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Gavin Griffin: Sounding Off On Private Poker Games In Public Casino Cardrooms

Private Game Organizers Benefit From Casino Protections Without Having To Give Up Action


Gavin GriffinI started playing live poker in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex in the early 2000s, before there was a big poker room 60 minutes away from my dorm room at TCU. If I wanted to play live poker, I had to know where a private game was.

They weren’t that hard to find, honestly. You could ask around with people you knew or you could post on the poker forums and find a game pretty quickly. The first room where I played had a “liberal” raking policy. If you weren’t paying attention you might find your pot missing an extra red chip here and there. I was lucky enough to never experience it, but almost everyone I know who spent any decent amount of time in poker rooms in Texas at the time has either been raided by the police, cheated by the room where they were playing, and/or held up at gunpoint by robbers.

Those were the only places I could play, so I played. Then, I turned 21, got a job at an actual casino, and I haven’t returned to raked private games since.

Casinos offer security, game integrity, professional service, and free and open access to any game they spread. At least, at the levels I play they do. At the high-limits now, there is a new skill you need to play in casinos, knowing the right people.

All the way back in 2013, WSOP main event champion Greg Merson tweeted about being shut out of a game at Aria that was listed on the board and had open seats. Just this week, it has come back around with Jason Mercier starting the Twitter discussion on behalf of French high-stakes poker pro and 2017 WSOP main event final tablist Benjamin Pollak.

Sean McCormack, director of poker operations at Aria where the controversial game in question is being played, responded that “reserved gaming” is allowed in casinos and likened these games to televised games.

I think Sean knows that comparing these games to televised games is laughable as they aren’t for public consumption, but I also think that it’s hard for floor people to not capitulate to people who are setting up these big private games as they are probably being tipped quite a bit to make them happen. There is even a nice loophole, in that the casinos are allowed to offer reserved gaming at table games to people that play big enough and request it. I’m not a lawyer, nor am I fully familiar with how the law works in Vegas with regards to this.

I’m not against setting games up to start privately. I have been a part of a group that texts each other and plans to arrive at a casino at the same time to play a prescribed set of games at a prescribed limit. If everyone showed up and we all made got a seat to start the game, nobody else got a seat, but they could get on the list. I don’t see anything wrong with starting a game and working to get it together, ostensibly choosing the lineup of the game.

The problem comes when there are empty seats. Choosing who gets to sit in those seats is problematic. As I stated before, playing in a casino comes with some protections, but it also comes with some drawbacks. One of those is that games in a casino can be joined by anyone as long as there is an empty seat. The players choosing who gets to join after some have left is an unfair practice.

If these players want to have a private game where they get to choose who, when, and where it’s done, I’m sure several of them have very nice homes that could easily host such a game. They will lose the protections of the casino, but they’ll have full control of the game and it would probably cost them less in startup capital than they pay to the floor people. Chips, tables, and cards aren’t that expensive, and I’m sure they could find a very good dealer that would be willing to work for them. However, once they accept the protections a casino offers them, they should have to allow other people into their game, plain and simple.

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. You can follow him on Twitter @NHGG



over 3 years ago

Man , you should have taken a logic class at TCU. You can't understand someone "buying" a table for a private game? Maybe a restaurant should seat a couple of strangers at your dining table the next time your family goes out to dinner and there happens to be a chair or two open at your table? Seems like the only bitch you have is the game is listed on the board as if it was open. Did you ask them why they would do that if the game is not really open? That might make for a worthy discussion.


over 3 years ago

This is an asinine comment from someone who is ignorant or obtuse. If the government made it illegal to eat at home, then yes, we would complain if the restaurant told us that we could not eat because the “empty seats” were reserved by the patrons already seated..


over 3 years ago

The Seminole Hollywood Hard Rock has lost a number of regs (me being one of them) because they have a weekly Friday night PLO game that they insist is NOT private (because they “don’t allow private games”), yet somehow alllows the same cast of characters to call in a list of players, get their own table, fictitiously manufacture a game/stake if needed, perhaps even make names disappear off the list, mosey on in at whatever time they like - and even lock up empty seats, blocking players from joining them. A couple of us thought we could guarantee a seat by putting our names on every (related) list imaginable, while we played lower stakes for several hours in anticipation of the weekly game. While awaiting the bigger game to open, our names magically disappeared only moments before they walked in the room, started a new list with the 6-7 players present plus a few “shills” that were in the room (willing to get up when the desired players arrive) and names of another half-dozen players they were waiting to have join them. We were told the shift manager had no idea why our names were removed and that we would have to go to the bottom of the list. In fact, we attempted every idea we could come up with over 3-4 months and did not ever once get to play in the game. If I didn’t have (too much) respect for the management team there, I would have complained to the gaming department long ago. Instead, my rake is being paid elsewhere, as I went from playing there 4-5 days per week down to only a couple of times so far this year :(


over 3 years ago

Poker in a casino is considered a service, not gaming. The casino does not make money from the outcomes of the poker games, but rather by charging a fee to provide the service of hosting said poker games.
So now that it is considered a 'service' and not gaming, the patron rules of casino gaming do not always apply to poker. In gaming they can refuse action to anyone for any reason. Not so if it's a service, with a service you are expected to observe the laws pertaining to public service based businesses, mainly discrimination.
Now what a poker room actually does vs what they are supposed to do, are two totally different stories.