Online Gambling

The Sort of Pro-Gambling Activist Who Makes Me Want To Puke, Frankly

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The AP, via the Cincinnati Enquirer, reports on the pro-poker actvities of law professor Charles Nesson, who "rose to fame by defending Daniel Ellsberg, who in 1971 leaked to the media the 'Pentagon Papers,' secret documents that indicated the government deceived the public about whether the Vietnam War could be won."

Nesson wants to loosen Massachusetts' limits on small-scale poker tournaments. He's still angry that an annual student-run charity tournament was canceled last spring because organizers did not know they needed a permit.

He's also lobbying Congress to overturn or amend a U.S. law that effectively bans online gambling…

Nesson said the Poker Players Alliance, a 2-year-old lobbying group that claims to represent 809,000 poker enthusiasts nationwide and gets funding from commercial gambling companies, provided $10,000 to support a seminar last spring where he, students, academics, pros and lobbyists discussed strategies….

Nesson and [student activist Andrew] Woods were on Capitol Hill last week, joining the alliance in pressing Congress to consider several new bills that would exempt poker from the Internet gambling law. The alliance estimates there are between 15 million and 23 million U.S. Internet poker players.

So far, so good. So far, so great, as a matter of fact. But Nesson, whose exploits also inspired the dubious book and movie A Civil Action, is at least publicly in favor of gambling because it's good for you. It's the Highlights for Children ("Fun with a Purpose") approach to vice:

"Obviously the distinction is that in games of chance, you're not using your brain," he said. "You may be entertaining yourself but you're not really engaging in a developmental activity, whereas (in) games of skill you develop skill. You learn to be smart, you learn to win."

Ugh. Pinning any sort of vice activity–whether drugs, video games, or poker–to its uplift potential is not just generally a losing strategy but offensive to the intelligence of everyone involved. Which isn't to say that some bad things don't make you smarter. But reducing every activity to an instrument of uplift (or better SAT scores or what have you) just makes me cringe. And, in a world in which poker is massive and above-board business with tons of mags and even TV shows dedicated to it, this comment from student Woods is simply ridiculous:

"I'd like to be able to talk about poker and not have eyebrows raised," said Woods.

I've yet to encounter anybody who treats poker as the equivalent, say, of snorting meth. Still, to paraphrase the immortal Bachman Turner Overdrive, when it comes to lifting idiotic bans on non-violent, consensual "crimes," all allies are good allies and you take what you can get (baby), you take what you can get.

Full AP article here.

reason on "how legalized gambling moved from the Strip to Main Street."

and on the outrageous and criminal treatment of the heads of fully legal online services.

and on gambling more generally.

NEXT: $23,000-a-Barrel Oil

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  1. While were at it, maybe we should convince congress to legalize LSD because it will expand your mind. Like-whoa.

  2. There is a very active discussion among online poker players about ways to explicitly legalize internet poker. I would say that the overwhelming majority of those involved in the discussion have a very libertarian-friendly view on (at least) gambling. Thing is, this group is united by wanting *poker* legalized, first and foremost. The general consensus is that getting internet poker legalized is at least somewhat easier than getting all internet gambling legalized. So you will see poker-specific arguments being thrown around in addition to live-and-let-live arguments.

    I see no vice in fighting for incremental freedom. I agree that poker, blackjack, numbers rackets, whatever, should be legal without discussing their merits. But if poker can be legalized based in part on an “uplift-potential” argument, I’m all for it.

    Aside: there is no way to study and practice to become a winning poker player and deny that it sharpens many aspects of critical thinking: bayesian analysis, psychology, statistics, etc.

  3. Note on aside: Not that just logging on and going AAAALLLLLLL-IINNNNNN makes you smart, of course.

  4. Fine, I’ll just talk to myself.

    One more thing: The quote from Woods loses its ridiculousness if you add one word, which I think may have been implied given the context:

    “I’d like to be able to talk about *online* poker and not have eyebrows raised.”

    Anyone who plays online will agree, tell a random coworker or acquaintance that you played poker online last night, or, god forbid, that you play regularly, and you get the immediate look of sympathy for your degenerate ways.

  5. Ryan – maybe you need to stop working with jerks. I can’t think of anyone I work with who’d look at you funny for playing online poker.

    On the other hand, if you keep talking to yourself…

  6. Gambling is wrong, period, and should be strictly forbidden and severely punished. The US is a Christian nation and we must enforce Gods will.

