Reno 911 (The home game)

Ok, today sucked in a major way.  Here’s the scoop!

At approximately 2:30pm PST, 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 – with guns drawn.  [UPDATE:  it was NOT a SWAT team as some publications seem to have misinterpreted/inferred.  Simply a mix of some heavily protected and some standard issue patrol gear wearing officers…including the presence one door smasher/battering-ram which was NOT used.]  20 of us were there for the freeroll tourney.  They asked if anyone had weapons, instructed us to keep our hands on the table where they could be seen, immediately asked for specific individuals, told us that we’d each be interviewed separately, and then would be free to leave.

Mind you, this has become a tight group with over 100 friends who meet regularly to play low-stakes Hold ’em (6 to 25 at a time typically).  Each of the 20 present was interviewed separately.   Questions asked of us covered topics such as:  who was present in the past, were there rebuys, did we suspect cheating, did we suspect marked cards, did we suspect anyone was taking money from the prize pool, did I ever win, was there any kind of secret code or code name or code word (WTF????)  , and a few others I can’t remember off the top of my head. 

The AMAZING thing to me was that all of us were completely calm during the whole ordeal.  Why?  We’re all good citizens.  We all believed that we weren’t doing anything wrong.  There was no lip service to the officers…only cooperation.  In fact, after just a few minutes we were bantering with each other (with hands on the table where they could be seen, of course) as if we were still playing.  This group has become more than just good GREAT poker players – we’ve become friends.  We had a fantastic Holiday party together in December, and tonight we were going to celebrate the end of the season by going out to dinner together at a local restaurant.  Several of our players had enjoyed participating in the US Poker Bowl with well-known professionals this past October (as the San Francisco Kings) and were looking forward to their 15 minutes of fame on Fox Sports this spring when the event was to be televised.  We were excited about the recent growth of the group and were going to invest in chips and cards in order to accomodate the growth.  The feedback from players (newbies and long-timers) was always positive and everything seemed to be on the up-and-up with a concerted effort to ensure that player comfort and safety was priority #1.  Evidently the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Dept thought otherwise.

Anyway, after my “interview” I stuck around long enough to observe 3 things that I think are relevant:

1)  One of the officers with helmet and full-on riot gear looked familiar.  As I left, I realized that I recognized him as a person who’d played with our group before.  He played recently, and perhaps only once or twice.  

2)  When I was outside heading to my car, I noticed another officer going through the car of the organizer of the day’s event.  He’d played with us several times.  As a side note, I’d nicknamed him “Moolah Muerta” (dead money) because he was such a horrible poker player, yet seemed to be quite happy to reach into his pocket to rebuy as much as possible during rebuy tourney.  I even remember thinking to myself that it seemed as if this guy was so reckless that he couldn’t have been playing with his own money…or that he had TONS of it for some reason.  Turns out it was the Sheriff’s money!  He claimed he’d recently moved to the area and joined the group to make new friends.  On his second visit, this guy shows up with a very attractive female companion (way out of his league) – who, I’m assuming was also involved in the sting.  For someone who just moved here, he sure seemed to be bringing lots of friends into the group (officer from #1 above as well as the female companion/spectator).  That, plus the whole “Moolah Muerta” thing should have been setting off the alarm bells, but he was a pretty friendly guy who I assumed was no different than most of us who watched the neverending WSOP coverage on ESPN, and hoped to learn to play better…which was always my impression of what this group was about (all skill levels welcome…open feedback environment, etc).  Anyway, in retrospect nobody could be that unskilled, yet that willing to keep reaching into his/her pocket.  It seemed weird, but I figured he was new and just wanted to make friends – maybe he was willing to buy friends…I’ve seen it in the movies, so it wasn’t too far fetched of an idea.   To make things more interesting, there’s a slight possibility that [ie, this is speculation…as the name in the email was spelled “Mark” instead of “Marc”] this is the person who sent an email to the whole group saying that he would be there to watch the freeroll and play in any side-tourney/ring game AND that he’d be bringing a few friends along.  In retrospect, a delicous touch to the whole afternoon I thought.  Bringing “friends”…how clever.  [the author has reason to doubt the accuracy of the previous statement at this time based on new information]   Anyway…on to #3

