Upon the conclusion of a three-month undercover investigation, fifteen police officers raided a residence in San Mateo County, California to break up a poker game on Saturday, January 12th. Officers entered the house with guns drawn and in full riot gear, according to participants in the game, and several people were arrested.
The problem was that it was a social game with buy-ins ranging from $25 to $55, with $5 collected from every buy-in for refreshments. The Sherriff’s Office and California Department of Justice spent untold amounts of money investigating and raiding a small stakes home game.
Organizer Bert Cardenas was arrested and charged with fraud and contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and participant Trish McCoy was arrested and charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, who was in fact her 13-year old son who supposedly played in some of the games.
The Sherriff’s Office offered a press release after the incident which claimed that Cardenas held the poker games “to fraudulently obtain money from the unwitting participants. The statement also alleged that he took extra money from the buy-ins for a freeroll tournament that police claim paid less than Cardenas took in.
The investigation was originally prompted by complaints from neighbors who were bothered by what they alleged to be the traffic and noise that resulted from the regular games. There were said to be somewhere between 20 and 30 participants at the games.
Cary Weist, president of a local neighborhood association, told the San Mateo County Times, “People want to come home and see it as their sanctuary, and all of a sudden there’s anywhere from 20 to 40 cars in a one-block area – and they stay ‘til the wee hours of the morning.”
One of the semi-regular participants in the game but who wasn’t there that night, Philip Travisano, told the newspaper, “As far as Bert, I know he was doing it for the love of poker, not making profit on this. There was no cheating, no shills, nothing fraudulent going on.”
According to one of the participants who was present during the night of the raid, there were 20 people in that game who were playing in the freeroll tournament. After the officers stormed into the home, they were each questioned separately about the possibility of cheating, whether there were secret codes required to enter the home and play, etc. They told the police that the game organizer was fair and did nothing related to cheating. In fact, many of the players had become friends over time and gathered for parties and dinners in addition to their regular poker games.
The San Mateo Sherriff’s Office has been fielding questions and criticism since the raid because of the low stakes of the poker game. Critics point to the amount of money spent on a three-month investigation as well as the manpower and arms involved in the raid itself. Officials continue to claim that it was justified.