Enter Legal New York Poker, Exit the Underground Scene

New York City has one of the most-famous underground poker scenes in the world. And this is largely thanks to “Rounders,” which centered on Mike McDermott’s (Matt Damon) quest to succeed in New York’s underground poker world. But is it finally time for this romanticized, and sometimes dangerous, vision of New York poker to exit while giving way to legal clubs? A recent and popular piece in the Observer suggests so while blasting the government for treating New Yorkers like kids and favoring casino-style gaming. Let’s cover the main points of this piece and why the author nails the situation.

New York Underground Poker is Dangerous

One topic that Rounders hits on is how New York’s poker scene can be pretty unsafe. In McDermott’s case, it was playing in a club owned by local mobster ‘Teddy KGB’ (John Malkovich). In Observer writer Karol Markowicz’s experience – and probably most everybody else’s – it’s the fact that these games are robbery targets. Police raids were also frequent, although the players themselves merely have their money confiscated and get to go home free.

The author points to one specific instance of New Jersey schoolteacher Frank DeSena, who, in 2007, was playing at the City Limits club in Manhattan. Robbers busted into the poker game, and one of the nervous gunmen dropped his shotgun, which went off and killed DeSena.

This is an isolated incident, but one that could’ve been prevented if there were legal poker rooms in New York, rather than sketchy clubs that aren’t protected by law.

Online Poker isn’t really an Option either

There might be less activity in underground poker rooms if people could legally play online. And what’s nice is that the Empire State has had some serious talks about legalizing iPoker. But unfortunately, that hasn’t happened yet, and the only options that New Yorkers have for online poker remain the nefarious, black-market sites. Meanwhile, daily fantasy sports continue to run rampant in New York and other states; Markowicz points this out in the following excerpt:

“Fairly suddenly, sites like DraftKings and FanDuel have sprouted to let people pick a fantasy sports team and gamble real money against their opponents. This kind of gambling is exempt from UIGEA (though as we go to print, Democratic Congressman Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey is calling for a congressional hearing into the legality of the sites) because fantasy sports knowledge is considered ‘skill. I don’t doubt that it does require skill to keep track of hundred of players and utilize them on your ‘team’ at just the right time. The implication there, though, is that poker is not a game of skill when it so clearly is.”

New York has legalized Other Gaming – Why not Poker?

Another problem pointed out in this Observer article is that New Yorkers can enjoy horse racing, the state lottery, and a legal casino in the city. Furthermore, the casino is filled with non-skilled slot machines, yet poker, a skill game, is deemed illegal. But rather than keeping poker in the underground, Markowicz proposes the following:

“It doesn’t have to be this way. New Yorkers deserve to be treated as adults. Poker rooms can flourish in our city and with them a new culture of playing. No more will we have to play in unmarked office buildings, afraid of raids or robbers. Poker can be out in the open, where it belongs. It can bring jobs for card dealers, food service providers, room managers, etc.”

As the author alludes to, it really is a puzzle why casinos, lotteries, horse racing and DFS can operate in New York, yet poker remains a largely demonized activity. But major progress has already been made with regard to legal online poker. Perhaps this will serve as a precursor to getting poker clubs legalized in the city too.

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