The Scarier Side of Poker

Last weekend the San Mateo County Sheriff raided a home poker game:

San Mateo County Sheriffs Dept raids our home game (it was the season ending freeroll tourney). 10+ armed (and some heavily protected) officers stormed into the home where we play a majority of our home games. 20 of us were there for the freeroll tourney.

(For those unfamiliar, San Mateo is the county south of San Francisco.)

This also got a write-up on BoingBoing, and there are some additional accounts linked from there. There’s also a write up in the San Mateo Daily Journal:

Two people were arrested and a 13-year-old was referred to Child Protective Services after undercover officers determined a San Mateo house was holding illegal Saturday night poker games.

I can’t figure out from these reports exactly what happened, or in what way the game was illegal. It sounds like either charging a fee for food and drinks was considered illegal, or that there was a more general suspicion that one participant was scamming the others out of money.

The blogger in the first link above says that the poker group is “a tight group with over 100 friends”, but how tight can 100 people really be? That large a group, with people coming and going, seems like a risky proposition when gambling is involved. Heck, it could be as simple as someone showing up for several sessions, losing consistently, figuring he couldn’t possibly have lost because he’s a bad player, and called the cops.

So I don’t know what happened. But it does seem too bad that the police couldn’t find a way to avoid ruining the afternoon of a whole bunch of innocent people.

The frightening thing is this: What’s to stop this from happening to any home poker game? Poker is legal in California, although regulated. Where’s the line this group crossed? Or was it just one bad egg that the cops were targeting?

I wonder if we’ll ever find out?

2 thoughts on “The Scarier Side of Poker”

  1. Thanks for reading/linking/commenting. To answer your question about how tight a group that size could be, 20 of us are all meeting for dinner and drinks on Saturday evening. No poker on the agenda…just hanging out. So believe it or not, fairly tight. I think I also back that up with the description of our recent holiday party and our plans to go out together after last Saturday’s tournament (which were ultimately foiled). Cheers!

  2. Hi Ken! I don’t doubt that you have a core group of close friends, but an extended group of 100 people is a lot of people, and I have a hard time believing that the whole group of 100 is really “tight”. You may all be friendly, but a group that large involved in a gambling activity like poker and it seems to me you’re likely to end up with someone who doesn’t have the group’s best interests at heart, one way or the other. I think this is just the nature of large groups mixed with gambling – even if the stakes are low. (I don’t think poker is a bad thing, but I think any activity that involves gaining and losing money is fundamentally different than other activities, and you’re more likely to have some people who think about the activity irrationally. Poker is different from bridge in this way, for instance.)

    That’s just what my point was: It became larger than just your close friends and buddies from work playing the occasional home game. And at some point the risk of crossing some line became a lot higher. I’m not sure where that point was, but at 100 people it seems like it’s more of a club than just a group of friends. And at that point, given the uneasy relationship between poker and the law, you ran more of a risk of being noticed by the law.

    I don’t know what you could have done to have prevented this, other than to have kept the group small.

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