Poker in the Front?

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Today, in an event that seems appropriate for guys who gamble in the comfort of their homes, the Poker Players Alliance is sponsoring a "Phone March on Capitol Hill" to protest the online gambling ban that was approved by the House in July and is now being considered by the Senate. The PPA's arguments are generally sound, but I think the group makes a mistake by implying that poker deserves special treatment as "a skill game." Poker certainly requires more skill than, say, roulette, but is there any reason to believe legislators care about that? The bill passed by the House exempts state-sponsored lotteries and horse racing. These are not exactly games of skill; they're barely even games. What distinguishes them is the political clout of the people who profit from them.

For those who lack such clout, history suggests a principled argument against government attempts to dictate adults' recreational choices may ultimately be more effective than special pleading. In the run-up to Prohibition, alcoholic beverage producers failed to maintain a united front ; brewers thought they could remain legal while their competitors in the liquor business were closed down. They expected the government to draw a distinction based on alcoholic strength. Similarly, the PPA is suggesting a distinction based on skill requirements. But even if Congress passes a ban that includes an exemption for "skill games," it will be a small thing to go back and close the poker loophole.

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  1. The “skill” argument is appealing for legislators who need cover from their socially conservative constituents who don’t wnat them to be soft on gambling.

  2. Yes, lets make more otherwise law abiding people criminals and launch a “war on online gambling”. This kind of crap makes me want to vomit. Of course nearly every state runs a numbers racket or lottery of whatever they call it. Most states let their Indian tribes, even those of dubious authenticity, run casinos, but no we could never have the scourge of gambling on the internet. Never. Why? It wouldn’t be the lost revenue to the state sponsored numbers rackets would it? No, its all for the children, even if it means throwing their parents in prison for the crime of participating in non-state sponsored gambling.

  3. So it’s a march consisting of a bunch of overweight guys, smoking cigars and eating pastrami sandwiches. Methinks this ‘march’ is just another excuse to get away from their wives. Where do I sign up?

  4. Liquor in the rear!

    and, uh, I think they have a great case to say that poker is a game of skill.

  5. I was in such a hurry to get off a wisecarack, that I didn’t read the article that closely. It’s a PHONE MARCH.
    Paul, they aren’t even getting off their lazy butts and getting away from their wives. They’re just making phone calls.

  6. While it might be politically expedient, from a logical persepective it’s ridiculous to differentiate between skill and chance in this context. Poker, Horse Racing, Craps, Backgammon, etc. all involve an element of each. One can win the poker world series by getting super lucky on every hand. the greatest horse handicapper in the world can botch every race due to luck. It’s unlikely, but possible. There are methods to maximize one’s return on the lotto. By definition, such methods are strategies (some very poor), and, to the extent a player employs them, they render the “game” strategic.

    (Believe it or not, there is a non-BS method to improve lotto returns.)

  7. Living in Virginia, it has always astounded me how much play the “heritage” argument for gun rights has gotten from pols here.

    Idealistically it’s nonsense and politically it may be short-sighted, but it might actually help the pols convince themselves.

  8. Paul, they aren’t even getting off their lazy butts and getting away from their wives. They’re just making phone calls.

    Of course they are. It’s a easy way to exaggerate the number of people who actually want legislation passed. With an actual march, you can see how unimpressive the showing is. Not so much if every person makes 10-20 phone calls.

  9. The poker players are not going to win this one. The special interest lobbyists and the do-gooders are in an alliance on this one.

    The poker players are trying to draw three to fill an inside straight.

  10. I’m not sure that principled arguments do carry the day. In California right now, the opposition to Prop. 86 (the $2.60-per-pack extortion of smokers) is appealing to the pocketbook, declaring the new tax will go to “wasteful” ends. I’m sure it will. But more importantly, the state is going absolutely googly-eyed with overweening paternalism, and no one is simply saying: “our personal habits are not your business. Leave us the hell alone.”

  11. The more the pro-poker lobby can highlight the hypocrisy of banning poker but allowing horse racing, the better chance they’ll have of winning (by which I mean avoiding a vote on the bill, not actually winning a vote).

    There’s really no hope after this session, though, is there? With either Reid or McConnell as majority leader — especially Reid — I can’t imagine online poker survives very long. Maybe we can make playing the lottery and the ponies mandatory after that.

  12. There are methods to maximize one’s return on the lotto.

    Tell me more, as I understand Lotto it is pure chance. I promise I won’t tell anyone.

  13. Dan,

    Didn’t you know that the internet is a series of tubes, and that poker / casino chips block the tubes, while lotto balls roll through easily, and horses can run through them quickly? Get with the program, man.

  14. “There are methods to maximize one’s return on the lotto.

    Tell me more, as I understand Lotto it is pure chance. I promise I won’t tell anyone.”

    Simple.

    Don’t play.

  15. There are methods to maximize one’s return on the lotto.

    You just wait until the EV is greater than or equal to the cost of a ticket. If your odds of winning are roughly 1 in roughly 120 million (odds of winning at Powerball nationally, about) any time the prize is more than $120 million it’s worth a dollar. So it’s been worth a dollar, like, twice or something.

  16. The Big Game or Mega Millions or whatever they call it (the ersatz Powerball that Illinois shares with some other states) is currently at $135,000,000. The odds, per the Illinois Lottery website are 1:175,711,536. If I wait until it hits $175,000,000, I can’t take the instant payout, because they cut the prize then. (I don’t know how much they cut it if you take it all at once rather than over 20 years.) What about the income taxes on the winnings? What is the real number I should wait for?

  17. You just wait until the EV is greater than or equal to the cost of a ticket.

    Except the expected value is unknown because of the possibility of shared jackpots. Actually it is probably calculable if you have information on the number of tickets and number sets sold, but that data is not going to be available before the drawing. The higher the Jackpot the more the number of tickets played, the more tickets played on the same number set. And that ignores the fact that some number sets, like last week’s winning number and 5-10-15-10-25-30 have a disproportionately large number of people play them.

    The payout has a present value of about 50% of the sum of the annuitized payments, pimped as the “Jackpot”. If the game is the standard 6/49 there are 14 million number combinations. So the Jackpot would need to be $28 million for the expected value of a $1 ticket to be $1. That takes into account the discount rate and the taxes. But that does not take into account the probability that the jackpot will be shared.

  18. One guy has a 100% chance of winning each lotto – Uncle Sam. Without ever buying a ticket, he always wins at least 1/3!

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