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man playing poker

I had just woken up minutes ago, still not yet home from my first trip to Turning Stone. I had just received an unexpected text from Andy — he said that he wouldn’t be playing at Spades any longer, and to call him as soon as possible. I immediately texted him back.

“What happened? Is everything okay?”

“Are you alone?”

“No, I’m still on my way back from Turning Stone. I’m in the car with my friends.”

“Call me when you’re done.”

An hour or so later, all of my friends have been returned home, except for Theo. We drive to his house and he puts the car into park. I say goodbye, and he makes his way towards his front door, while I hop into my driver’s seat. I take off and instantly give Andy a call.

“Andy, what’s up. I just dropped everyone off. What’s going on?”

“Well, I won’t be playing at Spades anymore. Gonna start playing in Queens again. What I’m about to tell you *has to* stay between us, alright?”

“Of course. What happened? You okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine, but again, this must stay between us. You’re a good kid and I don’t want to see anything bad happen to you, so I hope you take this piece of advice. You should find a new place to deal. It’s not safe at Spades.”

“What do you mean? Why?”

“How well do you know Matt? Do you guys work together at all?”

“I don’t know him that well. Sometimes he’s working when I deal the tournaments, but for the most part I don’t really know him.”

“Buddy, I’ve known Matt for a long time — you know that. I bailed him out of jail earlier today.”

Andy proceeds to tell me the entire story.

The night before, Matt had been driving home shortly after the game broke at Spades. Unfortunately, he got pulled over while he was riding dirty. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem in suburban Long Island, however, Andy informed me that Matt also had a drug habit.

When the officer who stopped him approached his window, it was crystal clear that Matt wasn’t sober. The officer, doing his due diligence, was no longer interested in simply issuing a ticket. He gave Matt a breathalyzer test — no alcohol was present. The subsequent sobriety test resulted in a failure, giving the officer probable cause to search Matt’s car.

The cop found a bag of prescription pills, which contained enough to reasonably suspect that they were being sold. In addition to the amount of cash found in Matt’s pocket, something to the tune of a few thousand bucks, the officer reasonably came to the conclusion that Matt was a drug dealer. For all intents and purposes, that’s exactly what Matt appeared to be in this situation. He was about to be arrested for some serious charges — felonies — that could ruin his life.

However, Matt vehemently denied the cop’s allegations of any drugs being sold, and said that he could explain the situation. However, he couldn’t provide a reason as to why he had so much cash on him. He was then arrested and brought down to the precinct for questioning.

During Matt’s interrogation, it became quite obvious to him that he was going to get booked for drug distribution charges. In Suffolk County, Long Island, this is no joke. In most cases, it’ll end with you saying goodbye to your freedom.

At first, and this is from Andy’s account of things, Matt tried lying and said that he was simply playing poker at a home game, which was why he had so much cash on him. He confessed that he had a drug problem, but that he wasn’t a drug dealer. The questioning detective didn’t buy his story.

Matt didn’t have a real job that issued W2’s, so there was no sense in trying to lie about it, and he couldn’t provide a phone number for the host of the alleged home game that he was supposedly coming from — an easy and immediate way to prove his claims to be true. The detective wished Matt good luck in court.

In a final and desperate attempt to try and walk away from his predicament as cleanly as possible, Matt played the only card up his sleeve, and offered the truth about the whole situation.

He told the questioning detective that he wasn’t a drug dealer — he just had a drug problem — again, the only consistent part of his story. He revealed that he was driving around so late and had so much cash on him because he worked for an illegal poker club. The detective regained interest in what Matt had to say.

He ultimately wound up coming clean and answering all of the detective’s questions, some of which had certain stipulations attached to them.

In exchange for providing more information about Spades, Matt was ultimately booked for only a measly DUI — a misdemeanor which often resulted in nothing more than an inconsequential fine and rarely probation, if you had a halfway decent lawyer.

In case you don’t know, there is a massive difference between a DWI and a DUI in the county of Suffolk. Judges are incredibly harsh on people who drink and drive, even first time offenders. DUI’s on the hand, which explicitly define a difference between alcohol versus drugs, are not looked upon the same way in the eyes of the judicial system.

