The Must-Know Dangers of Backroom and Underground Poker Games

Underground Casino Danger

If you’ve been in poker for a while, you’ve either played in these games or at the very least have heard of them. If you’re new to the game, you’ve probably seen them in movies like Rounders or Molly’s Game. What I’m talking about are poker games that don’t take place in a regulated space like an online cardroom or in a casino card room. I’m talking about backroom, underground poker games.

These are games that are run in the back room of a bar, someone’s basement, or even a rented-out apartment turned into a make-shift card room. They’re typically run by someone with a cool nickname like “Bagels” or “Fat Tony” and at first, glance seem like a great way for a skilled player to make some serious bank off of some easy fish. But not everything is always as it seems at first glance…

What I’d like to talk about today is first of all why these games are appealing, and then, more importantly, the risks and dangers you take by playing in them. These games are the definition of high-risk, high-reward. Hopefully, by the end of this blog, you can make a decision for yourself on whether or not you want to be playing in these backroom games.

The Allure of Backroom Games

There is a laundry list of reasons that someone might be interested in playing in one of these underground games. They’re not just reasons either; they’re good reasons. Heck, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that early in my poker career I found myself playing in a lot of these games. Here’s why these games can be so enticing.

First, they do an incredible job of attracting terrible players. Every single backroom game I’ve been invited too had been filled with players who thought they were great but were nothing more than a mediocre hometown hero. Additionally, players that were new to the game and were scared to try their luck at a real casino felt more comfortable coming to a game like this at someone’s house or outside of the hustle and bustle of a busy card room.

Second, these games are usually at the top of the food chain when it comes to convenience. You don’t usually see these games popping up just down the street from major card rooms. You’ll usually see them in smaller towns where the closest card room could be hours away if not further. They create an easy to get to place for poker enthusiasts to get their fix without having to jump on a plane and head to Vegas.

Additionally, these games will typically have a lot of amenities to cater to players. They’ll often have free food, free drinks, massage therapists, big TVs with popular sporting events on, and even sometimes someone willing to take sports bets. Basically, they do a lot more than the casino card rooms sometimes to attract and retain players.

The Dangers of These Games

All of that sounds, amazing, right? Well, duh, it definitely sounds amazing. Who doesn’t like a game that is right down the street, filled with terrible players, and caters to your comfort needs better than any Vegas card room unless you’re playing nosebleed stakes? The problem, though, is that there are a lot of dangers and “things that aren’t so great” that people tend to overlook when deciding to play in these games.

Today, I’m going to be the Debbie downer that brings all of this to light. I am not saying all of this to ruin your parade or get out some frustration with home games. The only reason that I am making this post is to hopefully open your eyes to some of the dangers that you may not be thinking about. Without further ado, let’s get into this.

The Rake

The first thing I want to talk about is not a risk to your physical health or safety, but it is a huge danger to your bankroll and your success in the game. The majority of the backroom games that I’ve seen or heard about more recently have been taking a monster rake. This might not sound like a huge deal if the game is filled with fish, but it’s something you need to be aware of. If the same nine guys and gals are trading money back and forth, the only person winning is the person running the game.

I’ve seen some backroom games where they’re taking money regardless of if there is a flop and taking upwards of $10 at times from the pot. Not to mention the person calculating the rake is not a professional, but some dude or dudette with a third-grade education. Do you think their mistakes are going to be in your favor or in favor of the person that is paying them to deal?

If the game is THAT juicy and filled with fish, you can afford to pay a high rake. But the game needs to be amazing if they’re dropping upwards of $10 a pot. At lower stakes like $1/$2 and $2/$5, this is going to rip through all of the money on the table pretty quickly. No wonder they can afford all the free drinks and food for you.


One of the things that your rake is paying for when you play in a brick and mortar card room or online is protection from cheating. At brick and mortar locations, they have cameras and trained personnel who know what to look for when it comes to cheating. They’ve seen everything, and they have systems in place to catch it and more importantly to deal with it.

At your backroom game, though, these systems are rarely in place. I say rarely to be nice in case there is one outlier somewhere, but I really should be saying that these are not in place. I’ve seen some home games where they’ve had some form of “security” or “surveillance”, but it is never going to be on par with the million-dollar systems and personnel that they have on staff at a regulated card room.

