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Illegal Midtown Poker Ring Vows to Continue After NYPD Raid

By Mathew Katz | March 5, 2014 8:37am
 A poker game hosted by Social Poker.
A poker game hosted by Social Poker.
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MIDTOWN — Operators of an illegal Midtown poker ring have vowed to stay open despite an NYPD raid and a lawsuit filed against them by the city.

The Feb. 25 lawsuit aims to shut down a no-limits Texas Hold 'em poker ring the city says is illegally operating out of a West 46th Street building where players gamble thousands of dollars and use drugs, according to court documents.

Wendy's Club, on the fourth floor of 31 W. 46th St., has been targeted by several NYPD investigations. It was raided by the NYPD's vice squad on Sept. 25, when officers found more than 20 people playing poker and arrested six people for promoting gambling, according to court records.

The club's organizers and promoters said they planned to continue to host games, despite the risk of arrest.

 Police found poker chips, thousands in cash, and drugs when raided a West 46th Street poker hotspot.
City Wants to Shut Down Poker Ring
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In interviews with DNAinfo New York, organizers freely admitted what they do is illegal — and even admitted that police found drugs — but said the business was too lucrative and punishment too mild to stop.

The club has since moved but continues to host games, according to its head organizer, who identified himself as Jason but declined to give a last name.

"The reward is much greater than the risk," he said.

"If I get arrested, it's not going to bother me because they'll just charge me with promotion of gambling and it will be charged as a misdemeanor."

Investigators found $8,605 in cash, five plastic bags of cocaine and more than a pound of marijuana during the raid, the lawsuit said. The six people arrested were also charged with criminal possession of marijuana.

Authorities did not name the ring in court documents, but one of the arrested players and the Wendy's Club's promoters and organizers confirmed many of the details of the raid.

The city hopes to get $1,000 for every day there were poker games at the "unlawful gambling establishment" from both the building's owner, 31 W. 46th St. Realty LLC, and the games' organizers.

According to documents, an undercover officer was able to buy hundreds of dollars worth of poker chips and play games on three different occasions in September.

"Since September 3, 2013, inclusive, the subject premises have been the site of at least four separate investigations of illegal gambling, in addition to the execution of the search warrant," wrote NYPD attorney Evan Gluck in the suit.

"The individuals operating this establishment and gambling participants appeared to have evinced a 'business as usual' attitude in the subject premises."

Jason said he was present during the raid but not arrested and admitted that there was a pound of marijuana at the location at the time of the raid.

He said the club takes a percentage of the profits and makes "a decent amount" from the games. 

Jeremy Martin, a promoter for the club whose website Social Poker is used to connect interested players to games, described the club as having a strong following, but said there was little drug use there.

"It can be anything goes and we can't control what vices people bring in," he said. "It's mostly a social thing — some guys stay out and play pool, some people do that with poker."

Christopher Fleming, 25, a longtime poker player who was arrested during the raid, said the games have an air of secrecy around them.

"This is a very mouth to mouth, underground operation," Fleming said. "The only other place to play is Atlantic City, and that's two hours away."

Fleming denied that there were drugs during games. He said games typically attracted between 10 and 15 people and that participants were usually "familiar faces."

Police also arrested Joel Lyons, 31, Billy Chen, 30, and Ronee Barua, 29, in the raid. All three did not respond to requests for comment. The building's landlord also could not be reached for comment.

"In terms of repercussions, I've gotten in trouble before and it's just a community service fine, the equivalent of smoking marijuana," Martin said.

"I'm happy to keep being a friendly poker player in New York City."