In Matt’s case, the detective made sure not to book him with any illegal drug allegations. This meant that a lawyer could easily provide a story of innocence to a judge, that Matt had simply taken a drive to the convenience store, after taking some sleeping medication. The result of this situation would undoubtedly be a measly fine and an ACOD — adjournment in contemplation of dismissal.

In other words, stay out of trouble for a year and all of your charges will be dismissed. Needless to say, a good lawyer is always worth the cost.

Matt spent the rest of the night in the precinct’s holding cell, and was brought to court later on in the morning. Not yet having hired a lawyer, the judge presiding over Matt’s case surprisingly did not grant him OR, short for “Own Recognizance”, which means you get to walk out of the courthouse by simply legally promising to appear in court at a later date.

Judges grant OR depending on a number of factors. Matt didn’t have an existing criminal record, however, he also didn’t have any ties to the community, a history of meaningful employment, or a lawyer to essentially vouch for him, and as a result, the judge set bail on Matt to the amount of $5,000.

This meant that he would be held in the county jail until his designated court date, unless he could pay his own bail with only the cash that he had on him at the time of his arrest.

Matt didn’t actually live in Long Island, he resided in Queens, which meant that he didn’t know anybody in the area who could post his bail for him. At the time your bail is set by the judge, you can usually walk out of there the same day, as long as you are able to have someone post your bail before the court’s end of day time — usually 5PM.

If you can’t get someone to post your bail in time, your situation will become much more complicated. You will be sent to the county jail where you will be searched, stripped of all your clothes, issued a prisoner’s uniform, and assigned either a cell or pod. You’ll stay there until either your court date arrives, or someone posts your bail for you. Nothing about this is process is expedient, whatsoever.

Not wanting to spend any length of time in jail, Matt decided to call the only person he knew who would be in Long Island and also have access to at least $5,000 in cash — that would be Andy.

“So, I bailed him out, which funny enough, left him in debt to me, yet again, for $2k. Although, I made it clear I wasn’t bailing his ass out if he couldn’t immediately pay me back.”

“Holy ****, man. What happened to his car, did the cops impound it?”

“No, actually. They left it on the grass, on the side of the state parkway.”

“How’d you find all of this out? Why would Matt tell you any of this, I don’t get it. Couldn’t he just have told you that he got arrested for a DUI?”

“Absolutely, but then I would wonder why he had to suddenly quit working at Spades, immediately after bailing him out of jail. He couldn’t take the risk of me asking questions.”

“Why would he have to do that? What’s that got to do with anything?”

“It’s too big of a liability for him, now. Buddy, don’t you get it? It’s a 100% chance at this point. An investigation on the club will be conducted, if one wasn’t already being done, which would surprise me if that were the case. It’s only a matter of time now before the cops come in and shut the place down. If that happens when Matt is there, he’ll be arrested.”

“I already know that dealing is illegal. The cops let dealers go, you even said so yourself. You don’t remember? The first time I ever met you, after I told you how old I was — you asked me if I knew that it was illegal to run a game. When I answered “no”, you literally gave me a checklist of things to do, in case I ever found myself in a raid.”

“I remember, and yes, cops *usually* let the dealers go. However, if anything should happen at Spades, it’ll probably be after Matt gets a sentence on his court case. I’ll bet you 10-to-1 for any amount, that he gets at the absolute worst, sentenced to probation. If he gets arrested, it will absolutely end with him getting a jail sentence.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, buddy. There are a ton of other clubs, all over, where he can find another job. And it would be in his best interest to not stick around, especially after narc’ing to the cops. That’s why I’m telling you all of this — find another job, I don’t wanna see you get arrested. You never know, some cop might want to teach you a lesson to stay out of trouble, because you’re so young and caught up in all of this. It wouldn’t surprise me, at all.”

“Can you help me get a dealing job at another club?”

“Yeah, no problem, but it’ll be in Queens. I’ll see what I can do and get back to you. There’s no way I could get you into Fox’s — not yet, anyway. You’ve gotten great at dealing tournaments, but you don’t have enough experience dealing cash.”

