The Fridley police detective showed up at the VFW on New Year’s Eve for a routine compliance check.
Alcohol sales. Check. Pulltabs. Check.
Cribbage tournament. Uh-oh.
Unknown to the VFW and the competitors, most of them senior citizens, the card tournament played every Wednesday morning for decades had been outlawed in the city several years ago. The $4 buy-in that went to weekly prizes constituted an illegal gambling operation. The issue just hadn’t come up before.
But, as it turned out, the group didn’t have to throw in the cards.
Last week, at the request of VFW leadership, the Fridley City Council changed city law to allow the weekly contest to go on. The VFW makes no money on the tournaments. All buy-in cash goes to prizes.
State law allows such tournaments for social card games with up to $200 in prize money, but some cities are more restrictive. When the Fridley City Council restricted card tournaments around 2005 in response to the Texas Hold ’em craze, cribbage was swept up in the new ordinance.
The VFW’s gaming manager, Larry Rundle, said 60 to 90 regular players attend each week. The group plays cards, sips coffee and uses it as an opportunity to visit. Rundle said regulars were irked when police shut them down and they actually continued playing with donated prize money vs. a mandatory entry fee.
“It’s a nice way to spend a couple hours on Wednesday morning. We have coffee and doughnuts,” Rundle said. “We have hot dog lunches available afterward.”
Ray Wildman is a regular at the Wednesday morning tournament. He actually is on a de facto cribbage seniors circuit. The 80-year-old Fridley resident plays the game six days a week at VFWs, American Legions, senior centers, bars and bowling alleys.
He retired as a machinist in 1998 and started playing regularly. Most tournaments have a $4 to $6 buy-in. Most include coffee and an opportunity to shoot the breeze with friends. There are 20 to 30 regulars on the seniors circuit, people whom Wildman calls as near to him as family.
“It’s something to get up for,” he explained. “It’s a challenge. It keeps your mind active. It keeps you thinking. I play with a 96-years-old. She’s pretty sharp.”
The prize money keeps it interesting, Wildman said. “You win once or twice, it brings your spirits up.”