3)  Several neighbors approached me as I got my dog into the car.  They asked me if I knew what was happening (10+- squad cars lined up in the street seemed to attract a few lookie-lou’s).  I told them we played poker there regularly.  The few people I talked to, said, “is that all?  How much did you play for?”.   When I told them the stakes, they were shocked (at how low).  They all wished they knew because they said they would have been there playing too!  An older gentleman asked if we played 7-card-stud…I said, “no…pretty much just Hold ‘Em”.  He said, “figures” and added something to the tune of (ie, not the exact quote), “these guys should be out dealing with a real crime, not messing with you guys.  I never heard a tire squeal, a voice raised, a loud radio, or noticed people coming and going…everyone parked legally and stayed for 3-5 hours…I never had any reason to suspect something dangerous was going on”.  Hello!!!!   Does that not sum it up?  One person even said, “Isn’t there a meth lab somewhere that they could be shutting down instead?”…which I thought was spectacular!

 In my opinion, the officers did have 2 valid comments while they were there scaring the crap out of us:

1)  We were lucky that it was them that barged in, and not a couple of people wearing ski-masks making us lay on the floor at gunpoint with the intention of robbing us

2)  “We don’t think you’re doing anything wrong.” and “We play poker too”…those were my personal favorites.  (Tsk, tsk, tsk…”anything you say can, and will, be used against you in a court of law”)

As for their intentions, I don’t know.  The undercover guys know for a fact that they could have sent a single officer to the door, armed only with a kitten for protection, and gotten the same amount of cooperation from our group.  So their tactics seem a bit overkill.  If they were “protecting and serving” the players because of some kind of wrong-doings…if myself (and others) were in some kind of physical danger, then I’m ok with what went down today.  That’s what we pay them to do.  Way cool with that.   Protect me, serve me…sometimes I am a complete idiot and cannot make my own decisions – in which case, I’ll take all the help I can get to avoid bodily harm and/or financial ruin!

However, if there’s something else going on here (or NOT going on here), and the 2 or 3 people who were involved in the sting operation carried out this whole endeavor under false or incorrect beliefs, then I truly hope their careers and reputations are affected accordingly irreparably.     I’m uncertain of the validity of some of the allegations that two of the officers made regarding the character of the game organizer – but suffice it to say, they were defamatory if they turn out to be untrue.   With my somewhat limted knowledge at this point, I personally DON’T believe what they said about the organizer.  I may be wrong…I may be a sucker…but I’ve NEVER had a reason to suspect any wrong-doing.  That may be because I’m naieve to the law regarding home games, but I’ve NEVER felt that I was cheated. 

I hope this blows over, turns out to be unfounded, and that the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Dept has made a mistake.  Accountability is #1 to me.  If the SMCSD is wrong, they must be held accountable.  If there’s been any intentional wrongdoing on the part of the group organizer, they must be held accountable.   Fair is fair!

In the meantime, I’d like to thank all of the regular home game players for their friendship, their passion, their honesty, and for the way those present today carried themselves during this whole debacle…totally professional, totally cooperative, and a true testament to the character of your typical poker player across the globe.  Top-notch people in my book…people I’d welcome to my home any time…any day!

Poker players can be good at reading people at times, and I don’t think I’m alone when I say that the faces on some (though not all) of the officers present was one of embarrassment and sheer wonder as to what they were doing there.  Some of the things a few of them said backed that feeling up.  I genuinely feel that more than one of them felt very hypocritical about their involvement in the raid.  Anyway, as I alluded earlier – I just hope everyone is accountable for their actions and statements…including the SMCSD.  I hope I’m not a sucker.  I hope you’re not a sucker.


43 Responses

  1. aww man I felt bad because I remember you saying what your only goal today was

    *loyal reader*

  2. Ok – this REALLY sucks. Everyone is expressing so much respect for one another – it’s heartbreaking to see this shake out the way it is. We need a bumper-sticker campaign. I’m gonna see what’s doing on tomorrow. If there’s not an appropriate bumper-sticker for poker players, I’m gona make one and sell the hell out of it!

