On a quiet weeknight among the stately manors of Great Falls, ten men sat around a table in the basement of a private home last November playing high stakes poker. Suddenly, masked and heavily armed SWAT team officers from the Fairfax County Police Department burst through the door, pointed their assault rifles at the players and ordered them to put their hands on the table. The players complied. Their cash was seized, including a reported $150,000 from the game’s host, and eight of the ten players were charged with the Class 3 misdemeanor of illegal gambling, punishable by a maximum fine of $500. The minimum buy-in for the game was $20,000, with re-buys allowed if you lost your first twenty grand.
This was not your everyday cash game with the neighbors. The buy-in was twice what it costs to enter the World Series of Poker’s main event in Las Vegas (though the Great Falls players did not have to pay the whole $20,000 up front). Two established poker pros were at the Great Falls table and another was hosting the game, taking a roughly 1.5 percent cut from the buy-ins to pay for two dealers and two assistants to make coffee runs or give massages to the players.