Sunday, November 11, 2007
Killing Sends Tremors Through City’s Illegal Poker Scene
Poker is big business these days. Even our Las Vegas Showgirls over at Goddesschess did an article awhile back about big stakes poker and the women who play it. So, I can imagine the kind of shock waves the recent murder of a poker player in New York City has caused: By THOMAS J. LUECK Published: November 11, 2007 For years, they have operated in the shadows of Manhattan. With names like Straddle, the Fairview, Playstation and the New York Players Club, they are remarkably well organized, but nonetheless illegal: poker clubs that attract thousands of players at all hours of the day and night. The players run the gamut, from cabdrivers to retired accountants, with a remarkably large contingent of young, well-paid professionals — people who consider themselves law-abiding citizens and play only for the love of the calculated bluff or the well-played wager. Their numbers have grown swiftly as poker has vaulted into the spotlight of American pop culture. Texas Hold ’Em tournaments compete for prime-time TV viewers, and the image of the dimly lighted, vaguely sinister poker game has claimed a favored spot in movies. (In a current thriller, “Michael Clayton,” George Clooney first appears on the screen as an emotionally taut player in a back-room poker club in Chinatown.) In reality, Manhattan’s players are part of a secretive network of “members,” who can join games only after being vouched for by others. Once they are in, they make their way to small, unremarkable office buildings, passing security guards hired solely to protect the club, and enter a clean, well-lighted world of civilized, even businesslike gamesmanship, according to several players who were interviewed. Most agreed to speak only if their names were not disclosed because they did not want to attract the attention of the police. “I have never seen anything like a criminal element,” said one, a 29-year-old producer for one of Manhattan’s best known broadcasting companies who has been a regular in the poker clubs for five years. “It more closely resembles a retirement home bridge party.” But that was hardly the atmosphere at 11 p.m. on Nov. 2, when armed robbers in masks forced their way into a crowded club called the City Limit that had been operating for less than two weeks in a seventh-floor office, above a gym, a graphics business and a real estate office, in an unadorned building at 28th Street and Fifth Avenue. One player, Frank DeSena, a former math professor from New Jersey who was a familiar and well-liked presence on the poker club scene, was killed by an intruder’s shotgun. There have been no arrests in the case, and the police have declined to confirm published reports that the robbers pointed a gun at the head of a security guard to gain entry, and accidentally fired the shot that killed Mr. DeSena. The killing led to an obvious conclusion — that armed criminals knew the location of at least one supposedly secret club — and sent tremors through the closed circle of Manhattan players and club operators. Rest of story.