Yet, some heisters
do wear masks. (The ones who hit the Hillcrest Country Club were decked out in
denim coveralls, work gloves, Halloween masks and even wigs.) Moreover, their
methods vary widely. But most jobs do have one thing in common. Professional
heisters almost invariably carry at least one sawed-off shotgun and will seldom
attempt to cover a poker table in close quarters without one.
exception to the sawyer rule occurred last May in San Francisco. A loner sat in
on a poker game and played along for several hours. Suddenly the guy arose,
pulled a pistol, fired three wayward shots, grabbed the money and took off. But
this robbery may have been unpremeditated, a case similar to the old story
about a Smith & Wesson beating four aces.
There are other
approaches. In Pittsburgh four men forced their way into a hotel room where a
game was in progress. They came posed as detectives, flashed badges and
announced that everyone was under arrest. The money and cards were gathered up
as "evidence." Telling the poker players to stay put until they
returned, the robbers walked out with $12,000.
A less ingenious
but very effective method was used in a heist near Beeville, Texas. Sixteen men
were playing poker in a ranch house. At 4 a.m. three robbers lobbed a tear-gas
bomb and two gas shells into the den. The robbers came in wearing gas masks.
They marched the sniffling gamblers outside, stood them against a wall and
frisked them for cash and valuables. The gamblers claimed $26,000 as their
loss, but rumors put the figure as high as $70,000. The owner of the ranch said
that it looked to him like an inside job.
Inside job or not,
he put his finger on what I personally consider to be the most interesting
question about poker-game heists. Who sets them up?
professional games, players come and go so frequently that almost anybody could
case the joint. Many patrons of these games are already on the shady side, and
it would not surprise me if some of them make a living, or at least regularly
supplement their income, as professional finger men. Also, a good many
robberies of house games are instigated by competing gamblers. There was, in
fact, some speculation about the booming Good Guys Club in Covington being hit,
or set up, by other gamblers in the area who needed some of the business.
I do think that
housemen in professional games are not logical suspects as far as robbing their
own game is concerned. A robbery hurts business and may even cause the game to
break up entirely.
It is usually
easier to detect the finger man in private and social games, but each
particular case is a separate whodunit. The game in Huntsville to which I took
my unfortunate friend was in all probability set up by a highly undesirable
character who wormed his way into the group. We heard recently that the guy is
now in prison for killing a man during an armed robbery and that he has a
brother in jail for holding up a poker game. Whether or not these reports are
true, I am certain he fingered our game. For one thing, he never showed up
again. Also he had lost a good deal of money in the game (more, in fact, than
he could possibly have regained in a three-way split of one night's loot). He
had contacts with underworld characters and I think harbored a good deal of
resentment toward our relatively sophisticated group. He did not belong.
men in the Huntsville game had sense enough to call the cops as soon as the
heisters left. The fuzz wanted to haul me in as a finger-man suspect, since I
had quit the session only five minutes before the event, but the players who
knew me as possibly only one poker player knows another said that I had not
done the thing. If I had I would have stayed put instead of leaving so
There are a few
precautions that will improve one's chances of finishing a poker game with his
pants still on. Avoid those professional and house games that do not provide
adequate protection for the customers. Why pay to play in a joint where such
protection is not provided? Of course, protection runs up the house's overhead
considerably and may result in too large a cut being taken from the pots.
Sometimes it becomes a question of being robbed quickly or slowly.