“I know. Well, **** man. My mind is blown. I was expecting you to tell me something like you had a disagreement with Vinny, or you wanted to renegotiate your agreement with Gary, or… something like that. Nothing like this.”

“Yeah, well, I wouldn’t have told you at all, but… well, you know how I am. There aren’t too many people in the poker community who I actually respect. You’re a smart kid, don’t **** up your future.”

“Well, thanks man. I appreciate you looking out. Please let me know, and get back to me as soon as you can, if you find another place where I can deal.”

“I will. And buddy, one last thing. If you tell anyone about this conversation, I’ll never speak to you again. I trust you. Don’t let me down.” — he says jokingly, yet with authority, in a rather stern tone of voice.

“What conversation?”

“Perfect. Later, buddy.”

I end the phone call, closing my Nokia 6126 flip phone. I begin to think, weighing out my options and trying to come to a decision, in order to formulate some type of plan.

If you were to ask people who know me well, to describe me in one word, the obvious answer would be — cunning. I’ve always considered that to be one of my strengths, to be frank, it has allowed me to capitalize on many of the opportunities that have come my way. I’m an honest person, generally forthcoming when it’s paramount, and take comfort in believing that people are generally good-natured.

Sometimes, the smartest thing to do is to tell people what they want to hear. As Canada Bill Jones once said, “It’s immoral to let a sucker keep his money.” In my paradigm of the world, deceiving someone isn’t even remotely the same as intentionally withholding information or being purposefully vague. Come to think of it, that might be what makes me a decent poker player.

Taking everything Andy had just told me into consideration, I came to a final decision. I was going to continue dealing at Spades, regardless of if he could get me another dealing job somewhere else. If he were to ask me if I had quit, I would respond by saying something like, “Do I look that dumb?”

Dealing at Spades was consistent, lucrative, and simply just too close to where I lived to give up. I did, however, decide to put an end to my ignorance about what I did to make money — cold, hard cash to be exact, that I could earn pretty much anywhere I could find a poker game. A realization that led to my deep appreciation for unmistakably skilled dealers, and floors who possessed vast, intricate knowledge about the rules and procedures of the game.

I did some research on the legality of poker in New York — I wanted to be certain of any and all legal consequences that were attached to running a game. I scoured the internet for everything I could find in order to educate myself. I even had a serious conversation with Jennifer’s father, a successful lawyer, who made a few personal calls and got me in touch with a colleague of his. That was how I met Rich.

Rich was a young, yet successful criminal attorney who practiced law in New York City. He was in his late 30’s and always wore an expensive suit — a bit of a hefty guy, prominently intelligent, articulate, and was way better at poker than I was. He was on Andy’s level, without question. When I first met him, one of the first things he told me about himself was that he was able to pay his bills, shortly after graduating law school, by playing in underground clubs.

I know, it’s incredibly cliche. However, back in 2007, if a reg in a Manhattan-based club was a lawyer in their mid to late 30’s, it would actually be surprising to find out that they *didn’t* pay their law school tuition, student loans, or bills by playing poker. In other words, back then, any winning reg that practiced law and was of the right age, most likely adhered to the stereotype. You’d be surprised to know how many young law students were inspired by the movie Rounders.

Rich and I would later on become poker buddies, and play in a ton of different games together. More relevantly, he was someone who would always show up and play in a new game to help me out — something that facilitated the acquisition of many of my dealing jobs.

No pun intended, Rich had money and played stakes as high as $25/$50 NL regularly. He played in bigger games actually, but, was only comfortable playing up to $25/$50 in private or underground games. For him, anything bigger required playing in a casino.

My first conversation with Rich would take place over the phone. Jennifer’s father set everything up and made it *very* clear to call him on a specific date, at a very specific time. I would be getting free legal advice, as a favor, and I was not to waste this man’s time.

“Hello, this is Rich. Is this Julius?”

“Yes, Hi. Thank you for taking my call, I really appreciate your time. I won’t take up too much of it.”

“Not a problem, whatsoever. I’ve been informed that you are looking for legal advisement in the scope of poker games. Is that correct?”

“Yeah. To be clear, these poker games are not friendly home games. They are ran as businesses and located in commercial areas.”

