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Poker Article about underground NY poker clubs

Discussion in 'Poker Forum' started by daily_double, Sep 8, 2016.

  1. daily_double

    daily_double Member

    Nov 24, 2015

    Inside the seedy world of underground NY poker clubs
    By Michael Kaplan

    September 1, 2016 | 5:53pm

    It is 10 p.m. on a Tuesday and I am about to do something illegal. Standing in a closet-sized room with locked doors on either side, I raise my arms and submit to a pat-down by a muscled-up guy who calls himself Big Reggie. Satisfied that there are no weapons on my person, he gets me buzzed into a room with a wall of windows covered in sheets.

    Flat-screen TVs play baseball and soccer. But nobody’s here to watch sports. Two poker tables are filled with male gamblers. Sounds of small talk and the clattering of chips resonate around the room.
    I buy-in for $200, receive two stacks of $5 chips and a British-accented dealer welcomes me to the game. Affable as he is, poker in these places is never really all that friendly. I size up the other players and am grateful that the guy to my right bets like a maniac. I hope to get a decent hand before he goes bust. Cards are in the air and I feel right at home.

    Clubs were getting written up in newspapers and celebrities were spotted at tables. But nobody seemed to care. “People looked at poker as something very innocuous,” says Appleman. Things were loose enough that The Post reported on Alex Rodriguez hanging out in a Union Square club — sitting alongside poker pro Phil Hellmuth — just hours after his Yankees beat the Orioles.

    Money was being scooped at all levels. Appleman remembers nights when players experienced $60,000 swings. Because poker had gotten so big and so trendy, there were loads of inept neophytes. Some of them helped a struggling new-to-the-city publicist, who declined to be named, make rent in Manhattan. Plus it was a hell of a lot of fun. “The atmosphere at a place called Genoa was raucous,” remembers Jamie Weinstein, who works in finance and now lives in Connecticut. Recounting the spot that doubled as an Italian social club on Houston Street, he adds, “The owner showed hardcore porn on TV, the players were loose and there was an excellent marinara on the menu.”

    At another place, the Fairview, he boasts, “It was so easy to win that if you needed money, you went there for an hour and returned home with $300.”

    Back then, law enforcers found it easy to overlook poker clubs. But the operators became so bold that, by 2006, busts turned increasingly prevalent. In one instance, Weinstein remembers, a club owner contacted players in the wake of a raid and agreed to pay them back for the chips that they had on the table (cash, with which players bought their chips, had been confiscated).

    “The atmosphere at a place called Genoa was raucous. The owner showed hardcore porn on TV, the players were loose and there was an excellent marinara on the menu.”

    - Jamie Weinstein
    That not only shows a degree of professionalism, but it also displays how much money was being made (poker-club owners profit by extracting a percentage of money out of each pot or charging hourly rates). “With a couple people running a small club, you earned north of 100-grand each,” believes Weinstein, acknowledging that some of those owners had to kick money back to the mob. “It was published that Play Station” — one of the larger clubs — “made over $1 million per year.”

    Most players were able to tolerate the occasional raid as a cost of doing business. Way scarier were the hijackings that came next. “Genoa got robbed and that place was clearly owned by the mafia. It was scary that people weren’t concerned about robbing a mob-owned place,” says one regular who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

    The scene reached its nadir in November 2007, when a club on 5th Avenue and 28th Street was held up by armed robbers in ski masks. Players watched helplessly as the thugs beat a cashier and stole their money. Things would have gone smoothly — and remained unreported — if one of the nervous thieves had not dropped his gun. It went off and fatally shot a 55-year-old math teacher from New Jersey. Nearly three years later, two men were found guilty of murder in the botched heist.

    The accidental shooting had a chilling effect on players.

    Poker club owners also took notice. They cut down on the likelihood of their games being robbed by making the clubs smaller and less public. That way they’d have less money on hand for thieves to grab. So while New York remains dotted with poker-playing spots, most of them are not unlike the modestly sized, Garment District place where I wound up being relieved of 50 bucks over the course of a couple up-and-down hours.

    But where illicit gambling is concerned, Appleman opines, you really never know what will happen or where it will go. “New places are always opening and old ones are always closing,” he says. “Guys are always seizing opportunities.”

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