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Lights put out on Vegas night

The Sheriff's Office vice unit is cracking down on gambling.

No rolling the dice. No spinning the wheel.

But to the Gulf Harbors Civic Association and a local veterans group, the Sheriff's Office is simply playing the big party pooper.

Both groups had to cancel their Las Vegas theme parties planned for Saturday night because a sheriff's detective said the blackjack and roulette games _ even played with fake money _ are illegal. The problem is that party-goers pay for admission, and they can use their fake gambling winnings to get real raffle prizes.

The crackdown took party planners by surprise.

"We've done it for years before," said Judy Kimmell, party organizer for the Military Order of the Cooties, a veterans group that meets at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post in Shady Hills. "I appreciate (the detective) calling us to tell us it's illegal. I just can't figure out why it's illegal."

The Las Vegas theme party wasn't about gambling, Kimmell said. "It was just like a fun night."

"We didn't feel we were doing anything wrong, or we wouldn't have pursued it," said Margaret Goodell, president of Gulf Harbors Civic Association.

Jerry Godwin, captain of the vice and narcotics unit, said the Sheriff's Office didn't intend to spoil anyone's fun.

Don't detectives have more serious crime to investigate? Prostitutes to catch? Cocaine to sniff out?

Detectives don't spend their time searching out Saturday night theme parties to bust, Godwin said. But they got a complaint about the two Las Vegas parties, he said, and had no choice but to follow up. The calls to party planners were a "courtesy" warning, he said, rather than waiting to break up the parties once the fun started.

"Our hands are kind of tied," Godwin said. "We just have to enforce the laws that are on the books."

Under state law, he said, gambling isn't allowed, period.

"Any time you have people go in and pay a price and take a chance and then get a prize, that violates the gambling laws," he said.

Only bingo and penny-ante poker are exempt, Godwin said.

That's four months of hard work and party planning down the drain, Goodell said. She added that she hopes word will get out to the 200 people expected, and she will return the raffle prizes to the local restaurants, barber shops and other business that donated such things as dinners and haircuts.

""If they have rules," Goodell said, "we should abide by them."

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