  3. No kidding…last longer than yesterday. What a crapper, huh?

  4. Ok…this seems suitable: – dunno who runs it, but I encourage you to order one and wear it proudly!

  5. ooo that’s nice.

    I know, it’s one of the first things I thought about when they said we should take our belongings and leave. Baaaad luck

  6. well written Ken. such BS!! Such Injustice!!

  7. Nice post, K. Was the Asian cop guy the short annoying one with a scraggly goatee? The guy who could never remember to post his ante or shuffle his cards when it was his turn?

  8. Yes…the physical description is the right guy. As for his playing tendencies (ante/shuffle)…I don’t know. I don’t think I was actually at a table with him the day(s) he played. My only solid recollection about his visit was that he was brought in by another player (Mark) and that I introduced myself and had 15 seconds of small-talk either before the start or during a break or something. Anyone remember his name? For some reason “Tony” is coming to mind, but that’s probably wrong. Mark, on the other hand, his playing tendencies were noticeable from the get-go. Loose as a goose! I remember thinking that if he was involved in a hand, that he could have any 2 cards…a monster or total garbage…unpredictable. Seemed bizarre to me that on more than one occasion he would go all the way to showdown with Q high (or some other raggety hand) and no pair or apparent draws. And I don’t mean checking after the flop all the way to showdown or bluffing to steal the pot – he was calling bets while in position with garbage all the way to showdown. He’d bust out and re-buy…several times. That’s why I dubbed him “moolah muerta”. Makes total sense though now! In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s the day there was a young lady that showed up with him, sat in the corner right by the table at his side, and just watched everything…she seemed as friendly and personable as Mark did.

  9. That sucks. Aren’t there any real criminals that are out there? Unless stealing blinds is now considered a capital crime.

  10. If stealing blinds was a crime, I’d be executed! Zing!

  11. No kidding. It’s somewhat confusing because they were careful to point out that “the players weren’t doing anything wrong”. A lot of unknowns at the moment I guess.

  12. he seemed awfully familiar, the yelling guy

  13. btw, very nice work, making the cops like that. i didn’t recognize any of ’em.

  14. Is this real. Wow! it looks as if it’s a game, why cops are heavily armed. I too play lot of online games like poker and win prizes too.

  15. You guys should be locked up for years. Do you know what poker does to the kids? Teaches them math and shows them how drugs and alcohol impairs their ability to perform! If I had my way I’d bury each and everyone of you up to your necks in sand, cover you with honey and fireants and kick your head in until you confessed to this awful crime wave you have brought to our nation. You guys are the real terrorists.


    P.S. Just kidding, that sucks man. Did they take the money as evidence? Was the house taking a rake or fees from the tourney?

  16. They (The Sheriff) did take money from what I’ve been told. We all chipped in $5 for munchies and non-alcoholic drinks on a regular basis. Not a whole lot different than if a group of guys were watching a Sunday afternoon football game and decided to chip in to buy a single pizza together upon arrival instead of everyone showing up with their own large pizza and trying to cram the leftovers in the fridge or into cupboards or not finishing them and just leaving them there for the host to store and/or dispose of.

  17. […] County, California apparently first spent months investigating the small-stakes poker game. From this firsthand account, it looks like a couple of the officers were playing regularly for several weeks before sending in […]

  18. Ridiculous! Are they going to come after those of us that start off with $10 in and we chip in for pizza and stuff next? South City is in the same county afterall. Gotta warn the group! From now on, BYO food and beverages. ugh!

  19. […] County, California apparently first spent months investigating the small-stakes poker game. From this firsthand account, it looks like a couple of the officers were playing regularly for several weeks before sending in […]

  20. […] County, California apparently first spent months investigating the small-stakes poker game. From this firsthand account, it looks like a couple of the officers were playing regularly for several weeks before sending in […]

  21. […] County, California apparently first spent months investigating the small-stakes poker game. From this firsthand account, it looks like a couple of the officers were playing regularly for several weeks before sending in […]

  22. […] County, California apparently first spent months investigating the small-stakes poker game. From this firsthand account, it looks like a couple of the officers were playing regularly for several weeks before sending in […]

  23. They didn’t just take the money as evidence. They will probably get to keep it for themselves… even if they can’t prove anything in a court of law.

