First in a series.
As I was thinking this afternoon about what I wanted to write about that others might find useful or interesting, I realized that my home -- NYC -- is a major tourist destination. I assume that, given the explosive growth in poker over the last two years, some of the tourists who make their way to Gotham are poker players with a hankering to get into a game without having to trek over two hours to either Foxwoods or Atlantic City.
Unfortunately, finding poker rooms in the city isn't that easy. While the days of underground card rooms operating in near absolute secrecy (ala "Rounders") are largely over, the clubs do still fall within a gray area of the law and thus try not to draw much attention to themselves. [You can read the specific statute that criminalizes gambling in New York State - Article 255 of the New York Penal Law - at findlaw.com. Title 4 of the General Obligations Law also has a few things to say about the legality of wagering. I'm sure that there are local NYC ordinances that cover the issue as well, but I couldn't find them online.]
For tourists who probably aren't used to New York's edgier lifestyle, the nebulous legality of poker in New York City may seem troubling at first glance, but where there's a will, there's a way. The rooms typically get around the gambling laws by operating as private clubs and charging players for chair rental at the tables, rather than operating as public cardrooms and raking pots. Some take these measures more seriously than others. For example, at one club, locked doors, security cameras, and "members only" are the rules; at another, players can simply walk into the club and buy into a game without even so much as stating their names.
What does this mean for the tourist with a bankroll burning a hole in his pocket? Quite simply, there ARE games to be had here that don't require hopping on a bus to the Jersey Shore or taking a chance on somebody's wacky "dealer's choice" home game. Some rooms -- mainly, the rooms that take the members-only policy seriously -- will be off-limits to the average tourist who is only in town for a few days, but to be honest, it seems as if a new room is being promoted every other week, and as I said some rooms don't even require you to be a member at all.
I recently heard that one of the reasons rooms are now fluorishing is because the arguably oldest room -- Play Station -- survived a legal challenge from the city. I can't find any information online to confirm or deny that, however, and I suspect that most of the boom is due to the general poker boom. If anyone can point me in the direction of information which clarifies this issue, I'd appreciate it. In the meantime, I'm going to assume that the city has decided as a policy matter that it has far better things -- which are more clearly illicit -- to police than the local card rooms.
With so many new, small room sprouting up, trying to review them all would be a daunting task. Instead, over the next few weeks, I will provide reviews of the major NYC card rooms. I'm not really sure what criteria I'll use to review the rooms, so please feel free to leave comments to this post as to what criteria you think would be most useful. Thanks, and look for my first review -- of an East Side club -- this week.
Sunday, August 15, 2004
First in a series.