  7. I don’t think I can agree with your comments. In almost all games in the casino, the odds favor the house. You don’t ever hear about professional craps players because every single bet on the table has a negative expected value for the player and a positive expected value for the house. No amount of practice will make a player a winning craps player.

    Poker is different. In poker, the adversaries are the other players at the table, not the house. Sure, the house is taking a rake, but a clever player who can calculate the odds, estimate the strength of his hand against other possible hands, and convince his opponents to call with a worse hand can have a great deal of success. Playing poker has many lessons: Probability and expected value, psychology, self-control…

    You call poker and video games vices.

    1. an immoral or evil habit or practice.
    2. immoral conduct; depraved or degrading behavior: a life of vice.
    3. sexual immorality, esp. prostitution.
    4. a particular form of depravity.
    5. a fault, defect, or shortcoming: a minor vice in his literary style.
    6. a physical defect, flaw, or infirmity: a constitutional vice.
    -dictionary.com

    None of these definitions seem to apply to poker or video games.

    Poker is a mental competition, like chess or backgammon. Any sort of mental competition is going to have lessons and improve mental capacity. Paying an entry fee into a poker tournament is little different than paying an entry fee into a chess or backgammon tournament. In each, a player offers up some of his money to engage in mental competition for a chance to play well and win a prize or increase stature in the sport.

    Do you reserve similar “vomit” for the people who are bringing the game of chess into the classroom for lessons?

  8. Kyle – To a great many people, wagering money on the outcome of a contest, even of pure skill, is immoral. These are the people we are trying to assuage (because I have no delusions they can ever be convinced).

  9. Additionally, there is much less similarity between non-tournament (cash game) poker and paying an entry fee to play a chess tournament. The ongoing wagering of new money is then integral to the game. Cash game poker would be much more similar to a chess game where players bet on the outcome of the game after each move or series of n moves and the opponent could call, raise, or “fold” the game.

    Hmmm… does this chess variant exist? If not, I’ve got a web site to start….

    Anyway, I want online cash games legal, not just tournaments, dammit.

  10. Pinning any sort of vice activity–whether drugs, video games, or poker–to its uplift potential is not just generally a losing strategy but offensive to the intelligence of everyone involved.

    Haven’t I read somewhere in these illustrious, er, weblogs-entries (what would be the blog-analog to ‘these illustrious pages?’) that video games may in fact improve many kinds of problem solving and spatial thinking skills? Has my intelligence been insulted? I demand answers! Or at least platitudes.

  11. Well, the other factor is what was mentioned in an earlier comment, this is strategic. If poker can be cast as a game of skill rather than gambling, it might be possible to carve out an exemption in the law for it, until full gambling legalization can be realized. This has been the strategy of the PPA for quite some time.

    “Unlike games of chance where a roll of the die is all that determines the win or the loss, poker is a game of skill. Demanding high levels of strategy, observation, cunning, and memory, poker has challenged and sharpened some of America’s greatest tactical minds such as Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight Eisenhower.”
    http://www.pokerplayersalliance.org/pokernow.php

    The guy that makes Nick want to “puke” is organizing free poker tournaments to help re-frame poker as a game of skill and get it re-legalized. I can’t see what’s wrong with anything he’s doing.

  12. Ryan-
    Well, you could head down to Central Park and play with the guys there for $20 a game, heh.

  13. Ron Paul met with the PPA last week. There’s a little coverage here: http://www.gambling911.com/Poker-Ron-Paul-103107.html

    A picture of Ron with Phil Lederer amd Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, heh.

  14. Kyle – absolutely agree there. Poker is much more a game of skill than any other widely available casino game (and the only one I know of where it is possible to have a positive expectation without cheating). Emphasizing that is, I believe and seemingly contrary to Mr. Gillespie’s take, a winning strategy for legalizing internet poker (which then certainly makes legalizing other online gambling easier – shhhhh).

    I just wanted to point out that arguing that not all gambling is vice will not convince the target audience. That crowd is a lost cause; we can only hope to keep them quiet.

  15. Ugh. Pinning any sort of vice activity–whether drugs, video games, or poker–to its uplift potential is not just generally a losing strategy but offensive to the intelligence of everyone involved.

    Sorry, Nick, but that’s the way of the world. And it’s a winning, not losing, strategy. There are practically only 2 ways to get fewer restrictions on peaceful human activity. One is to try to turn more people into libertarians, and that’s a losing strategy. The other way, the winning strategy, is to convince people that the various activities are good, or at least not so bad.

