retirement in 2022. Foster was instead a private-practice attorney in the Paducah area. Foster reached out to PokerOrg to correct the error and to disclose that he was not involed in any way with Clymer's initial approval, nor did he agree with the reasoning behind that approval.)

Featured image source: Facebook / Moneymaker Social