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Mobtown Beat

Game Over

Police Raid Charles Village Poker Game

SUCKER BET: A web page advertising the recently raided "Greek Game," which ran out of a Charles Village rowhouse.

By Van Smith | Posted 5/9/2007

"I'm just completely petrified now," Bryan Hillman, 41, says over the phone on April 25, six days after Baltimore City police raided a Charles Village poker game where he was playing. "I'm done. No more poker. It's just lost its appeal to me. I had only gone two times, and that night I brought exactly $100. I had this notion that they were charity games and there were permits. That's just my being very naive."

That night Hillman was in attendance at a regular poker game held at an end-of-row Charles Village home at Calvert and 31st streets called the Greek Game. The game's organizers touted it on the internet as being a "private, not for profit charity poker club," patronized by "mostly college aged guys in a fraternity (in the greek system), and we run the game in our frat house." Over the months it operated since last fall, it advertised online for players ("we pay $100 per referral to our club"), dealers ("looking for fit, fun, friendly and attractive females to deal poker naked"), and a housekeeper ("only one hour each morning").

The home where the Greek Game operated, 3101 N. Calvert St., is not a fraternity house, but a rowhouse owned by a local doctor. Though some of the players belonged to nearby fraternities associated with Johns Hopkins University, the main organizer was a former professional poker dealer, well past his college-aged years. A public-records search reveals that the Greek Game was neither an incorporated entity nor a registered charitable organization in Maryland. By all appearances, the Greek Game was a standard, run-of-the-mill, fly-by-night poker operation, where players paid a fee to play. Since poker is illegal in Maryland, the odds were that the Greek Game would get busted, given the very public manner in which it was operated.

The morning after the April 19 police raid, the discussion board on www.md-poker.com was abuzz about it. "Ok, everyone raise your hand if you thought the Greek Game WOULDN'T get raided/robbed!" one post reads. "Anyone that runs a game 3 nights a week, promotes it publicly, and has topless dealers is asking to be busted."

City Paper attempted to interview 26 Greek Game players whose contact information was obtained from a list of 242 people who played there. Many who were reached cut the conversation short. Some had criminal records for armed robbery and other gun crimes, drug dealing, assault, counterfeit trademarks, and theft. Many were college-aged, but many were in their late 20s and early 30s, and some where in their 40s and 50s. Only one player on the list whom City Paper reached--Marshall Bell, the brother and former campaign manager of former City Council president Lawrence Bell, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 1999--denied playing at the Greek Game, though he admitted knowing it had been raided. The man identified by several sources as the game's main organizer did not respond to phone calls and an e-mail seeking comment.

Several players who were reached by phone--but were not in attendance the night the game was busted by police--did not speak highly of the game or its organizers. "I only played there one time. I didn't like it. I just felt that they were cheating," says Jason Rent, 27, from Bel Air. "I saw this one guy lose like $3,000 in an hour." Another player, who attends the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis and spoke on condition of anonymity, says that "the guy who ran it was a somewhat disgusting individual. He was telling all sorts of stories about cheating at cards. It was a pretty shady game, not worth the drive for us." Jordan Chiaruttini, a Pennsylvanian who played there with a friend, says he "didn't go back because the two guys who were running the show made us nervous. I can find other games to play in that I know aren't set. I'm glad they got caught."

The Baltimore Police Department public affairs office was unable to locate a copy of the vice squad's report in time for this article, so Hillman's account of the police raid was all that was available as of press time. Game players and organizers have yet to be charged in court, so the identities of those nabbed are not yet known publicly.

"At least 25 people were playing," Hillman recalls, "and I went out back in the courtyard to smoke. I saw two regular cars pull up, and cops get out. Then there was this incredibly loud bang from the front of the building. All these idiot kids ran out the back and were escorted back into the house by the cops." Everyone present was interviewed individually by the police, Hillman says, and they were told they would be receiving court summonses charging them with gambling.

Hillman says he was apologetic when the police interviewed him. "I was just like, `I'm really sorry,'" he says. "And the sergeant said, `It's OK, you're not a bad person.'"

Hillman says the Greek Game appeared highly professional. "There were guys there with stacks of chips close to $1,000--there was some big money on that table," he says. "There were four dealers, one woman cooking food in the kitchen, and one woman on the computer. They had a register where the money goes, T-shirts promoting the game, business cards--all the things that make up a legitimate business. The thing was so public, it was hard to believe it wouldn't be legit."

Several of the Greek Game players contacted for this article had heard that armed gunmen had robbed the place last December. One, who asked not to be named, says he was there when it happened. "It was right before the Christmas break," the player recalls. "And I had been playing for three or four hours when there was a commotion at the front door, and in came a dude with a bandanna over his face and a hoodie on, holding a gun, and another guy with a gun with a turtleneck fleece pulled up over his nose, who definitely looked familiar--I think he had played there before. They made everybody stand up, and the people upstairs were brought downstairs, and they took the house stash and everybody's wallets. They said stupid stuff, like, `Don't follow us.' They were in and out within four minutes. I'm estimating that they made off with at least $2,000, maybe $3,000."

The robbery victim says no one called the police to report the crime. "That really sucked because that kind of shit should be reported," he says. "But who's going to report it? No one was calling the cops, everyone was calling their banks to cancel their credit cards. When the house reopened, they had a security overhaul with cameras installed, players had to be referred, they took more information about you, you had to have a driver's license." When the game reopened, he says, the organizers paid him back in chips to make up for the money that had been stolen by the robbers.

"I probably was in there a total of 50 or 60 times," he continues, "like two, three nights a week. I was a regular and I was up--probably about $400 overall. I had my big nights and I had my losing nights. That was my bread and butter, dude--the Greek Game. Why go to Atlantic City?"

A Hopkins student, who played there and also asked not to have his name disclosed, sums up the situation, given the robbery and the police raid: "The moral of the story is to play at casinos. Everything at the Greek Game seemed fine and trustworthy, but in the back of your mind it's shady, because it is illegal."

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