Police in San Mateo County, California apparently first spent months investigating the small-stakes poker game. From this firsthand account, it looks like a couple of the officers were playing regularly for several weeks before sending in the SWAT team, guns drawn, last week. If California is like most states (and I believe it is), a poker game is only illegal if the house is taking a rake off the top. In this case, it looks like that "rake" was the $5 the extra the hosts asked from each buy-in to pay for pizza and beer.
Police also took a 13-year-old girl out of the home, away from her parents, and turned her over to child protective services. In addition to the charge of running an illegal gambling operation, the hosts are also charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Good thing the poor girl was saved before slouching toward an inevitable life of crime.
I'm not quite sure I understand this part, either:
A background check on the house's residents led officers to a Web site advertising weekly poker games. The Web site was used to lure "unwitting" participants to the tournaments, which required a $25 to $55 buy-in with an extra $5 "refreshment" fee, according to the report.
How does an advertisement for a small-stakes poker game "unwittingly lure" someone? Did they think the game was free? If they did, was there something preventing them from simply leaving if they didn't want to pay the buy-in?
This account suggests the police hinted to individual players that the hosts may have been cheating or defrauding them, though that's not apparent in the news accounts. Firsthand accounts on poker sites have only good things to say about the hosts. Of course, even if the hosts were cheating, it wouldn't justify a full-on raid, particularly in mid-tournament. The SWAT tactics seem more like intimidation. Raiding in mid-tournament also ensures there's a $1,300 pot to seize for the sheriff department's general fund.
Finally, the San Mateo Daily Journal includes this helpful note:
The San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office encourages citizens to report instances of heavy foot traffic, frequent visitors and illegal parking in residential areas by calling its anonymous tip line...
Mustn't be much crime in San Mateo.
MORE: Check the comments for posts from poker players at the raid.
MORE II: Correction to this post here.