So, the guys in my
favorite poker game were lucky (almost privileged, I told them) to be robbed by
such nice fellows. They didn't see it that way, though, and were downright
indignant that I should call them lucky, since I had been rabbit-footed enough
to get out of the house, a $500 winner, just five minutes before the heist.
A few months later
I missed another robbery, or a dogged attempt at one, when I was invited to a
meeting of some pros and relatively high rollers of the area. Table stakes.
Cash only. I really wanted to go, but at the last moment I backed out because I
had to drive to Kentucky early the next morning. This session was set up in a
neighboring town in a warehouse of a construction company. A lumber and
materials yard was fenced in out back, leaving only a front entrance to the
place—and no quick exit. The door opened into a narrow entranceway, which in
turn led into the poker room. Experienced in such matters, the gamblers had
reinforced the front door with one-inch plywood and had jammed it shut by
placing some two-by-four timbers between the door and the opposite wall.
At about 11 p.m.,
when all the gamblers had arrived and the place had been secured for a long
poker session, there was a sudden bang. Somebody was trying to knock down the
door. Another bang. Another. A short silence. Then the bangs came in rhythmic
series. With each jolt, the bottom right side of the door would spring in, then
back again as the resilient plywood did its job. According to the poker
players, the banging continued for a long, long time. Finally it stopped
Silence. When the poker players eventually opened the door and came out, they
found an abandoned 200-pound battering ram made of concrete.
I'm glad that I
dodged that experience, because I would surely have aged several years during
the pounding, but I am even gladder that I missed a robbery reported in a
Huntsville newspaper. Some men were playing poker in an unoccupied farmhouse up
in Tennessee. The heisters came and before they left they had killed one player
and critically wounded another. The paper did not give details on exactly what
happened, but probably the poker players flushed or else someone like Larry
pushed his bluff too far.
Even before I read
of this killing, I had begun to realize that poker heists were something to be
reckoned with, and that the poker player's real concern is with the robbers,
not the cops. While doing some fancy calculations of various carding odds, I
joked with my poker friends about figuring in a heist factor for Huntsville and
the surrounding area. The truth is that one's chances of getting robbed in a
poker game are about the same all over the country. I have not attempted to
compile a set of statistics, but I do know that poker games are being heisted
from coast to coast, and some of these robberies are in unlikely places like
Antonito, Colo. (pop. 1,113).
Few of these
stickups are reported to the police, and seldom are they written up in
newspapers. The players themselves keep it quiet. A former assistant
superintendent of the Pittsburgh police explained, "If it's a professional
poker game with the operators taking a cut it's illegal, and there is no way to
prosecute the robbers. Under the law, you are required to prosecute the
operators of the illegal gambling—in this case, the victims. So, they usually
don't report it."
Even if the
robbery is reported to the police, there is a good chance that the public will
never hear of it. This was the case in one of the three "skivvy"
robberies in Huntsville last December. The game was held in a conference room
at a motel, and one indignant victim walked directly into the lobby in his
shorts to call the cops. I know that a newspaper reporter covered the event,
which would have made good copy because the robbers got about $30,000. But the
story was not printed, possibly because most of the men were influential in the
In some cases a
robbery is reported, all right, but the victims and the papers fail to mention
anything about poker. Consider a robbery that occurred at the Hillcrest Country
Club in Indianapolis last May. A newspaper stated that armed men crashed a
"guest night" party and made off with $10,000. No mention of poker. The
next day another paper reported that the men had been playing poker. Apparently
the victims tried to hush it up.
Other times the
newspapers get the story but the police do not. In December 1969 there was a
robbery at the Good Guys Club in Covington, Ky., a gambling town just across
the river from Cincinnati. Gunmen took from $40,000 to $60,000 in cash and
jewelry from a group of poker players in the back room. "We certainly know
it happened," said Covington Police Chief Ralph A. Bosse, "and we have
a pretty good idea about who the participants in the game were, but all are
reluctant to make an official complaint." The robbery came to public
attention with an article in a local newspaper.
There is enough
evidence to convince me that virtually all poker heists are conducted by
professionals. These guys know their business—and their victims. They are smug
bandits, simply because they know that their jobs are not likely to be
subjected to police investigation. The leisurely pace of the robbery at my
favorite Huntsville game shows just how cocksure the heisters can be. They wore
neither masks to cover their faces nor gloves to prevent fingerprints.