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Poker News | Casino Poker | Tournament Reports

The Troubled State of New York City Poker

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This is a tough time to be a poker player in New York City. Following a season of plenty, with a profusion of new, smaller card rooms that sprung up in the wake of police raids in May on the two largest, most popular poker venues, New York Players Club and the 14th Street Playstation, poker in New York is now facing a serious drought. Three weeks after the Daily News reported in September that Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez (A-rod) played with Phil Hellmuth in a high-stakes no-limit game at a Chelsea poker room, that room, known as the Broadway Club, was raided and shut down. The raid occurred the night before a scheduled $2,500 buy-in tournament, for which the club had been holding satellites for weeks.  The tournament was expected to have a prize pool exceeding $100,000.

One of the dealers, a close friend (wishing to remain nameless), reported to me that when more than a dozen police officers raided the place at about 11:30 PM on Friday, Oct. 14, a player at one of the tables got up and joined them in interviewing the other players and arresting the dealers. This was the “mole” no one had suspected. Following the bust, the police hung a clipping of the original article reporting on A-rod's appearance at the club in September on the club's office wall. It was the cops’ calling card, seeming to suggest that the presence of the baseball superstar was the club’s downfall.

The Dealer, who worked part-time at the club to supplement their income from a day job, told me what happened during the recent arrest. When the police arrived and knocked on the club’s outer door, the proprietor admitted them, immediately stating that he was the owner. Dealers were handcuffed together in what is known as a “daisy chain” and taken to a local police precinct, where they spent eight hours waiting in cells to be fingerprinted and photographed. The next step was Central Booking AKA “The Tombs”, where they were questioned as to whether they had any diseases or drug or alcohol problems, searched, and placed in holding pens (separated by gender) to await arraignment.

In the pens, they had the choice of stretching out on the floor covered by rubber mats, or sitting on a seven-inch wooden bench. Other inmates, who were astonished to learn that people had been arrested for such a thing as dealing cards, already occupied most of the mats. Most of the occupants of the Tombs were there on suspicion of drug dealing or possession. Inmates were treated like cattle and offered three day-old baloney sandwiches.

Most of the club’s employees waited for over 20 hours to be arraigned. In the Dealer’s words, “The whole experience was degrading, humiliating, and the worst part was the boredom.”

In a first for NY poker-related arrests, dealers were required to post bail. An initial bail amount of $3,000 per dealer was subsequently reduced to $500 each. The club’s owner covered the costs of bail for all employees.

“It seems like such an odd thing [for police] to pick on,” the Dealer said. “It’s ridiculous, poker is a victimless crime.”

Emphasizing that the club was run in a very orderly fashion, with a zero tolerance policy for drugs and alcohol, the Dealer pointed out that raiding a poker parlor is a very easy job for cops. “We were all extremely polite and well-behaved during the bust.”

The Dealer said that at the time of the raid, all seven of the club’s tables, including one in a private, glassed-in room reserved for high-stakes games, were full.

According to the New York Daily News, 13 employees of the club were arrested in the raid, and policed seized $56,000. During the raids in May on the larger clubs, police arrested 39 employees and seized $100,000.

I have played poker in New York’s so-called “underground” clubs many times over the past six or seven years. I got my start playing at the old Mayfair Club, and when I found the games there were too tough for a newbie, at the $4-8 HE game at the Diamond Club. I was a regular at Playstation for over a year, and for a brief stint, a dealer at the Players Club. I visited poker rooms in Queens, Brooklyn, and once or twice, even Yonkers. Through that whole time, the stiffest drink I saw served in any of those places was a root beer. The most harmful food item was a devil dog.

I can confirm the Dealer’s assertion that the rooms were run in a friendly, efficient and orderly manner. In all the clubs, there were strict policies prohibiting drugs and alcohol. If a player showed up and management suspected he’d been drinking, his entry would be denied. The clubs only admitted members or those who knew a member. Identities were verified at the door. And the games were clean. There was no evidence of collusion or dirty dealing. Most of the players had been playing against one another for years. They just wanted to play. Players were from all walks of life: professionals (lawyers, doctors, financial analysts), college students, bus drivers, and gypsies. Many nationalities were regularly present and they all played in harmony. The occasional raised voice or heated argument was immediately nipped in the bud by management. Players who were repeatedly involved in arguments or exhibited continual bad behavior were barred from returning, even when the loss of their action hurt the game. I never saw or heard about physical violence of any kind. I felt safe playing at 4 AM with no other women in the place. I could always get one of the guys to walk me to a taxi, and hail one for me, when I left. All of these things were true of the Broadway Club, as well.

One of the most galling things about raids of this sort is that the police seize the money in the till (money that comes from players purchasing their chips), as “evidence”. It is not illegal to play poker in NY, though it is illegal to profit from running a game. When this money is seized, however, the police, in the long run, do profit. The money is not returned. I’ve been told that it is later used by undercover vice cops to buy drugs. But no one really seems to know what happens to it.

The Daily News reported that the raid on the Broadway Club came in response to an alleged complaint that a patron had flashed a gun there. Club insiders have told me they suspect that the operator of a rival poker room may have filed the complaint in an effort to trump the competition. The complaint resulted in the issuing of a search warrant, which enabled police to enter the establishment.

During the raid, as reported in the Daily News, poker players were told to place their hands on their heads, searched, and asked for their driver's licenses. Then they were interviewed about their occupations, their knowledge of other poker rooms, and how they gained entry to the club, which was private. After a few hours, players’ licenses were returned and they were permitted to leave.

The News notes that since the raid on the Broadway Club, five other New York City poker rooms have been shuttered, including Acepoint and the EV Club on Manhattan’s East Side. In the past week, word in the New York poker community is that - following additional reports in the Daily News that the Yankee establishment was unhappy with A-rod’s visit to a card room - all other poker rooms have voluntarily shut down in response to the current climate of intimidation by police. The News asserts that “NYPD officials say there is no special scrutiny being applied to the underground scene or to A-Rod.”

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