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Private Games in Public Places

by Gavin Griffin |  Published: Mar 25, 2020


Gavin GriffinI’ve written about private games before. There has been plenty of discussion in the poker community in the past about what a public space, like a casino, can do to encourage or discourage private games and still remain within gaming regulations. I’m in danger of looking like a hypocrite since I’ve been playing in a private-public game recently, so I wanted to write to express my feelings and what I think the differences are between the game I’ve been playing in and the ones that were causing so many bad feelings in Las Vegas over the last few years.

There are reasons why private home games are popular in the Southern California area. You get to invite who you want and you don’t have to play in public where people can see how much money you’re winning or losing on a nightly basis. This is very important to the celebrity culture of this part of the country. They want to be able to do what they want without being exposed for it or ending up in TMZ the next day.

Of course, celebrities aren’t the only people around here that play in home games. The ability to recruit the players you want and be sure that you’re always in a good game is a great reason to host a home game. Bringing your game to a casino has its advantages as well. You don’t have to buy chips, cards, and tables. You have security on site to deter people from coming to your game with nefarious intent. You are protected legally as the casino has a license. Perhaps most of all, though, you always get paid at a casino. You don’t have to worry about playing on credit or someone’s check bouncing. The money is there and it’s backed, again by the gaming license.

So, a culture of private public games started to pop up. Because people wanted the protection of a casino and the control of a private list, many high-stakes players started arranging games via text and all showing up at the same time to start a game. There is nothing wrong with this, in my opinion. Having control over who gets seats in a game that you worked to put together is a privilege that should be afforded to anyone willing to bring business like that to a casino. In fact, if you have too many people that want to play the game, you should be able to decide who gets first priority to be on the list when a seat opens up as well.

It’s good for you as the organizer as you get to choose the players you want to play with and it’s good for the rest of the people in the game because you now have bargaining power with the casinos. You can shop your game around to see which one wants to give you the best rake. This is where the private game aspect should end.

Unfortunately, what had been happening in the past and what people were getting upset about is that once a seat opened and there wasn’t a name on the board that had been put together by the host of the game, they would say that the empty seat was locked up for a sometimes real and sometimes fictional “player who was on the way.”

“The board just got messed up you see. Our mistake.”

When you start denying customers a seat in a game because they weren’t on the private list that has run out, now you’re not running a semi-private game, you’re running a completely private one.

The game in which I’ve been playing is one I’d call a semi-private game. In fact, I almost never make it into the starting lineup for the game. I understand why, and I haven’t complained about it. All I’ve asked for is to be a part of the private list, and the hosts of the game have been obliging on that point. I’m grateful for the work they put in to get this game going, as it’s been a good one for me overall.

I try to live my life and participate in my career as a poker player in a way in which I can be proud of the things that I do. Being a professional poker player has come a long way in how it’s viewed in the 16 years I’ve been doing it. I have definitely made mistakes in those years. I’ve learned from each of them and I understand that making mistakes both while playing poker and while operating in the world of poker players has an impact on my reputation and how I’m seen. I wish I could have a redo on a few of the things I’ve done as a poker player. This is a position I feel strongly about and I don’t feel like I’m contradicting myself by having spoken out against private games in public casinos in the past and now playing in a semi-private game at my local casino and I’m looking forward to my next invite. ♠

Gavin GriffinGavin Griffin was the first poker player to capture a World Series of Poker, European Poker Tour and World Poker Tour title and has amassed nearly $5 million in lifetime tournament winnings. Griffin is sponsored by You can follow him on Twitter @NHGG