Frank DeSena was shot last week, and later died, as he was playing poker in the underground club, City Limit, which had only been operating for two weeks. City Limit was located in an office building in Manhattan on the seventh floor, above a gym, a graphics business and a real estate office, and was guarded by a security guard after hours.
There have been reports that the robbers pointed a gun at the head of the security guard to gain entry, and then accidentally fired the shot that killed Mr. DeSena. These reports have not been confirmed by police, and there is no word on how much money was stolen.
For years Manhattan has been host to a secret world of underground poker clubs operating illegally throughout the city. Places like Straddle, New York Players Club, Playstation and the Fairview were popular places for those privileged enough to be invited. Invitation was limited to "members" allowed to join only after being vouched for by other members. In most cases a small fee, typically $8 an hour was charged in order for the games to continue.
Although these clubs were underground and secretive, most players were on the up and up. Players ranged from doctors to lawyers, taxi cab drivers, teachers, and bankers. Alcohol and drugs were prohibited and no bets were accepted on credit. Players agreed that games were played in a warm and jovial environment and there was rarely any violence.
Steve McLoughlin, moderator of a poker discussion at twoplustwo.com who follows the Manhattan poker scene says, "A week ago, there were two or three rooms operating in Manhattan, but now there are zero. You don't know what can happen."
New York state law makes it illegal to "advance or profit from illegal gambling", which means that the people operating or working in a poker club can be arrested, but the players will not be.
This was the case on May 27, 2005 when police shut down Playstation and the New York Players Club. They arrested 39 employees to include dealers, security guards, waiters and waitresses. Each club had more than 100 players in attendance and they were all released. These clubs operated as legitimate businesses offering employees health insurance, unemployment compensation, and following fire codes. At the time Playstation was raided, club waiters were serving Oreo and Chips Ahoy cookies.
In most cases the operators of these clubs are devoted players themselves, they are not involved with organized crime and they open the clubs because of their love for the game.
So, what happens now that all of the clubs in New York City are shut down? People are a little freaked out, and with good reason. Frank DeSena was an enthusiastic and popular player. "Frank was a poster child for the type of person they try to attract," McLoughlin said. "He was a skilled player, and when he lost a hand, he would simply smile."
For now, the felt remains empty, the chips are stacked quietly and the chips ahoy cookies will remain in the bags as Manhattan players are reeling from the loss of one of their own.