Online Gambling

The Green Felt Revolution?


A couple of weeks ago, I suggested in a column for Fox News that the Internet gambling ban could motivate an otherwise apolitical group of people—online poker players—into political activism.  The email response was overwhelming, in part because the column was posted in several poker discussion groups.  But by a 10-1 margin, email responders were livid, many claiming to be lifelong Republicans who will now be voting for the Democrats, solely because of the gambling ban.

I'm not sure the Dems would be any better on this, though that magical, mystical, yet-to-actually-be-seen creature, the "Libertarian Democrat," might.

In any case, there seems to be at least some anecdotal evidence that a backlash is in the works.  Since President Bush signed the ban into law, poker boards have been trying to organize, with some help from groups like the Poker Players' Alliance. 

The primary target seems to be Arizona Sen. John Kyl, chief sponsor of the ban in the Senate, and sponsor of anti-Internet gambling legislation in every Congress since the late 1990s.

The website in particular has taken in the lead in urging Arizona's Internet gamblers to get to the polls, notably by utilizing the early voting option, to cast their votes for Kyl's Democratic challenger Jim Pederson.

So is it working?

Maybe.  Kyl's once double-digit lead has been halved since President Bush signed the gambling ban into law.  A few polls even show it to be within the margin of error.  More interesting, one survey of early voters actually shows Pederson with a four-point lead, and that's from a sample of voters that were disproportionately Republican in voter registration.  Early voters are expected to comprise about 30 percent of Arizona's turnout.

Of course it's possible that Pederson's rise is due more to general nti-GOP backlash than an organized poker campaign against Kyl.  But other polls around the country are apparently showing a slight GOP uptick in recent weeks. This one is moving the other way.  It's also possible that Kyl will end up winning by the healthy margin polls were showing last month (my guess: he'll win by 4-6 points).  But the timing of Pederson's surge certainly suggests that something interesting may be afoot.

A more daunting task for poker enthusiasts would be to begin organizing against Rep. Jim Leach and Rep. Bob Goodlatte for the 2008 election.  Those two congressmen shepherded the bill through the House (see my TV debate with the clueless Goodlatte here).  Both are in relatively safe districts, so bumping them off would be a huge accomplishment.  Unfortunately, the poker lobby seems to be more interested in winning an exemption for poker from the ban as a "game of skill" than a broader, principled effort to revoke the ban in its entirety.

That would be good news for poker players, but bad news for supporters of the idea that gambling at home on one's computer is none of the government's damned business.

ADDENDUM:  As a fairly avid player myself, I actually do believe that poker is a "game of skill."  The quotes weren't meant to imply sarcasm.  And I understand why a group like the PPA would seek an exemption now that the ban has become law.  After all, they represent "poker" players, not all online gamblers.

I'm just saying that if this has indeed fired some people up, I hope their motivation would continue beyond just a poker exemption, toward getting the entire ban revoked, and keeping the federal government out of the business of monitoring consensual online activity altogether.

NEXT: Making Bank Over a Dime's Worth of Difference

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  1. Poker is a game of skill and should be recognizzd as such by the government. All citizens should have the right to gamble on there computer, but no players are earning a living from online gambling except poker players (and possibly some Blackjack professionals, I don’t know what the status of online Blackjack is). Poker is different from other gambling games, includijng Blackjack, in that the players are competeing against each other, not the house, the house has no stake in the outcome of the betting, except the rake, which is usually capped. So there are two different battles being waged; one against the Online Gambling ban, and one to obtain legal status of Poker as a game of skill.

  2. People, Republicans and Democrats, who jumped on the internet gambling ban because they are corrupt, hypocritical bastards who are in the hip pockets of the brick and morter gambling industry. The problem is not that people gamble too much, it is tha they are gambling at home rather than in the state sponsored Indian casinos and with the state numbers rackets that they supposed to be using.

  3. Oh yeah, nothing makes me say “pffffffft” and walk the other direction in indignation more than fair-weather libertarians. Oh, yeah, government intrusion is all fun-n-games until they come and ruin YOUR shit. To me, it’s akin to running to the insurance agency only after the tornado is bearing down on you.

    And we all know that when Radley says “motivated […] into political activism”, said libertarian political activism begins and ends with their pet issue.

    You know, I’d have more respect for people who normally support government intrusion and who retain said support when that intrusion is directed at them. At least it’d be consistent.

    As for Buckshot’s claims, I don’t see the distinction that he’s making, at least in light of the supposed justifications for this ban—namely, that gambling ruins families and savings, etc. Of course, it’s a poor justification for a government ban, but aside from that, people still wager money on poker. Just because less of the game is left up to chance doesn’t mean that it’s not still gambling, with the potential to easily bankrupt the weak-willed. Not that any of that justifies a ban, but if you were to accept the premise of the ban, poker doesn’t fall outside of that umbrella.

  4. I see that as the major distinction between the extremists that don’t really fit into a party and the Big 2. Libertarians, Communists, etc. (idealists of all stripes) tend to think about the big picture: what would be better for everyone. Most voters are one, maybe two, issue voters who only vote the issue they care about, and only when it affects them personally.

