The Albany Poker League, a/k/a APL or the Albany Poker League Penthouse Club, was busted last week, with four youngish local men arrested. The Times-Union broke the story, but Fox 23’s coverage was a bit more colorful. WYNT’s story is here, and WTEN’s here.
Located not in a penthouse but a warehouse, APL wasn’t a well-kept secret. The club had t-shirts, hats, and also advertisements on the web. Word of it had filtered all the way down to Columbia County, making it less-than-credible that its existence only recently came to the local authorities’ attention, as has been claimed. (The investigation hardly required its undercover Hold ’Em ringer.)
Meanwhile, the Albany metro area has more than its share of underground bars, after hours joints and the like, which operate with seeming inpunity. Someone surely must have been turning a blind eye to APL as well for the past three-plus years, and it seems telling that the State Police conducted this Colonie bust, not Town or County officers. (This blog post indicates that APL was already going strong in 2008; one of APL’s ads described itself as a social club which “has been running for about 10 years.”) A longtime Albany resident tells me that last she checked, a similarly-sized poker room could be found in the upstairs room of a bar often frequented by off-duty local cops. Bill Kennedy, eat your heart out.
- Ooohh! I feel so much safer now that these hardened criminals are off the streets. But it’s okay for the state of NY to have gambling…
- It’s because the state can’t tax it.
- Meanwhile, what real crimes were being solved while these “threats to the public safety” were playing poker?
- They may not be hardened criminals, but the guys who come and rob the joint with guns are. These guys let too many people know about the game and it makes it dangerous.
- These are the same idiots who [...] got robbed once by two guys with guns and another guy got pistol whipped in the parking lot. Drugs were being done outside of the building and people were drinking and driving home drunk. I know this sounds like a normal night [in Albany] but the gambling part is illegal.
- The hosts put the players in danger because of their greed and stupidity. They send email blasts daily and make poker league shirts. Not only are they begging for trouble but they throw it in the face of local law enforcement. If you are gonna run an illegal game they should use discretion.
- It’s obvious they had a deal and something went wrong behind the scenes between the cops and the owners of this establishment.
Of course, both casual and organized poker games have always been held around these parts. There are several high-stakes games said to have been running for decades around Hudson, even as its more infamous craps and numbers rackets have faded. A friendly game which survived for most of the past decade in the back of a local bistro finally broke up, after the congenial, low stakes atmosphere was cancelled not by The Man, but due to the incursion of a number of hotheaded 20somethings.
But amateur poker games really started proliferating all over the country in the past 5-6 years, driven by the national broadcast of big stakes tournaments, followed by the inevitable celebrity saloon tourneys. Even non-gamblers can appreciate the appeal of imagining you’re living a scene from a spaghetti western. Plus the recent indictments of top online casinos such as Full Tilt also seems sure to spur the creation of even more such realspace games to fill that gaming void.
Generally “home poker games” are deemed quasi-legal or at least tolerated, so long as the host does not take a “rake” from the table or any other remuneration for hosting. Individual players are rarely if ever prosecuted, and the penalties for operations which skirt these legal lines are rarely adequate to deter card fans. The State seems to limit enforcement to those operations which cut into legal casino business, or have the potential to attract organized crime syndicates. For any big city, even a cursory Google search will turn up dozens of poker rings operating in the wide open, with only the occasional bust put on for show. APL may have crossed a line by collecting entrance fees and taking a share of each pot; or maybe they just failed to pay off the right people. Estimates of their monthly take run from $40,000 to $400,000 a month, with $10,000 seized on the day it was shuttered, so it can't have been for lack of ready cash.
A retired judge of my acquaintance is of the opinion that the four are unlikely to face serious fines or fees, unless the State can find some broader racketeering or tax charge to level at them. If it’s held down to Class A misdemeanors, which are all that have been charged at this point, $1,000 and a year in jail would be the maximum, he says.
While the APL Four’s fate is decided, in all likelihood someone else will fill the vacuum for their patrons, who according to Fox’s report report were still pulling up to the club’s door for several days after the bust.
UPDATE: Despite the arrests detailed above, word is that APL is back—but no longer taking a “rake,” making the games more or less legal, or at least less likely to be busted up again.