Heads-Up Action: Poker Players vs. GOP



I like poker. I like booze. And I especially like free booze that accompanies poker. So after a few preparatory drinks to celebrate Kerry Howley's richly-deserved Felix Morley Prize, we ambled over to the University Club to meet Gillespie and an assortment of our favorite bloggers and pundits at a tony shindig hosted by the Poker Players' Alliance, staring poker rockstars Chris "Jesus" Ferguson and Howard Lederer. The event was part of PPA's push to drum up opposition to three seriously wrongheaded laws being pushed by Republican legislators that would attempt to prevent Americans from gambling on overseas poker Web sites.

Much as I appreciate being able to order Talisker all evening without weeping as I crack my wallet, the proposed legislation is stupid enough that I'd be happy to oppose it even without the free liquor. First of all, it's unlikely to work. The provisions that order Internet Service Providers to try to police their users connections will create significant hassles for the ISPs, but they seem unlikely to work. As Kerry has observed, even honest-to-God authoritarian regimes like China's can't seem to keep their citizens away from the Web sites they want to visit. Between the $12 billion online poker industry and its millions of happy customers, love (and money) will find a way. And as Radley Balko argues, the attempt to control the payment services through which poker winnings flow will not only require huge intrusions on financial privacy, it'll simply push them overseas. If, as legislators say, they're worried about these overseas sites being used for money laundering or to fund terrorist groups, Radley points out there's an easy solution: Just legalize online gambling in the U.S., so the sites can set up shop here, where they'll be subject to more effective regulation geared to prevent those things. Of course, the real point of legislation like this is probably to protect state lotteries, legal bricks-and-mortar casinos, and other forms of favored, exempt betting from competition. Let's take a look at the biggest contributors to the bans' sponsors, shall we? There's Virginia's Rep. Bob Goodlatte: The National Thoroughbred Racing Association is one of his second-biggest funders. And, as chance would have it, online bets on horce racing are exempt from the bills. How about Arizona Sen. John Kyl? His number four contributor last cycle, who went all-in for $22,500, was the Phoenix-based Viad Corp., which is the parent company of GES exposition services, a Las Vegas firm that puts on trade shows and conferences, many of them at, yep, Vegas casinos. (Viad also used to own a company called "Game Financial Services" that provided check-cashing and cash-advance services for casinos.) I don't see anything similar for Iowa's Jim Leach, so maybe he's just a sincere puritan.

Politics aside, incidentally, the event was a blast. Thanks to ESPN, Lederer and Ferguson really are minor celebrities… and in the right crowd, major ones. The ex–Taj Mahal dealer hired for the evening (who mostly managed to hide his annoyance at having to repeatedly remind a bunch of loose-playing journos and bloggers of rules like "raise by what's bet into you") went wide-eyed when "Jesus" Ferguson strolled by, and asked whether he might please deal the champ a few cards in a voice normally reserved for middle schoolers meeting pro athletes. Also, the University Club is the kind of environment in which poker ought to be played: oak paneling, felt tables, and oversized leather chairs. It'll be rough going back to the rear patio.

NEXT: The Raid That Paid

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  1. As of last month, Calvin Ayre is my new hero.

  2. I guess my republicans are still paying off for their Abramoff indian casino bribes. Corrupt as hell, but with principles, at least.

  3. Neat event, Lederer & Jesus are my two favorite players. Consider yourself suitably envied.

  4. I hate this bill as much as the next libertarian, but really, the connection for Sen. Kyl seemed like a real stretch. His number four contributor has a subsidiary that puts on trade shows in casinos? He is probably just a self righteous prick.

  5. GBMD-
    Meh, maybe you’re right. Figured I’d throw it out there and let readers figure out what to make of it.

  6. There’s a new casino being built in Leach’s district. Coincidence? I think not.

  7. More on the casino in Leach’s district: The casino will have 14 poker tables. It’s scheduled to open next spring. Where will the 30,000 students that are 12 miles away at the U of Iowa play poker if they can’t do it online? I’m sure they’ll be big contributers as well if Leach can drum up them some more business. Leach isn’t anymore of a saint than the other two.