    Actually, I’m not sure if “most” is accurate, sometimes I think most voters are people who at some point in their lives pick a party like you pick a favorite football team. Even when you hate your quarterback and disagree with every decision your coach makes, “Hey, it’s my team. I’m not about to go support the other guys!!”

  5. Evan,

    Wait until the Dems take over the Congress and Weigal and company explain to us all how Democratic pork and corruption is good for us rather than the Republican stuff. You are right that Libertarians tend to get pissed off about things like gambling, porn and drugs (fun stuff) and not so much care about other intrusions.

  6. Evan!:

    The fight to have poker reconized as a game of skill rather than one of total luck has been waged for many years longer than online gambling has existed, mainly for income tax reasons. This gambling ban just gives impetus to the movement. Poker is gambling the same way starting a new business is gambling, you are taking a monetary risk with an unknown outcome. But you aren’t just throwing the dice, you can play your cards smart and have a high chance of coming out a winner. Or you could lose everything.
    The point is, poker is a legitimate way to make money, whereas casino online gambling is a long term loser, guaranteed. The poker comunity has a bigger stake in this than online gambling in general.

    “If you were to accept the premise of the ban, then poker doesn’t fall outside of that umbrella.”

    Yep, you’re right there.

  7. Radley Balko,

    I must say, you were too polite with Goodlatte for not calling bullshit on those lies he was spreading during your “debate” on MSNBC. What a fucking hypocritical jackass.


    Motivating people to donate where they certainly wouldn’t have previous to this.

  9. John Tierney’s column titled “The Immoral Majority” makes the same argument that GOP moralizing on gambling and medical marijuana are pushing formerly GOP-leaning libertarians (even if they don’t define themselves as such) towards the Democrats.

    Fortunately that column has been freed from the prison of NY Times Select (for this week only). Read it here.

  10. Poker is a game of skill. Believe me, I learned the hard way.

  11. Evan, that most people aren’t aware of the shenanigans the government is involved in, until they get hit in the face with it, is a sign that they are out there living their lives and minding their own business. It’s we people that pay a lot of attention to politics who are probably not totally mentally healthy.

  12. I’m sorry, but online poker is *not* a game of skill. Removing people from 80% of bluffing (the aspect of the game that makes it a skill) renders it every bit as much a game of chance as any other card game. The kind of poker where you sit across a table from someone and try to ferret out clues about their hand from their behaviors definately requires a tremendous amount of skill. Sitting at a computer where every aspect of bluffing is controlled, on the other hand, is something that a third grader could do.

    Wait until the Dems take over the Congress and Weigal and company explain to us all how Democratic pork and corruption is good for us rather than the Republican stuff.

    Yes John, because when Clinton was in office they spent all their time talking about how great he was. Honestly, it must be nice to have the sort of reassurance that comes when one lives in a world where every comment that runs counter to their sensibilities is automatically a partisan hatchet job. Even the ones that, y’know, state outright that both parties will probably suck. But then, you’ll probably tell me that you’re with military intelligence now, and you got information that Radley was just part of a conspiracy, lying to lull us into a false sense of security. Years of running a libertarian blog, just so that he can team up with Reason to trick libertarians into selling their soul to the Democratic party. The fiend!

  13. Reminds me of when the department store bought the brokerage firm in hopes the consumer would want to buy his/her stocks and socks at the same place.
    It didn’t work, meaning poker players are not going to lift a pinkie to legalize marijuana.

    Cross-marketing of ideas works, but only at the margin of the margin. It is only there where the green visor is finally lifted, and a larger world is noticed.

    (The sacred temple of the Vestal Virgins of H&R is at the margin of the margin.)

  14. Shem:

    “Removing people from 80% of bluffing (the aspect of the game that makes it a skill) renders it every bit as much a game of chance as any other card game”.

    You don’t have a clue what you’re talking about, bluffing is a much smaller part of the game than you and most other novices relize. Physical tells are a small part of the game, you can deduce tells overline by the time it takes someone to act, their previous betting paterns, their aggressivness, their stack size, etc. Sitting at a computer, every aspect of bluffing is NOT controlled! LOL! Then there is the math, which you have to know to be successfull.
    You should comment about subjects you actually know something about, you know NOTHING about online poker.

  15. Hey Radley, your a Virginia boy, ever listen to the Sports Junkies in the morning, on 106.7? They’ve been sawing this log quite a bit this fall, going so far as to call out Tom Davis and Frank Wolf on the air for supporting the ban. Fair amount of poker players in their audience.

  16. “Poker players are not going to lift a pinkie to legalize marijuana”.

    Lots of poker players are marijuana users and would love to see it legalized. The green visor gets lifted every time the bong comes around. Or when self-interest is at stake.

  17. I do agree with Buckshot.

    The image of poker being about bluffing and spotting someone else blinking when they bluff is really not what pros do.

    Clearly Shem obtained all his poker knowledge from watching the movie Maverick.

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