The term railbird was always meant to be derogatory and I use it in that very sense. While the term may have originated in horse racing and even there it was used in a demeaning manner to describe the hard core down on their luck addicted horse players that gather at the rail day after to day to cheer on their horse. The term was brought into poker many years ago to describe the hard luck busted out losing players that always hang around the poker room trying to beg a few bucks off the players to get back into the game. The term seemed a natural fit because people watching poker games are forced to stand behind the rail.

Currently the word has been expanded to include anyone who watches a poker game and does not necessarily mean the person is a busted out broke loser like it once did. Notice the picture above for an example of the type of railbird that is totally acceptable in poker today. The term is even applied to online poker for the people who lurk and watch the action. The term railbird no longer carries quite the same stigma it once did in the poker world. That is not to say that it has changed in horse racing where still carries a pretty heavy connotation.

In most large card rooms there is a collection of regular railbirds of the busted out variety. All card rooms handle the problem differently and for the most part if the railbird knows a player that will vouch for him and he is not caught begging he is free to stand around and watch the games for hours. As a general rule the higher the stakes the game the more privacy afforded the players. At the highest limits the game will be held in a separate room or in an area separated from the rest of the room. These higher limit games often have a physical barrier known as a rail that forces spectators to remain at a distance.

The real problem with railbirds is that many of them are poker players and often they have played for years before they have gone broke. These busted players will borrow from other players and get back into action as long as somebody is willing to give them more money. Finally, the railbird reaches a point where he can no longer borrow money from anyone he knows and is now forced to beg from everyone in hopes of getting together one more buy-in. At this point the railbird is hurting the card room and should no longer be allowed in the room.

The large card room in downtown Fresno is Club One and it has a few well known railbirds that are truly down and out. These guys are homeless and have no money and really are just begging to get by in life. They jump into the $1-2 limit hold’em game anytime they can get a $10 stake from somebody. They always think that the next time will be the one that turns it around and sadly that is never the case. One of the guys is in such bad shape that my friends literally offer him the food they have left over when they eat. Yes, his food comes from eating off other peoples’ plates after they are done. There are a few women that are in just as bad shape and willing to do anything to get a buy-in.

As a personal plea to other poker players I would ask that you never give money to anyone begging at the card room. I would also ask that card room staff ban these people from the facility. There really is no place in poker for these people and they need more help than a simple meal or a twenty dollar buy-in. Besides if poker is to become main stream we need to clean our image up.


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