The NYPD has arrested Geeta Singh for working an illegal poker game in New York. Singh called herself the “LeBron James of Poker” and was also allegedly found with stashes of cocaine and heroin.
Singh was arrested in Atlanta and flown to New York two weeks after the police raid on the game on Aug. 3. In the raid, a total of 32 people were arrested, $125,000 in cash was seized together with two pounds of cocaine.
The game was operated from a mall apartment on Sixth Avenue, officially, the Avenue of the Americas, in Manhattan. Players paid $200 to get a seat or $500 for the VIP room on a different floor of the apartment.
According to reports, Singh was paid around $250,000 a year for her work and used the mobile app Meetup to recruit players.
The numbers are small beer when compared to the games Molly Bloom used to run and which formed the basis for the film, “Molly’s Game.”
Nevertheless, the drugs charges will mean that Singh is likely to receive serious jail time compared to the one year of probation awarded to Bloom, if she is convicted.
Poker prohibition isn’t working
Singh’s bust is just another in a series of arrests carried out in New York over the past few years. The Molly Bloom case involved charges against 34 people and hit the headlines because games were attended by A-list Hollywood celebrities. Connections to the Russian mafia didn’t hurt either.
The most famous of the celebrities involved were Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon.
Normally being involved in an illegal activity is enough to be the kiss of death to a celebrity’s career, but these celebs have suffered no stigma and no publicity backlash. If anything their cool factor has increased.
Molly Bloom has done pretty well out of the deal too—she was played by two-time Academy Award nominee Jessica Chastain in the film, and her Wikipedia entry now begins:
“Molly Bloom (born April 21, 1978) is an American entrepreneur, keynote speaker, and author of the 2014 memoir Molly’s Game: The True Story of the 26-Year-Old Woman Behind the Most Exclusive, High-Stakes Underground Poker Game in the World!.”
The absence of negative consequences for the stars and the continued proliferation of illegal poker games should point politicians to the fact that something isn’t right with the law.
New York politicians can’t get it together on poker legislation
After the Department of Justice (DOJ) reversed its opinion on the Wire Act in December 2011, power to legislate online poker was returned to the states.
New York politicians began to get legislation on the books as early as 2013, when Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow introduced a bill to authorize games such as poker, blackjack, craps, roulette and slot machines at land-based casinos.
Pretlow’s bill didn’t include online poker, but he was heavily lobbied to add it in an amendment. Pretlow remained unconvinced, concerned about the risks of cheating and collusion online.
In early 2014, State Sen. John Bonacic added his weight by introducing S 6913 which specifically included online poker. This was quickly supported by an Assembly bill, this time sponsored by Gary Pretlow, chairman of the State Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee.
The bills went nowhere, a pattern that has been repeated each year. In 2016 and 2017 the state Senate succeeded in passing online poker legislation, but couldn’t get the Assembly to go along.
The most recent attempts ended in June this year when Pretlow said that he was just eight Democratic votes short of passing his A5250 bill.
“I had 30 Republicans but I couldn’t use them. You can’t get 50 Democrats and 30 Republicans. That’s not how it works in New York. You need 76 Democrats to pass something. If the bill came to the floor, it would have passed with at least 90 votes.”
Maybe 2019 will be different, but as long as New York remains deadlocked on gambling legislation, the illegal poker rooms will continue and players with no options other than to play at offshore sites will do so without any form of consumer protection.
There will be more Molly Blooms and more Geeta Singhs as New Yorkers refuse to be deterred from playing America’s national card game.