“I see. Are you a player?”

“Well, yeah. But, I’m also a dealer. I make money in the form of tips, from dealing the game. The players who win a hand will usually give me a few dollars after every hand. And — ”

“Julius, let me stop you right there. Are you familiar with the Mayfair Club?”

“Of course.”

“I used to play there regularly. You’re preaching to the choir. I’m well aware of how these games operate, and fortunately for you, also experienced in the legal affairs that can manifest from them.”

“Wow, a real life one-outer. What are the odds? So then, can you tell me what kind of consequences I could face from dealing?”

“Do you have a criminal record?”

“No, I’ve never been in trouble with the law before. I’ll be 18 very soon, if that means anything.”

“Pardon me, you’re 17 years old?”

“Yes, sir.” — I tell him about my family, my grandmother, hosting tournaments at my house, essentially rationalizing why my age is not a big deal.

“Interesting. How long have you been dealing?”

“Not too long. Less than a year, but I don’t see myself slowing down anytime soon.”

“I see. Where do you deal?”

“At a club called Spades in Long Island. I deal the tournaments, three times per week.”

“Spades? No kidding. I know all about Spades. I play there whenever I visit my parents on the island. As you put it, what are the odds?”

“Yeah, well, a friend of mine who plays for a living is trying to get me another dealing job in Queens. I feel like I might be putting myself at more of a risk, that’s why I needed to talk to you.”

“I understand. Well, let me educate you about the law. In the state of New York, it is completely legal to play poker. You and I could set up a table in the middle of Times Square and play heads up. Inherently, playing poker isn’t the issue. The concern arises when someone starts profiting off of the game by taking rake. That individual is the one who is breaking the law, and can be charged with the promotion of gambling to various degrees, all of which can result in different consequences. It’s important that I point out that keeping a credit book is also illegal, in which you can be charged with the possession of gambling records. You don’t run the floor at all, do you?”

“No, not yet.”

“Not yet. I admire your ambition. Well, that’s a good thing. That means your legal risk is minimal.”

“So then, I’m not breaking the law because I don’t get any of the rake, right?”

“No, not exactly. The legal verbiage used, in the New York State Penal Code, to describe what actually constitutes the promotion of gambling is incredibly vague. However, legal precedents have been established that demonstrate that the court is more than willing to charge you with a crime, even if you never see the literal “profits” of the game. It’s uncommon, but it can certainly happen. For example, if the landlord of a rental property that houses a game was aware that it was being used for illegal gambling activity, they would certainly be in violation of the law. Even if the landlord only collected rent from their tenant, it would still be considered as profiting from the game. It’s very difficult to prove, but nevertheless still illegal.”

“I gotcha. So, receiving tips from the players is illegal and puts me at risk.”

“Correct. To be exact, it puts you at risk of being charged with the promotion of gambling in the second degree, a misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of up to one year in jail. It’s worth mentioning that the law doesn’t care if you’re a first time offender, or if you have no existing criminal record — anyone who gets charged can receive that sentence. In reality, it’s *extremely* rare to receive a jail sentence for that charge, but it’s still possible. I’m not trying to scare you, however, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I were to leave anything unclear.”

“Wow. How often do people go to jail for this?”

“Almost never. As I said, it’s extremely rare. The police will usually let the dealers go free, if that is, in fact, the complete extent of their involvement. What usually happens, if you even make it to this stage of the judicial system, is that you’ll receive a fine and be on your way. Even repeat offenders usually just get another fine. If you receive a cut of the rake, but are caught dealing at the time of your arrest, then it’s a different story. I’m not going to go over that scenario, because you told me that you don’t get any of the rake, correct?”

“Right. Okay, then. So, to be clear — at the absolute worst, I could go to jail for a year.”

“Yes, at the absolute worst. However, I can’t imagine a situation that ends with someone like you going to jail for this. You’re a minor, you have a clean record, and I suspect that the police would just let you go and call your parents, rather than arresting you. I’m just speculating about that, to be clear. Even if you were to get arrested, I’m all but certain that the police would still let you go. Any decent attorney could demonstrate that you’re a minor being used as a tool, by a conniving adult who is taking advantage of you.”

