Plea deal reached in Watauga social poker club case

Haley Hintze Author Photo
Haley Hintze
Posted on: March 15, 2024 23:03 PDT

The owner of a suburban Fort Worth, Texas, social-poker club has agreed to a plea deal to resolve an ongoing charges resulting from an October 2022 raid on the club. On February 29, Watauga Social Lounge Poker Club owner Joe Vongkaysone agreed to a civil forfeiture totaling more than $170,000 in exchange for not being sentenced to jail time in the Tarrant County (TX) District Court case.

Vongkaysone faced two charges connected to the club's operation. The charges were filed shortly after the October 9, 2002 raid on the Watauga club, and included one count of engaging in organized criminal activity, and another of gambling promotion. A third charge against Vongkaysone, of keeping a gambling place, had already been dropped. The terms of the plea deal call for Vongkayone to pay more than $170,000 in penalties, plus interest; over $102,000, plus interest, will be paid to Tarrant County, and another $68,000 plus interest will be paid to the state of Texas.

The penalties and interest will likely be equal (or nearly so) to the roughly $205,000 seized from the club and players during the 2022 raid. That sum included over $132,000 in prize money awaiting the top finishers in a major tournament that was on its final day when the club was raided.

Players cited, workers arrested

Forty-nine players were in action at the club when it was raided by nearly 20 officers from multiple agencies. Each of the players was cited on misdemeanor gambling charges, though the charges were later dropped. Three of the 49 players had already pled out of the gambling charge before the cases were dropped against the remaining 46.

Ten employees of the club were also arrested at the time of the raid on lesser charges than those filed against Vongkaysone. Those employees' names, nor the outcomes of their cases, have been made public. The raid followed a months-long investigation that included undercover Tarrant County officers visiting the club and playing.

Seven and a half months before the raid, a tournament player launched accusations on Facebook that the Watauga club was charging hidden rake, which would have been illegal under Texas law. Whether or not those public accusations spurred the Tarrant County investigation in any way also remains unknown.

Following the initial raid, Vongkaysone posted on the club's Facebook page that “Watauga Social Lounge is temporarily closed." That closure has become permanent, while Vongkaysone has been reported to have incurred heavy legal fees as well, finally forcing him to accept the plea deal.

Featured image source: Facebook/Watauga Social