I have been attending games in Austin’s underground poker for several years now. I can remember just 5 years ago when there were only 4-5 games that made with any consistency. All of those games were self-dealt. They usually ran one, sometimes two times a week. There was a relatively small circle of players and it wasn’t uncommon for most of these games to only run 6 hours in a night. One place played dealers choice, another was Holdem, another was Omaha, and another played Big Mitt. The limits varied, but it seemed that the majority of them were pot limit.
Fast forward to 2005. A couple players and I were sitting around the poker table and made a list of known games. I am not sure if we figured out all of the as we started struggling to remember some games when we hit 34. THIRTY-FOUR! Can you imagine? Considering that each game runs at least twice a week and the average is more like three times a week, we are talking a cumulative number of over 100 weekly games in Austin Metro. I would be willing to make a bet that there are at least 10 more that I am unaware of.
Let’s think about this a minute. Now there are limit games, pot limit games, no limit games. These games have minimum buy-ins ranging from $20-$300. When you look around the table to see how much total money is in play, you will find some games with significantly less money ($300) at one end of the spectrum and likewise, significantly more ($50K) at the other end of the spectrum.. It really depends on the type of game (Holdem/Omaha/etc), the limits (structured, pot, spread, no), the minimum buy-ins/ re-buys, the number of players over the course of the night, and the type of action those players give (loose-aggressive/tight-passive/etc). Assuming that the mean buy-in is $100, that the average player will re-buy once, and that the average table has 15 players over the course of the night, we can then expect the average table will have at least $3000 in play. With 34+ games in town running 3 nights a week with $3000 in play, we are talking an industry that is putting NO LESS than $15 million a year into play……and that is JUST IN AUSTIN. Assuming that DFW and Houston are 3-4 times bigger than Austin, and pulling a number out of my ass for the rest of the State, I figure that the poker industry in Texas is worth no less than $250 million per annum. At an 8% tax rate, Texas could easily generate $20 million in additional tax revenue if they would just regulate the industry. In fact, $20 million is just the tip of the iceberg. By regulating the industry, you would allow the poker underground to become a legitimate business where game runners could freely advertise their games and players could play without fear of prosecution. At the moment, players who fear prosecution must either go to Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, or Louisiana to play. And you can bet your last dollar that they do go there to play. Texas loses millions of dollars in tax revenue and commerce every day of the week as players travel out of state and willingly support our neighbor’s school funds, roads, and other infrastructures. Why do you think one of the biggest lobby groups in Austin against gambling in Texas is from Louisiana? Makes you wonder doesn’t it?
What are the repercussions of this? Well, anytime you start talking about substantial amounts of money in an unregulated industry, some type of undesirable element always seems to show up. One element has been the number of robberies. Austin isn’t the safest place when it comes to robberies. As an example, there were 35 different bank robberies in Austin in 2004. That is nearly 3 robberies a month. Without a doubt, banks have greater security than any poker game, and yet they were rolled 35 times. Since November 2004, I am aware of 4 robberies of poker games. Luckily no one has been seriously hurt in any of these robberies, but a couple of cases did involve minor injuries to players, let alone the major injuries to their bank rolls.
Additionally, I have now heard the absolutely worst news I could hear about a game in town. I have been told by a reliable source that there is a game in town in which you have virtually no shot at winning as they allegedly have put in marked decks as a way to fleece their patrons. Can you believe this? These aren’t off brand decks either; they are KEM and COPAG decks and sell for $99.99-$199.99. See here: Marked Decks. This is another argument to regulate the industry. While I agree that the industry is somewhat self-regulating, this is clearly an abuse that players may not be able to determine on their own. For the most part, if a game is badly run, or is over charged, players will find another place to play, or at least the smart ones will. A game that has no players won’t last very long. The list of failed games in Austin is a very long one for this reason. However, if everything else seems to be in order and you don’t know that you are being cheated, what protection is there?
Now let me say while I have found some significant issues similar to the one I posted here Action...Reaction at games around town, almost all of the games are on the level and are not intentionally trying to cheat you. You are more likely to find a couple of players trying to collude in a game than a game which uses marked decks. Still, a wise player will be ever watchful. Players beware.
So what do I make of all of this? Well, I’ll continue to play and hope that our legislature can get their heads out of their asses and wake up to the society they live in. I’ll hope that game runners will be more diligent about providing a service that is above reproach, and that players will be more observant about the games they attend and demand the service they deserve.