Cattlemen’s Club poker game ended up in court

By Don McAlavy: CNJ columnist

A poker game in Clovis started out like any other poker game at the Cattlemen’s Club. You have to understand how these poker games can sometimes get tied up into courts of law. Really? You see, a young cattleman from Arizona showed up in Clovis in December 1954 with four truckloads of cattle. What has that got to do with a poker game? Well, the young cattleman, named Ben P. Snure, sold all the livestock he had for the $8,183, then headed for the Cattlemen’s Club. That’s reasonable, but Snure had been drinking and told the club’s proprietor, Jack Skipworth, he wanted to get into a poker game.

Skipworth obliged Snure. This was about midnight on Dec. 3 Skipworth called a couple of players in Hobbs, 110 miles away. The players arrived about 2 a.m.

According to the court ruling, the poker game “started at once, following receipt of a new deck of cards sent for by plaintiff (Snure), who seemed reluctant to play with any cards on the premises.” Despite this precaution, Snure didn’t do to well. Oh well, surely Snure would do better.

The game continued for 14 hours, with only a few interruptions, including one for Snure to obtain a $2,000 draft from his Arizona account to stay in the game.

When the poker session finally broke up the afternoon of Dec. 4, Snure testified he’d lost $10,183.

Snure later sued the Hobbs men and Skipworth under the gambling recovery law.

A jury found in his favor, and the Supreme Court affirmed the decision. How come?

Well, the Supreme Court noted that while Skipworth and the two Hobbs men never admitted to being professional gamblers, it was “more than passing strange” Skipworth called poker men from Hobbs instead of rounding up some Clovis card players. (They didn’t do that in the old days!)

On a point of law, the court said it didn’t matter that Snure actively sought the poker game — he could still sue to recover his losses.

Which just may go to prove you should never gamble with a man who knows both sides of the cards.

“I knew Jack and I knew this story,” said Edwin Skipworth. “We rode and cowboyed together in New Mexico during part of my misspent youth. I haven’t seen him since.”

Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at: dmcalavy@telescopelab.com