Illegal Netherlands live poker room busted while operating above Covid rapid-test facility

Haley Hintze
Published by:
Posted on 01/02/2022

One of the more interesting tales of an illegal underground poker game being busted comes to us from the Netherlands, though it’s a less underground game than most. It’s quite a ways aboveground by comparison. The illegal game busted on Tuesday by authorities in The Hague was operating on the third floor of a business center largely occupied by medical facilities and offices. Those include a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) “rapid test” facility for COVID-19 exposure

Few details about the game itself have emerged, though multiple Dutch news outlets reported the arrest of a 39-year-old man on money laundering charges connected to the room’s operation. Dutch privacy laws generally bar the names of persons arrested and charged from being published, though enough details about the game’s origins have emerged to make it one of the more interesting poker busts of late.

It’s the second time that the same business center, in The Hague’s Kerketuinenweg district. In 2018, when the building’s current owner, Resul Özdemir, acquired the facility, a bridge club called Gravenhaagsche Bridgeschool operated on the building’s ground floor, under a five-year lease, but the bridge school turned out to be a front for illegal poker games, Özdemir told the Netherlands’ De Stentor outlet. The bridge school’s lease in the building was cancelled in 2020.

That crackdown resulted in the facility being dormant for some time and delayed Özdemir’s plans to convert the facility into a home for several different types of medical practices. The COVID-19 pandemic created a business opportunity for the ground floor to house the rapid-test facility, and a second medical business catering to chronically ill patients also moved in, but there was still plenty of space to rent. “A group recently rented the space on the third floor temporarily to organize meetings. I explained to them the rules of the building, gave them the key and went on holiday myself,” Özdemir told multiple outlets.

Over 20 players detained briefly during Tuesday raid

Local authorities, in partnership with The Hague’s Tax Authorities and Enforcement Division, raided the four-story building at about 10 pm on Tuesday. A photographer from The Hague’s Regio15 was on scene during the raid and offered a pictorial report of the crackdown. The photographs capture activity occurring on the building’s third floor, as seen from the street, and also show officers recording details of the “expensive vehicles” present by alleged participants in the game.

Except for the single man arrested, a Rijswijk resident believed to be the game’s operator, all the players and non-management workers had their identities recorded and were then released. Authorities also seized one vehicle, a large amount of cash, and numerous gambling-related items.

Increasing interest in the late-night activity at the room likely spurred the raid. An employee at an event agency also located in the building told De Stentor that she’d encountered numerous poker tables in a communal storage room, but she denied knowing more about the underground operation. “I don’t even play poker,” she told the outlet.

Image source: Simple Wikipedia / Rene Mensen – https://www.flickr.com/photos/renemensen/10124227324/ (Creative Commons 2.0)