Within a few hours of the news breaking yesterday, word about Mike Gracz and Chris Bell's poker raid outside of Raliegh, NC had spread just about everywhere. The reporting on the story ranged from standard to lackluster to a bit sensational.
Because we at Up For Poker have spent more than a little time in underground Carolina poker rooms, we took more than a little interest in the North Carolina bust. [Blind to the authorities: No need to follow us around looking to find the card rooms. We're on a break.] So, we asked a few questions and got a few answers from a loyal reader who has spent some time in the North Carolina room.
From what we hear, the room had been in operation for some time, maybe as long as three years. The tournament in question was a $500 tourney with rebuys for the first level (2 hrs) plus an add on. The tournament usually pulled 75-100 players and paid the final table. The room operators ran satellites prior to the event and first prize was routinely $30,000-$40,000.
Apparently this tournament was the chief draw for the room. We're told that cash games ran around the tournament but not on any other days. The room had recently started offering smaller buy-in tournaments on the odd Sunday, but was not operatiing 24/7 and cetainly was not a "casino" as ALE agents were suggesting.
If there was one area where the North Carolina room set itself apart from other rooms, it was the alleged operation of non-poker games. According to one player, the table games were in action before the tournament kicked off or after many people had already busted. We're told a blackjack, craps, a roulette table were available. If there is an aggregious offense in all of this, it's this. While it should be obvious we don't believe gambling should be illegal anywhere, we think poker room operators have a responsbility to protect their players from busts. It's one thing to run a room based soley on playing poker, something that can be legally argued to be a game where players are playing against each other and not against the house. It's another thing entirely (and a lot more sexy for the cops and the media) to have an actual roulette wheel. Really, once an undercover makes it into your room and sees somebody rolling dice on a real craps table, how long do you think it's going to take him to get a warrant? It's one thing to try to convince a judge, "These men are playing cards and it looks illegal" versus, "Your honor, there was some guy who rolled eight straight points and kept screaming about his baby needing new shoes!"
As is the case in just about every place I've visited, the poker scene in North Carolina is as strong as you could possibly want and finding a game is pretty easy if you look. In nearby Rocky Mount, there are at least three rooms in operation and it's possible to play every night of the week (sounds a lot like G-Vegas).
Gracz may have hit on the best point. He told CardPLayer, "Weâ€™re out in the middle of nowhere for a reason,â€ Gracz said. â€œI just feel as though (the police) could find something better to do with 20 hours of their time."
Therein lies the rub. Obviously, any operating room is turning its nose up at the law. However, it's a law that few people--even most state agents--really don't care much about. Agents have to do their jobs and make the bust, but the end result is a bunch of people getting misdemeanor tickets that are the equivalent of a speeding ticket. Oh, and a lot of headlines.
The end result of these busts is often the same. The charges against the players usually go nowhere. According to CardPlayer, the last time Gracz was busted in North Carolina, the charges ended up getting dropped.
Here in G-Vegas, cases sit in the Pending file for ages. The most recent bust here was two years ago when a dozen or so local players were busted in a small, suburban neighorhood clubhouse tournament. While everyone in that case was cuffed, searched, and removed of most of their posessession, the case has still never been resolved. This is primarily because prosecutors are in a tough spot. South Carolina gambling laws are so antiquated that actually trying this case will likely either result in an unwanted acquittal or a consitutional challenge that would make lawmakers really uncomfortable.
There are a lot of discussions that could be spawned from this raid, but we'll save those for another day. However, I can't let it go without mentioning one point that stuck in my gut. The concept of a fully operational kitchen in the North Carolina case was a bit overblown. While the room did offer crock pot fare and sandwiches, it was not serving four-course meals and cooking food-to-order. If ALE agents want real poker room food, I can take them to at least two places that cater meals for their players (would you believe I actually saw a turkey carved in a room one night?).
Sure, it's not a huge point, but, damn it, there's a difference.
Thanks to R. for the info.