The underground world of high-stakes poker was ripped open in the early hours of the morning when a pair of masked gunmen blasted their way into a secret card game in a hookah lounge in the Hollywood Hills, killing an armed security guard. The lounge was a front, investigators say, for what they are calling a major underground casino.

Shortly after 4 a.m. on May 31, LAPD officers responded to calls of shots fired in the 3300 block of Cahuenga Blvd. They found that two masked and armed robbers had stormed the rear entrance of a club that investigators say played host to high-stakes poker games, and shot a security guard who confronted them. The 33 year-old guard was shot multiple times and died at the scene. He has yet to be identified. Several people who were inside the club at the time of the robbery are cooperating with homicide detectives.

Investigators say that high-stakes underground card games are ramping up in L.A. And while such “underground casinos” are known to attract robbers, those robberies often go unreported because the victim, like the perpetrator, is operating outside the bounds of the law. But the deadly turn of the robbery in this case has offered a glimpse into a secretive world. 

The scene of the crime was a nondescript hookah bar that doubles as a banquet hall that is the permanent home of the Los Angeles MAF Club, a members-only gaming establishment. The website of the MAF Club advertises the club as the home of the “MAFIA games” and boasts of games “played simultaneously in 2 professional red and black rooms in Russian, English and Armenian every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday.” One source with knowledge of the investigation called the poker operation “significant.” 

Neighbors nicknamed the MAF Club the Mafia Club. They said Ferraris or Lamborghinis became a common sight when the club opened a few years ago and became accustomed to seeing men and women in evening dress weaving across Cahuenga Blvd at sunrise.

“The crowd out front reminded me of the gangster hangout in A Bronx Tale,’” said one employee of a neighboring business. “A bunch of Middle Easterners and Russian wiseguys standing around smoking beside their luxury cars.” 

Investigators say that the perpetrators appear to have targeted the location knowing it was a secret gambling establishment, and that it was possible that they were current or former members.

The LAPD has yet to name any suspects.