  24. […] first-hand account of a home game raid Reno 911 (The home game) Ksnydersj’s Weblog […]

  25. So, are you actually charged with anything? I mean they take the money, and say, “Oh, you’re lucky we weren’t mask wearing thugs!” ? and that’s exactly what they are.

    So, Charges?

  26. You’re fine with it if someone was cheating? really? It seems like that’s something you’d have to deal with when you play poker. Where is the line drawn? Do the police come if someone deals out a card from the bottom of the deck? If everyone was there of their own free will then the police shouldn’t have be there at all, cheating or not.

  27. None of the attendees believe there was any cheating going on. Charges have been filed against 2 people…the organizer and 1 attendee (contributing to the delinquency of a minor).

  28. Sorry this had to happen to you. We had a rash of raids in Virginia when I lived in DC, and a rash of robberies in MD, and neither was very fun to see.

    The sad truth is that home poker needs to be a small tight knit group these days where cops routinely raid small, tiny stakes home games.

    Plead out your charges and get on with your life. this will recede into a bad, and hopefully amusing memory.

  29. That sure seems like a lot of innocent people for an ELECTED Sheriff to be hassling like that.

    A whole lot of innocent people.

    Hope everyone remembers this come San Mateo County Sheriff election day and all those involved for future elections.

  30. Do what you can to make a media case with the local papers (it’s a good story – Boingboing covered it), try to get internal investigations involved, make the police regret the bad publicity and marks in their records, make the chief look like a jerk so his resume takes a hit and doesn’t get re-elected.

    Law enforcement personnel must keep busy at something. When the streets are clean (“enough”) they’ll come to your door.

  31. The pigs are lucky San Mateo has no crime since they’ve got cushy jobs without the risks of other Bay Area cities and you are unlucky San Mateo has no crime because this frees up their time to hassle innocent people over nonexistant crimes.

    PS: Hoodlums from Oakland move to San Mateo!

  32. The cheating allegation is just another dirty tactic.They want to put a stink on the game. Combined with the intimidation, they’re hoping this will stop you from playing. If anything, it should make you MORE determined to pick up where you left off.

    What is it with America these days? What happened?

  33. […] police become the security arm for the casinos? January 17, 2008 The American war on poker continues as another tournament is busted by cops (guns […]

  34. was this in Burlingame or San Mateo?

  35. man thats realy sucky

    still get all 100 or so plus F&F of your group out lobbying against the chief of police when he comes up for election

  36. Seems that the whole problem with your game was there was a rake and that not 100% of the funds collected for the free roll were paid out.

    The house was making money, regardless of how much it was.. something was coming off the top.

    Maybe I am wrong but that is how I read it.

  37. I played with one of the regulars a few days after it happen, nice guy, good player,he wasnt there the day this happen, but the feeling of the group that nite was the neighbors probably complaining about the parking,i think most poker players can police thier own,if the guys cheatin the game would have a high turnover and wash away, but these cats all seem to be friendly with each other, you think the undercover cops felt like the cop who went undercover with the Monguls Motorcycle Club….”kiss the kids for me honey,im not sure ill be coming home,goin undercover tonight, breakin up a nasty lil gang of hold em players, tonight i bring the vest”…they had to be emberresed

  38. What the heck? Do all the people you play with know about your nefarious ventures into the underworld? Do they know you are a black belt card magician? That you are a savant genius capable of retaining in memory every card played in an entire night? I hope for your sake that you are keeping that secret from the police!

  39. […] 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). […]

  40. just read ur threads on the bust, cant belive this is real. i,m not from the states (english) i know someones gotta live there lol but hey this is over the top, in england you can now go 2 any pub (bar) and play poker for stakes of £5 no matter how many players there are. hope ur sherrif realises wat a dumb ass he’s been and gets the boot asap, anyway good luck with the games

  41. for the record, a reminder that officers did say that the players weren’t doing anything wrong, and that they play poker too

    they were casting allegations that members were contributing to the delinquency of a minor and that there was fraud going on…none of which I believe to be accurate

  42. […] Link Published in Uncategorized […]

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