New York law says you can’t organize a poker game and make a profit as a result, unless you are licensed to do so within that state. Recently, in Saratoga Springs, two men were arrested and charged with misdemeanors in connection with a home-style poker game.
Two months of police surveillance uncovered a regular twice-weekly gathering that led to search warrants being served at one of the suspect’s homes, where an illegal game was underway. Police found $3000 and additional evidence pointing to an ongoing organized gambling ring. According to reports, Texas Hold ‘Em games were held two nights a week at which there was an alleged rake paid, leading to 2nd degree charges of promoting gambling for the two men.
Poker is considered a game of skill in some localities, including New York where a recent ruling supports the designation, but running unlicensed games remains an illegal activity. And while the New York raid is currently in the news, it is only one example of a fairly widespread desire to play organized poker – whether it is officially sanctioned or not.
On the island paradise of Maui, police recently had a similar experience when an illegal gaming ring was exposed. Nine men were arrested and charged with 2nd degree promoting gambling after police raided a highly attended game at one of the defendant’s homes. An additional charge of illegal possession of a gambling device resulted from unauthorized gaming machines that were found during the search.
Earlier this year, Chattanooga police raided an unlikely venue to expose a high-stakes gambling ring. According to reports, a group of at least seventeen men were holding unauthorized late-night games at a quiet, remotely situated office park. The games included buy-ins in the thousands, and nightly wagering in excess of $100,000.
During the raid, an individual described as one of the game’s organizers pulled a gun on police – he was armed with two. But it wasn’t his lucky night. Not only did he take a bullet from one of the investigators, but he also faces charges for attempted murder, as well as aggravated assault and felony reckless endangerment.
Playing poker online or in casinos is a legal pastime in many places, but even professional players are pinched in private party poker raids. A few years ago, World Poker Tour winner Michael Gracz was caught in a North Carolina police net for playing in a large scale underground game that included more than seventy participants and yielded almost $75,000 in on-site cash. The sophisticated event also featured other games like roulette and craps. And it wasn’t the first time for Gracz, who was previously charged with illegal gambling for his involvement in a Raleigh, NC game.
Baltimore, Albany City, Washington D.C. and a host of other U.S. cities have played host to recent poker raids, unleashing debates about enforcement and resource allocation. Is it worth it to bust organized poker games that, on the surface, don’t seem to be causing much harm? Proponents of intervention say its a no-brainer – that games worth tens of thousands of dollars can’t be ignored. And when illegal gambling organizers are compelled to get into shoot-outs with police, it becomes hard to turn the other cheek.