Poker players say police dealt them bad hand

Amateur poker players present during Saturday’s bust by San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office deputies and state gambling-control agents say they were shocked to learn they were playing alongside undercover officers and baffled by the arrests of two of their friends.

Cutberto “Bert” Cardenas, 42, was arrested on suspicion of fraudulently obtaining money under false pretenses. Cardenas, who frequently held poker parties at his Eichler Heights home in unincorporated San Mateo, and Patricia “Trish” McCoy, 47, of Hillsborough, were also arrested on suspicion of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, San Mateo County Sheriff’s Lt. Marc Alcantara said.

McCoy is charged with regularly letting her 13-year-old son play poker. The group of players said the boy was an adept player. One of the charges against Cardenas stems from having his 13-year-old daughter in the house during games, though she did not gamble, Alcantara said.

The players group, which advertised on Meetup.com, typically required a $25 to $55 buy-in, said Alcantara and members of the group. An additional refreshment fee of $5 was collected as well.

On Monday, members of the group described it as a low-key circle of people, mostly professionals in their 30s and 40s, interested in meeting friends.

San Mateo resident Jason Moungey said about 20 “core members” of the group were about 30 minutes into their game when they heard a pounding at Cardenas’ door Saturday.

“Someone joked, ‘It’s probably the cops.’ It was something funny to say because that sort of thing doesn’t happen to people like us,” Moungey said.

About 10 officers stormed into the home with guns drawn, Moungey and other witnesses said. Cardenas and McCoy were taken out of the home and each player was interviewed and photographed.

“A lot of people were red in the face and scared,” Moungey said.

Investigators say they believe Cardenas was skimming money off the top of the buy-in fees, Alcantara said, who added that the $5 refreshment fee was also illegal.

Belmont resident Luke DeSantos, also at Saturday’s game, said the charges against Cardenas are difficult to believe.

“Bert is just an avid poker lover and started the group so he could play more. He barely ever wins,” DeSantos said.

Cardenas and McCoy are both out on bail and did not return calls for comment. Their arraignment is scheduled for Feb. 19.

tbarak@examiner.com  

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