New York’s Online Poker Clubs

Sleaze Culture

New York City poker clubs are an endangered species.

“This joint on 28th Street I was playing in a few weeks ago got raided,” my friend Steve told me “the cops came in, had us leave our chips on the table, questioned the players, detained the dealers and arrested the manager.  Thank G-d I had my ID so I didn’t have to go to the precinct.”

Proper society looks down its nose at poker.  The game has seedy associations, gunslingers at frontier saloons and low lives with no teeth drinking whisky and killing the next guy over an ace up the sleeve.  Proper society plays bridge in private parlors.     

The Bloomberg administration decided to close the poker clubs six years ago.  A real money game of Texas Hold ‘Em can be had online in the privacy of an apartment.  New York, the safest major city in the world, no longer has any outward sleaze and little crime.  Much like X-Rated bookstores, it was time for open gambling to leave the street.  Sleaze once again became a private pursuit.  The municipal government has achieved the goal of a clean, safe city for citizens and tourists.  However, the federal government has yet to find a way to tax Internet gambling and take their cut of the action. 

That may be changing soon.

On May 6, 2009, the US Senate announced it would entertain legislation that would legalize Internet gambling.  The New York Times reported on June 10, 2009 that four banks had been asked to freeze funds from four offshore poker websites.  The banks complied and checks sent out to winning players bounced.

Jim Rich, who wrote about the underground poker culture for in late March, points out New York still has plenty of cash cards games.  Gambling, a vice like porn, prostitution or drugs will always have a clientele, even if the mayor pushes wagering into the underground. 

Perhaps this is because poker is the most democratic of all card games.  According to Poker For Dummies “Poker has always been a microcosm of all we admire about American virtue…Call it the American Dream–the belief that hard work and virtue will triumph…It is an immigrant’s song, a mantra of hope; it is an anthem for everyone.”

The card players I know are fellow bartenders.  We play poker with the American Dream in mind: get rich quick and hide the cash from the IRS.  Poker is just another way to get over as easily possible.  However, we can’t afford to sit at the high stakes table with Alpha males and live the Dream.  The ESPN re-broadcast of the World Series of Poker  and online tournaments with inflated chip counts are as close as my pals and I are going to get to that kind of money.    

While the fed tries to figure out a tax structure for online gambling, my pals and other semi-professional poker players aren’t making money in the middle of a depression.  The solution to this issue has come from underground poker clubs.  They reinvented themselves as small one or two table venues in private homes and are partnering with poker websites.  You open a real money account online and go to one of these local clubs.

The manager can access your funds via the house computer.  Buy-ins and pay-outs are done in real time with credits and debits logged via e-mail. 

There has been no word if vouchers will be issued for the occasional bust by the vice squad.

(Special thanks to Steve Ortero of Sexy Spirits for all his help.)


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