    Additionally, there is much less similarity between non-tournament (cash game) poker and paying an entry fee to play a chess tournament. The ongoing wagering of new money is then integral to the game. Cash game poker would be much more similar to a chess game where players bet on the outcome of the game after each move or series of n moves and the opponent could call, raise, or “fold” the game.

    Hmmm… does this chess variant exist?

    Yes, Ryan, it’s called backgammon. With the doubling cube. (Backgammon & chess are widely believed to have had a common origin, so you could consider either to be a variant of the other.)

  16. Ryan,

    Card counting at Blackjack isnt cheating, it just gets you banned.

    Is Andy Bloch (who is also in the picture Kyle linked above) still banned from the Blackjack tables? I find it funny if he can play all the poker he wants but would get booted out if he sat down at one of the blackjack tables. Although it is logical, he doesnt cost the house money at the poker tables.

  17. Mr. Gillespie – If you’re reading, do you have any additional thoughts? This seems to me to be a principle vs. pragmatism issue. I’d much rather argue that my poker (or blackjack, online or not) playing does not intrude on the rights of others and therefore should be perfectly legal. Or at least demand that someone show me where in the Constitution the feds are given the authority to restrict my freedom to gamble. But I think the pragmatic approach is to make smaller, less sweeping arguments.

    Is your argument that principle should carry the day, or is the disagreement just with the particular strategy of the pragmatists?

  18. Robc,
    Yes, he’s still banned at most blackjack tables. A few casinos let him play blackjack still, probably because of his celebrity status as a poker pro.

  19. robc – Yeah, I know. I was using cheating in the looser sense of “stuff you can’t do openly in a casino”.

    Did you just reply to yourself?

  20. ryan,

    Did you just reply to yourself?

    Nope, but Ive made that mistake before. In fact, I started to type “ryan” in the name box on this post. 🙂

  21. robc,
    Sorry, that was me. 😉

  22. Poker IS different, Nick – and I think wanting to “vomit” because someone says so carries your “libertarian principles above all else” attitude way to far.

    Poker is a game of skill and chance, with the skill part being the predominant factor – this can be proved in a number of ways, but the easiest to recognize is that fact that large numbers of professional poker players walk around this planet. Their existence is proof that poker is not merely a game of chance like roulette, slots, craps, etc.

    This is a fact that will help insure poker’s status as a legal game to play for money. And I see nothing wrong with using it as such, even if it means that the speaker fails to mention for a moment that people should be allowed to gamble on roulette as a matter of libertarian principle.

    You dont also want vomit when a supporter of marijuana legalization points out that it is effective medicine for many ailments and a lot less dangerous than heroin, do you?

    Skallagrim

  23. I was a Republican from Goldwater to Bush. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Act was the “last straw” issue for me. With the exception of Ron Paul, I will not vote for another Republican.

  24. I have nothing to add to the matter at hand, but thought I’d mention that Daniel Ellsberg’s son, Michael, was in my class at Deerfield and Daniel shared a table with my parents at graduation.

    Small world, and all that.

  25. Charles Nesson [Reilly].

    ’nuff said.

  26. “He’s also lobbying Congress to overturn or amend a U.S. law that effectively bans online gambling…”

    I’ve been playing online poker almost every day since the UIGEA passed, and haven’t broken any laws. It “effectively” did nothing.

  27. UIGEA has not made it illegal to play poker on-line. It has made it illegal to use US banks and credit card companies to deposit or withdraw money on-line for US citizens. The actual Executive Branch regulations for how that might happen are up for comment now.

    But many banks already block the transfer of money to on-line poker sites, and have before the UIGEA passed.

    Why should you have to use an off-shore middleman in the form of an e-wallet to transfer your own money and pay a fee? Once the regulations are finalized that fee WILL get higher.

    There are currently 11 states that have some sort of statute about on-line gaming, MA has proposed the 12th.

    Sit back and think the gov’t isn’t trying to tell you what to do with your own money if you want. But the vomiters are out there and they don’t care how messy this gets.

    D$D

  28. I’m sorry that adults who want to be treated as such makes you want to “puke.” People can become addicted to a variety of legal activities: Shopping, drinking, sex, eating. If I, as an adult, want to overspend, drink myself silly in my own home, or eat until I’m 350 lbs., please allow me the right to do that. Online poker in Europe is regulated very tightly, controlled, and kept to adults. In fact, it is much easier for a 17-year-old to buy wine online with Mom’s credit card than it is to open a poker account online. So, Nick, until my poker playing directly affects you, why don’t you make your lifestyle choices and please, let me make mine.

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