  8. Julian,
    Thanks for posting this topic because here was the news that first caught my eye this morning:
    LONDON (Reuters) – Shares in gaming stocks leapt on Thursday, with PartyGaming (London:PRTY.L – News) up by more than 13 percent, as dealers cited opposition to a U.S. bill aimed at cracking down on Internet gambling.

    Bills recently introduced in the U.S. Congress propose a ban on Web-based gambling and the use of credit cards to pay for online wagers.

    Dealers said a debate on Wednesday by the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee threw up opposition to one of the bills.

    “It’s great for PartyGaming who have huge exposure to the U.S., and it is generally bullish for the sector,” said one trader.

    Analyst Greg Feehely at Altium Securities said the bill was likely to be hindered by the fact it targeted some types of online gaming while omitting others such as remote horse race wagering.

    “This will hinder progress,” he said. “We also note that no date has been scheduled for a second hearing. This is potentially very significant and positive news for the quoted online gaming sentiment in a shorter than usual legislative session.”

    Feehely said he thought the legislation would ultimately fail to get through and shares in online gaming companies would recover.

    Companies in the sector have also expressed doubt the bills will succeed. On Wednesday, BETonSPORTS (London:BSS.L – News) joined the throng, saying it expected Web wagering to be legalized in the United States in a few years.

  9. I hate this bill as much as the next libertarian, but really, the connection for Sen. Kyl seemed like a real stretch. His number four contributor has a subsidiary that puts on trade shows in casinos? He is probably just a self righteous prick.

    Dog – don’t forget the company that was sold — the check cashing service for casinos. It’s pretty obvious from the two that the donations are coming in fom gaming to keep their monopoly.

    And someone already pointed out Leach’s new casino.

  10. Man oh man I hate laws like this, and by god, I’m glad good men like you are willing to take the bullet and stand up for our rights by sitting through events like this. You really are a trooper.

  11. Great post. Great, great post.

  12. Great to play some cards with you last night Julian, and greater still to have done it in such company. You’re welcome for the photo 😉


  13. I agree with Kerry on something? Holy crap, I need t o quit drinkin.

  14. the attempt to control the payment services through which poker winnings flow will not only require huge intrusions on financial privacy

    Ha. Didn’t stop Eliot Spitzer from “convincing” the major credit card companies from “protecting” me from lawfully purchasing cigarettes.

    This seems an opportune moment to point out the most frightening political ad of 2006: images of dozens of newspaper articles fly by, all touting Spitzer’s many, many lawsuits. Final voiceover: “Image what he’ll do as governor.”

  15. Er… “image” s/b “imagine”

  16. Shit, if I’m a college student playing poker to make extra money, there’s no way I’m doing it brick-and-mortar, regardless of this proposed obstacle. With play much slower, unable to play multiple tables, unable to blast you favorite music, etc, the mileage is an almost irrelevant concern when it comes to the advantages of online play. The only reason to play live is if you do it for fun (as with home games) or have particular talent in exploiting live tells, which is probably less the undergrad demographic.

  17. Yeah, I like poker and I especially like Scotch, but why the hell is poker on ESPN? When exactly did poker become a sport? And how drunk do you have to be to want to watch this stuff? What’s next: Chinese Checkers?

    (Oh, and I think Americans should certainly be allowed to throw away their money however they choose.)

  18. What the hay, you couldn’t get into the Cosmos Club?

  19. Did Ferguson do any of his patented card-throwing? For some reason I love watching that.

  20. “iRan… they should have”

    ::gut wrenching laughter::

  21. Could we be seeing a Charlton Heston moment for online poker (and online gambling in general) here?

  22. I think Americans should certainly be allowed to throw away their money however they choose.

    Yeah, but stay away from Party Poker; the players go all in on every hand…

  23. …Kerry Howley’s richly-deserved Felix Morley Prize…

    Belated congratulations to Ms. Howley!

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