Additionally, the consequences for cheating at an underground game are always going to seem less than those you’d get at a regulated game. If you get caught cheating at a regulated room, you’re going to be arrested and probably serve some time in jail. If you get caught cheating at an underground game, you’ll probably get your butt beat and your money taken, but you most likely won’t have to deal with any issues with the law. This is because most of these underground games are illegal and they’re not going to risk themselves getting in trouble by calling the police. It’s the same reason that drug dealers don’t call the police when they’re robbed unless they are really, really high.

This not only goes for the players, but it also goes for the dealer. If a dealer in a regulated casino or card room gets caught cheating, they’re going to spend some serious time in jail and most likely struggle to find work for the rest of their life if they’re charged with a felony. At a home game, though, the person running the game is probably in on it if the dealer is cheating as well as some of the players in the game. That means that the repercussions are not going to be near as bad unless you or one of the other players in the game decides to take matters into their own hands. I’m guessing you weren’t planning on getting into the thug lifestyle when you decided you go play some poker for a few hours.


I hope you’re well aware of this already, but if not, I am going to bring you into the light. Almost all of these underground games being run are illegal. It is illegal almost everywhere in the US to run an unregulated poker game that is taking a rake and making a profit. This means that if you’re playing in these games, you are taking part in illegal gambling. If the game is raided, you would most likely be arrested and charged with some form of crime.

They won’t do that, though, right? They have bigger fish to fry? Well, I thought the same thing. Once I realized that this was not the case, I stopped going to these games. Ever since the early 2000s, police have been raiding home games with varying buy-in ranges even raiding games with buy-ins as low as $100! Just to be clear, I am referring to you the player being arrested. If you’re the one running the game or dealing, you’re in for a whole host of extra charges, but everyone is probably going down for something.


I saved the most dangerous aspect of these games for last. Backroom poker games are the epitome of a perfect target for thieves. You have a group of people who can’t call the cops, have a lot of cash with them, typically also are carrying expensive jewelry and sometimes drugs, and are focused and forced to be seated in a set area.

Honestly, if I were a criminal, backroom card games would be the main target that I went after. The reason that I wanted to write this entire blog was to make one point here that may come as a surprise to you. Thieves and criminals are not going after the huge games. They’re typically going after smaller $1/$2 or $2/$5 games in nice neighborhoods in “good” areas all across the US.

Let that sink in for a minute. You probably were reading this article thinking that I was referring to high-profile games or games that were in the ghettos of Chicago. No. I am referring to your buddy’s game that he runs at home in his basement while his kids are having a sleepover down the street. I’m referring to the game you go to all the time where you know everyone there, and you feel like you’re at home when you play there.

These are the games that are getting hit, and the robberies are fast and violent. I won’t share names, but just last week I had friends posting about a friend who was shot and killed because he was running an underground poker game. Last year I had a friend who had a shotgun put to the back of his head while he played in a local $1/$2 game. All of his money and jewelry was stolen, and he was struck in the back of the head with the butt of the gun.

These are real people that I personally know that were just looking to play a little poker. They never imagined that the game they were going to was going to be robbed. They assumed they were safe because they knew the person running the game well, knew most of the players playing in the game well, and the game was in a nice area in a nice neighborhood.

The Takeaway

Look, I completely understand the allure of playing in these games. It’s easy money, it’s convenient, and it makes you feel like you’re Mike McDermott from Rounders. I get it. It’s a poker player’s dream scenario. The problem, though, is that there are way too many variables and risks that you can’t control. You might find yourself paying too much to the house, getting cheated by other players or the house itself, getting arrested, or worst of all you could find yourself robbed, beat up, or even killed.

You are not invincible, and your game you play in is not either. Drive the extra few miles to the card room or get an online poker account. The game really can’t be that soft.

Petko Stoyanov
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About Petko Stoyanov
My name is Petko Stoyanov, and I've been a gambling writer for more than ten years. I guess that was the natural path for me since I've loved soccer and card games for as long as I can remember! I have a long and fairly successful history with English Premier League betting and online poker, but I follow many other sports. I watch all big European soccer leagues, basketball, football, and tennis regularly, and I keep an eye on snooker, volleyball, and major UFC events.