The Politics of Poker and Why It's Time to Legalize Online Gaming

When California State Senator Roderick Wright attempted to legalize online poker with SB 1463, he sold it as a way to help patch up California's busted budget , which is indeed in dire trouble. Surprisingly, the strongest resistance came not from the ever-more-irrelevant anti-gambling moralists, but from powerful pro-gaming special interests clinging to lucrative state-granted privilege.

 "There's no way that we can do something that might be the death knell for our industry," says David Quintana, lobbyist for the California Tribal Business Alliance, which opposes any form of online poker legalization on the grounds that it could negatively affect the economic activity of California's Indian tribes. talked with Quintana as well as with poker player, entrepreneur, and pro-poker lobbyist Steve Miller about the complicated politics of online poker, which is regulated on a federal level by the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (or UIGEA), a vague piece of last-minute legislation that prohibits financial institutions from accepting transactions related to "unlawful internet gambling." The problem is that the legislation fails to define "unlawful internet gambling."

Predictably, this legal limbo has led U.S. financial institutions to steer clear of online gambling and led to the rise of off-shore gaming sites, which Miller says can be unreliable and untrustworthy.

"Online poker play will continue," says Miller. "It's available from sources who are unlicensed, who may not be reputable, who may not be offering a fair game."

Legalization of online gaming in California would likely force legislators to take another look at the flaws inherent in UIGEA. But despite the fiscal and practical sense that legalization makes for the California, and the seeming inevitability of legal online poker play, the anti-online gaming special interests have won out in the short term, with Sen. Wright killing the bill before it even made it to the floor for a vote.

"You have to fight it as long as you can," says Quintana. "Why speed up the inevitability, right? Put it off as long as you can."  

About 5 minutes.

Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Shot by Tracy Oppenheimer and Weissmueller.

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  • Hugh Akston||

    "You have to fight it as long as you can," says Quintana. "Why speed up the inevitability, right? Put it off as long as you can."


  • Scarcity||

    He's against legalization but recognizes it's a losing fight. So he's reduced to delaying.

    At times that's how I feel about a lot of policies I oppose, like single-payer health care.

  • Mike M.||

    Unless you have a five, probably gonna want to walk away from this flop.

    Not necessarily. That depends on a lot of factors, especially how many opponents you're up against.

  • Scarcity||

    Folding simply because you don't have a five in this spot is a mistake almost 100% of the time.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    Like how much betting was there before the flop? It's unlikely someone would bet much on five-something so unless the pre-flop got called around, there's probably not another five out there. If you have a good pair or even high hole cards, you probably want to stay in that hand.

  • Drake||

    I simply can't imagine betting anything meaningful on a computer. Every time I lost with a decent hand I would assume I was being ripped off. Every time I won, I would assume I was being baited into betting more.

  • Scarcity||

    I haven't played much online in several years (things dried up a lot after UIGEA; there's still games, sure, but it's nowhere near as fun or lucrative) but at the time all serious players collected data from the hands they played and, on some sites, hands they simply "observed" (meaning they had a window open with a table that they weren't seated at).

    Once you have those histories, you can run them through a program (Pokertracker was the big one) and see that everything is just as statistics would predict. There was one site (Pacific? I don't remember) that started showing anomalies and people bailed like mad. But that was the only confirmed incident of site manipulation in the several years that I played.

    Interesting side note: Nate Silver (of was a top player and strategist at the time I was playing. I believe he was making well into the 6-figs a year. Search "Nate Tha Great" on twoplustwo if you want to see his poker-based musings.

  • Drake||

    I guess I'm just old and suspicious and bad at poker.

  • robc||

    pair of Aces is good in this case, especially if I bet it hard preflop. No one with 5x should have stuck around in that situation.

  • Sudden||

    If it's low limit, sometimes people will stick around with the most worthless 5/8 offsuit.

  • robc||

    Its high variance rape in that case.

    You take your bad beat and wipe them up the rest of the time they do stupid shit like that.

  • Scarcity||

    Yep. Play tens of thousands of hands and you almost stop even cringing at the bad beats because you're too happy to be at a table with terrible players.

