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Poker News | Gambling and the Law

The State of New York Poker Revisited

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A year ago, I reported on the troubled state of New York City's underground poker scene. At the time, the widely-reported visit by Yankee superstar Alex Rodriguez to the Broadway Club, a small poker room in the Chelsea section of Manhattan, led to the police raid and closure of the club, along with the arrest of 13 dealers, on October 14th, 2005. Soon after, six of the smaller poker rooms that had sprung up during the summer of 2005 in the wake of police closures of the city's two largest clubs in May were raided and shut down. The remaining clubs, fearing further such raids, voluntarily closed, at least for awhile.

Since that time, things have only gotten worse for New York poker. Several of the clubs attempted to reopen in new locations, only to be raided and closed by police within two weeks. And the police, who in the past were relatively gentle with players, focusing their efforts on rounding up the dealers, have become increasingly vicious. In one particularly egregious case, they stormed a club, guns drawn, and demanded that an elderly woman with a bad hip, who needed a cane to get around, lie down on the floor with her well-manicured, bejeweled hands behind her head. A low-limit game that has existed in New York for decades and is comprised mostly of folks in their seventies needed a new home and turned to an established bridge club, reserving a table in the back of the room a couple of times a week. The police raided this game, too. These elderly players managed to convince the cops that they would cooperate without being forced to lie down.

Formerly a regular weekly player at several of the clubs, I have played poker in New York City only twice in the past year. Both of the tiny cardrooms I visited were raided and shuttered a short time afterward. One had two tables; the other, four. Other clubs, that are allowed to operate due to rumored "arrangements" with police brass, have been subject to robberies. In the past, the knowledge that poker rooms had direct access to police protection in case of emergency discouraged robberies which, in Manhattan at least, were rare. Currently, I know of only three poker rooms that are operating in the city. Two have the aforementioned "arrangements" and the third admits only players that have known the management for years. It is virtually a private game.

With no new faces in these games, I have little incentive to play. Most of my profit in the past came from new players, whose influx increased with the overall rise in poker's popularity that has been spurred by TV coverage and the internet. It is much more difficult, if not impossible, to beat tough regular players who have known each other for years. And I certainly do not want to risk being on the scene during a robbery.

I have heard of other private games in the city, but they involve playing for high stakes, and are held in wealthy players' homes in fancy doormen buildings. Like any home game, they are comprised of a small group of friends, who generally meet once a week for poker night. I haven't been invited to these games, but I couldn't afford to play in them if I were. Most New York players I know are restricted to playing online if they can't make the two and a half hour trip to Foxwoods or Atlantic City. This practice, too, is now in jeopardy, as the U.S. Congress reportedly attached an anti-gambling provision to an unrelated Port Security bill that was passed on Friday. The bill makes it illegal for banks and credit-card companies to process transactions for online gaming sites. Internet gambling companies scrambled over the weekend to decide whether or not to continue accepting business from U.S. customers.

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