“Are you trying to say that I’m a victim?”

“I’m saying that that’s the way you would be seen in the eyes of the court, which is why you’ll most likely be let go, should you even get arrested.”

“Ah, okay. I see. Well, Rich, I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to help me. You’ve given me some peace of mind. I really appreciate it.”

“Not a problem, Julius. I would have told you all of this at the table, had you been my dealer.”

“Oh, you still play?”

“Absolutely. Currently, twice a week in Midtown. Why don’t you take down my personal cell number? If you actually find yourself in need of a lawyer for anything poker related, please don’t hesitate to call me.”

“Awesome. Thanks, Rich. Before I let you go, do you play online?”

“To be completely candid, I actually have Full Tilt running on my laptop, as we speak. I’ll usually sit at a couple of tables while I eat my lunch. Nothing serious.”

“You’re joking, right?”

“Not in the slightest.”

The conversation went on for a while longer. We talked more about poker, the underground community, and exchanged Full Tilt usernames. The conversation ended with Rich asking me if I could bring him to Spades, the next time he was on the island. The club was in a different location when he had last come around to play.

Rich actually did have Full Tilt opened in the background during our conversation. He had arranged for me to call him during his lunch break, which was when he would keep a few tables open, and play only if he happened to pick up Aces or Kings.

Now that I was well informed about the legal risks I was taking, I felt very confident about sticking to my decision. I was sure now, I wasn’t going to give up my job at Spades.

Almost a month later at the club, on a warm, weekday evening, I was sitting in a cash game during the break of the tournament. It was remarkably busy that night, and there were a lot of new faces playing. Every week was busier than the last.

When I had arrived at the club to setup, Vinny had asked me if I would be okay with getting bought into the cash game instead of working. He explained that he needed someone to deal in order to work off a debt that they owed. I told him it was fine — I’d get to take a night off while freerolling in a cash game.

Shortly after the break ended, I hear Vinny yelling at the entire room.

“HEY! YO! WHO IS THAT GUY HOLDING THE DOOR OPEN ON THE SECURITY MONITORS? LOOK! DOES ANYBODY HERE KNOW WHO THAT IS?” — pointing to the flatscreen that displayed the security camera feeds.

All of the players were looking around at each other, but nobody answered.

“****!”

Vinny makes a bolt for the steel door, closes it behind him, and begins running down the stairs to stop this unknown guy from holding the door open any longer.

The entire room is watching this happen in live action, on the security monitor. Each of the four sections on the screen displayed a feed from a different camera.

Just as Vinny reached the bottom of the stairs, a line of a dozen or so SWAT officers appears on the bottom left section of the monitor. The officer at the front of the line is carrying a bulletproof shield, they all have helmets on, and it’s clear that they are well-prepared for action.

We all watch as Vinny collides into the SWAT team, face first, only to get MOWED down by the entire line. He got pummeled — it looked painful.

SWAT makes its way up the stairs and over to the steel door.

*BOOM* — A loud bang is coming from the steel door, as a huge dent appears simultaneously.

*BOOM* — The door becomes bent in half now.

*BOOM* — The steel door violently swings open, and pieces of the wall fly off into the air.

About 12 or so SWAT officers flow into the club. As the sound of their boots hitting the wood floor fills the silence of the room, they begin to draw their rifles on each table, making sure that everybody is surrounded.

“NOBODY ****ING MOVE! PUT YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR! DO IT NOW!”

   

Chapter 1 – Fox’s Club Chapter 9 – Spades — 1.8
Chapter 2 – Spades — 1.1 Chapter 10 – Spades — 1.9
Chapter 3 – Spades — 1.2 Chapter 11 – Spades — 1.10
Chapter 4 – Spades — 1.3 Chapter 12 – Spades — 1.11
Chapter 5 – Spades — 1.4 Chapter 13 – Bell Boulevard — 1.1
Chapter 6 – Spades — 1.5 Chapter 14 – Bell Boulevard — 1.2
Chapter 7 – Spades — 1.6 Chapter 15 – Bell Boulevard — 1.3
Chapter 8 – Spades — 1.7 Chapter 16 – Bell Boulevard — 1.4