By Gerald Hanks
Gerald Hanks is from Houston Texas, and has been playing poker since 2002. He has played cash games and no-limit hold’em tournaments at live venues all over the United States.
Recent news of the daring robbery at the European Poker Tour event in Berlin garnered worldwide headlines. Four bandits stormed the Grand Hyatt Berlin with guns and machetes and stole nearly US$500,000 in cash as hotel surveillance and live streaming internet video cameras rolled.
A few weeks later, robbers pulled a similar smash-and-grab robbery at a poker home game in Austin, Texas. Police reports stated that the robbers climbed a back fence to reach the house, as the rear of the house did not have security cameras.
News of these robberies has come to the attention of security personnel at major poker rooms and casinos around the country. A Harrah’s spokesman said that they would step up security efforts at the upcoming World Series of Poker, and the officials at other top poker events are expected to follow suit.
Players in casino poker rooms often enjoy many of the amenities that come with the environment, including trained, professional and armed security guards. However, for players who may not have ready access to a plush casino poker room, the local home game is their main poker destination. How can players in a poker home game guard themselves against robberies and assaults both inside and outside the game?
Rules on hosting a home poker game vary from state to state and country to country, but the rules on allowing a stranger into your home should be the same, regardless of the legal niceties surrounding the game. Poker players who are considering hosting their own home games should take extra precautions when they start recruiting players, bringing in new faces and protecting their lives and property.
Play poker with people you know. While this may seem like the simplest idea to follow, some poker hosts, eager for more players and more action, may ignore this rule in favor of livening up the poker game. In fact, the safer route is to bring in non-players the host already knows and teach them how to play poker, rather than invite a stranger who may present himself as an “action” player. The educational experience for the rookie poker player will help him grow in the game, while maintaining a safe environment for everyone else.
Pre-screen new poker players. If a regular player wants to bring in a friend, a host should ideally meet that new player face-to-face before inviting him to the poker game. Some hosts forget that a home game is just that: a game at his home. Most hosts would not allow a stranger to come into their home without meeting them under other circumstances, and a home game should not be different. Unlike a casino, where anyone with the cash can sit down at the table, a home game is a private party.
Invest in security measures. With so many home invasion robberies of home poker games making the news, this investment can pay off in many other ways. Locked gates, keypads and cameras will provide a safer setting for the players, which will help them concentrate on their hand instead of any odd noises outside. Some players may resent the idea of playing in a setting that could remind them of the potential dangers, but the host should remind them that casinos provide at least as much security at a much higher cost than a six-pack or a pizza.
As the host, the player has much more control over the playing environment. As a visitor to another player’s home game, most of that control is taken out of his hands. However, the visiting poker player can still maintain a level of personal safety before he puts his money on a stranger’s table.
Play poker with people you know. The reason that this idea is here twice is, not for redundancy, but for emphasis on personal security. Most poker players would not walk into a stranger’s house, put their money down and expect to feel safe. Just as the host should screen players for their home games, visiting players should get to know the host outside the game to judge the safety and comfort level with the environment, the games and the other players.
Evaluate the host’s safety measures. When a visiting player meets the host, he should find out what steps the host has in place to insure the safety of the players. Also, the player should check out the surrounding neighborhood, in both daylight and at night, to get a feel for the safety of the general area, especially when he’s getting into his car late at night with a wad of cash from his winnings.
One thing the player should keep in mind is that “nice neighborhood” does not always equal “safe environment”. Most of the poker robberies that have occurred in recent months in Texas have been in what the victims described as “nice neighborhoods”.
Limit the cash and cards on your person. Most of the robberies at home poker games are strictly amateur-level “smash and grab”; police typically don’t find a sophisticated, “Ocean’s 11”-style elaborately planned heist in these instances. A good way to limit the damage, both physically and financially, is to bring as little cash and as few credit cards to the game as possible. Not only can a small poker bankroll serve as a preventative measure, it can also be a “stop-loss” method in some aggressive games.
The game of poker, especially Texas Hold’em, carries a reputation for gun violence. Nicknames for hands include “bullets” and “dead man’s hand”. In the “bad old days”, many of the Texas rounders carried guns to protect themselves from robberies and hijackings. Even in the seemingly trigger-happy United States, gun laws vary from city to city and state to state.
In jurisdictions that allow citizens to carry concealed weapons, the decision is a matter of personal choice. Players hosting their own games can decide for themselves whether they want to use a gun to protect their homes. Poker players visiting a home game should tell their hosts if they plan to carry before they come to the game, or they can find out if the host is carrying.
One undeniable fact is that, wherever there is a lot of loose cash available, such a site makes a tempting target for would-be thieves. Any steps that players can take to protect themselves, their homes and their bankrolls will help their game.
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