We hear about this almost every week. Stormtroopers burst into some random card room somewhere in Gamblefree, USA, and divest players of all their cash, confiscate tables and chips, and essentially hand out tickets and fines that amount to nothing more than a nuisance for most players.
But why and how does this happen? For those of us (like me, sad boy that I am) that live in areas where gambling is frowned upon by the local constabulary, it's important to know what types of games and establishments are most likely to get raided, and what to do if this happens. I've played in most of the underground games around my town, and some are certainly more high-risk than others. In fact, the local police department occasionally does send undercover officers to play in the games around North Carolina to determine if they're worth raiding.
The first thing to realize is that police are not spending much of their time looking for illegal poker games. So the harder a game is to find out about, the safer it is from police scrutiny. According to the Raleigh News & Observer, the Cary game was busted because of Crimestopper tips and complaints from the neighbors. This game was held in a warehouse in an industrial park, and the players weren't terribly circumspect about their activities. Interestingly enough, one of the games I regularly play in is in a similar location, and the operator was praised by the cop who sat in for a couple of nights because of his location. He was told that being in that area would cut down on neighbor complaints and make it less likely that the game would be raided.
On the flip side, the rental house in a suburb of Charlotte where I played a few months ago was a prime raid target. It was a home in a residential neighborhood, where three to four nights each week three tables of hold ‘em were spread. This kind of location leads to lots of parking issues and lots of neighbor complaints. I wasn't surprised at all when the operator of the game told me that this was their second location after being shut down once already, and that they were looking for someplace more remote. Anytime you have 30 or more people trekking in and out of a house, in the middle of the suburbs, at all hours of the night, people are going to be suspicious, and their first inclination will be toward things far less wholesome and harmless than a poker game.
Here are a few tips on how to pick games that are less likely to be raided, and how to protect yourself and your bankroll in the event of a raid. First, look for the smaller games. I know the 10-table warehouse will be juicier and have more fishies, but that kind of traffic can't avoid the attention of Johnny Law forever, and that's exactly the type of game that's likely to have a few guys with a little pot on them, or other illicit substances, so police would likely be able to pick up some additional easy busts on top of the gambling citations they're writing. The two-table game I play in an industrial park doesn't impact the traffic through any neighborhoods, and doesn't leave a lot of litter outside other businesses the mornings after games. Low-impact games will be better equipped for fly below the police radar.
Next, unless it really is a home game with just a few people, stay out of the residential areas. The nosy neighbor next door is the underground game's worst enemy, so the fewer people that might be around at night, the better in this instance. Also try to avoid games where you know the players are armed. Unless you're in Texas, where carrying a sidearm is mandatory, a bunch of people sitting around a table with guns is much more likely to draw unwanted attention than a bunch of computer consultants sitting around playing cards.
Typically you only want to carry a portion of your bankroll with you to games anyway, and you want to pare that back even more in an underground game. The Cary raid netted over $20,000 in cash from players, and a recent South Carolina raid confiscated even more from players who had their entire Tunica World Poker Open bankrolls at the game. If the game is raided, any cash on your person is going to end up at 1 Police Plaza, so keep as little on you as possible. If you feel the need for a lot of rebuys, leave it in the glove compartment of your car and go back and get it. Needless to say, the same should go for your weed or other recreational pharmaceuticals.
Nothing is a surefire preventative for a poker raid, but if you pay attention to where you're playing and the type of game and location you're in, you can pick out games that are less likely to run afoul of the law. And if you are involved in a game that is raided, just say "yes, sir" to the nice man holding the automatic weapon and try to forget about the set of Aces you just flopped with the biggest donkey in the world pushing all-in into you.