  • robc||

    Actually, just thought of something, if its O8 instead of HE, that is better advice.

    Im Omaha Hi/Lo, there is a much better chance someone made it to the flop with a 5 in their hand, so now they are gonna scoop, as a low is unlikely to be coming.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    Playing something other than Hold Em? What is this, the 60's?

  • robc||

    The "Poker Players Championship" at the WSOP is HORSE until the final table, then its NLHE.

    Lots of big money cash players play lots of stuff besides hold 'em.

  • Auric Demonocles||


  • Gray Ghost||

    Though I am not one (or even close), AIUI, most of the better pros play Pot-Limit Omaha High and Omaha High/Low these days (Triple-Draw Lowball too, I guess), as optimum Hold 'Em play is much more better understood by more people. There are quite a few pieces of good freeware out there to help with understanding HE, like pokerstove, and the nash calculators at holdemresources.

    I just think it's funny that 3 of the 5 HORSE games are Stud-based, but Stud is, AIUI, much harder to find in a card room. I'm surprised they haven't switched the E in HORSE to O8.

  • robc||

    Isnt the O in Horse O8 already?

  • Gray Ghost||

    Thought it was Omaha High. Let me check....

    You're right, my bad.

  • WWNGD?||

    So...anybody what to play on-line poker (not for cash...yet) at We can set up a private game for Reason people.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    I might be down for that, though it'd have to be a more business friendly time.

  • The Hammer||

    I'm in, if it's not while I'm at work.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    I don't know who this Zach dude is, but good dedication to the alt-text.

  • Mike M.||

    Surprisingly, the strongest resistance came not from the ever-more-irrelevant anti-gambling moralists, but from powerful pro-gaming special interests clinging to lucrative state-granted privilege.

    There's no surprise here at all. The staunchest opposition to new gambling forms and forums ALWAYS comes from the existing gambling interests, who see themselves as being in a zero-sum game.

  • Scarcity||

    Yep. I said the whole time I was playing that it would become legal as soon as the landscape was cleared for Harrahs dot com to step in as market leader. That or

  • Gray Ghost||

    The spam filter ate my post. Joy. And yet the nike bots still get through.

    Google 'Absolute Bet scandal' for another cheating story involving a superuser and online poker. 150 bb/100 hand win rate is hard to maintain if you're not cheating.

    Depending how deep you are, more than a few hands containing a 5 can be in the hand. A5ss, 54ss, 65ss, even the two-gapper SCs. Still betting any PP I have, or c/calling.

    Even at O8, it's unlikely that even with 5 other people on the flop, one of them has a 5. Think it's about 55% that they don't have it. I personally am not playing a 5 in O8, unless my other three cards are golden.

  • R C Dean||

    Weird. Its looks like English, but makes no sense.

  • Gray Ghost||

    Your timing is impeccable as always, anono-bot.

    Off-topic, but I don't remember Reason talking about the new requirement in New York for lawyers to complete 50 hours of public service before licensure? (Aside, I love how pro bono isn't a requirement to keep one's existing license.) NY Times editorial on the new practice here.

    I was joking with Groovus about doctors being forced to treat Medicare/caid patients as a condition of their state-granted monopoly---not in favor of it, obviously, SLD---but I didn't think they'd get around yet to placing lawyers under the same hammer.

  • R C Dean||

    Aside, I love how pro bono isn't a requirement to keep one's existing license.

    Me, too.

  • Wilt Chamberlain||

    This reminded me to check on the status of the four Ohio casinos that appeared after we legalized gambling. Ugh, then I found this:

    Just read the comments. If there's anything more annoying and pathetic than conservative moralists, it's
    left-wing moralists. Spare me the cries about the exploitation of the poor by the evil cabal of casino owners. I'm sure the Cleveland casino is rounding up the poor and forcing them to put money into slots. When it comes to gambling, hard drugs, (not marijuana, of course) and prostitution, lefties always turn into something resembling fundamentalist Christians.

  • NoTalentAssclown||

    Headline should've been: Why California should go "All-In" for online gambling

  • NoTalentAssclown||

    *dodges vegetables*


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