72-year-old Aaron Awtry could spend the rest of his life in prison for shooting a cop while hosting a 1/2 game

A relatively routine raid of a low-stakes poker game in Greenville, South Carolina turned bloody yesterday night — as police tried to gain entry to a poker house. The game host, now known to be Aaron Awtry, 72, shot through the front door, striking sheriff’s deputy Matthew May with a bullet that went through his arm.

A vice squad in SWAT gear returned fire, hitting Awtry with multiple rounds in his arm and thumb … which was followed by a 20-minute standoff between cops and players, according to a spokesman for the Greenville County Sheriff’s Department. Both shooting victims were taken to the hospital where they are in stable condition.

There were 12 people and Awtry in the house at 502 Pine Knoll Drive when police arrived at about 9:20 pm last night. According to frontline witnesses, they had just finished a small buy-in dinnertime tourney … and a 1/2 cash game was just getting underway when someone saw 5-0 approaching on a security monitor. Before he could clearly vocalize an alert, a battery ram begin slamming the front door and players froze. Awtry, who players say has notoriously bad hearing in his senior years and presumably believed the game was being robbed, began shooting at the door with his pistol, firing “at least once” according to a player, “multiple shots” according to police. At least four officers returned fire at the door with at least 20 bullets from their higher-powered assault weapons.

As Awtry fell back into the poker room entryway, he balked, “Why didn’t you tell me it was the cops?”

Police supposedly pulled backed after the exchange of gunfire to secure the perimeter while players inside called 911 to report that people were hurt, they needed an ambulance, and they meant no harm. Eventually they all had to remove their shirts as they came out of the house one by one to be handcuffed and transported downtown for questioning and gunshot residue tests. All were eventually released and received $100 gambling citations except for the Awtry, who is still in police custody at the hospital, charged with attempted murder and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. He could face additional charges related to the allegedly illegal gambling operation.

A Greenville County Sheriff’s Office press release says deputies seized $4,785, two poker machines, two poker tables, three surveillance cameras, 3.7 grams of cocaine and about $2,000 worth of gambling paraphernalia such as cards and chips. A copy of the search warrant left behind reveals the house had been under police surveillance for months … and the raid netted about $2,500 in cash.

Less than three weeks ago, the South Carolina Supreme Court was hearing arguments from a PPA-backed legal team about a similar but less injurious poker raid in 2006 — and will be considering whether or not such a game is even a crime under South Carolina gambling laws written in 1802. A ruling is expected by mid-2011.

The poker house shot up last night was in a relatively rundown semi-residential, semi-industrial nook on the edges of suburban Greenville — about a mile from a high school and a mile from an underground room that the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office raided in January, arresting 27 players and seizing about $64,000 in cash.

As is often the case in underground poker scenes nationwide, a string of armed poker robberies followed a string of armed police raids this year in Greenville, a longtime hotbed of good poker that many players affectionately refer to as G-Vegas.

Since 2009, South Carolina lawmakers have been pushing legislation to revise and clarify state gambling laws, and potentially legalize raked home games and/or charity tournaments.

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