PPA Pushes for Poker Players' Rights During Events on Capitol Hill - Monday 10th of April 2006
By Aaron Todd
The Poker Players Alliance (PPA) hasn't gone all-in, but it has raised the stakes.
The alliance, which boasts 20,000 paying members, was represented by its president, Michael Bolcerek, and three prominent professionals on Tuesday on Capitol Hill. Poker professionals Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, Howard Lederer, and Greg "Fossilman" Raymer came to Washington attempting to bring a poker face into the online gambling legislative debate before the Wednesday afternoon House Judiciary Committee hearing on H.R. 4777, a bill proposed by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.).
The bill would amend the Wire Act, which pertains to interstate wagering. Another online gambling bill (H.R. 4411), which would limit a person's ability to fund an online gaming account, was proposed by Jim Leach (R-Iowa) and has already been approved in the House Financial Services Committee.
The group had a one-hour press conference at the Cannon House Office Building on Tuesday morning, visited injured soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the afternoon, and had a two-hour reception in the Longworth House Office Building cafeteria in the evening, giving legislators, media and staffers the opportunity to meet the players, discuss the legislation, snap some pictures and get some autographs.
"There's never been a debate about poker and whether poker should even be part of this legislation because of its status, at least in our minds, as a game of skill," said Lederer. "I don't want Washington or America waking up with a hangover the day after this thing gets passed where Washington (says) 'What did we do?' and 70 million people in the country (say) 'What? They took away my poker?' I just think it's time that poker be part of the debate here."
A new survey conducted by ICR market research shows that most Americans agree. Ninety percent of 964 adults surveyed do not believe the federal government should prevent Americans from playing poker, while 74.2 percent do not believe that the government should prevent Americans from playing poker on the Internet.
Bob Hoy, a 52-year old network engineer from Sterling, Va., who as a member of the PPA, was invited to the reception on Tuesday night, personifies the argument the PPA is putting forward.
While he has played poker since he was 10 years old, he says he became a student of the game about seven years ago, avidly reading books and studying strategy. He started playing online five years ago and currently holds accounts in eight or nine online poker rooms. When asked how he would react if the legislation passed, Hoy had to think long and hard before he responded.
"I would have to make a serious decision, because I may have to break the law at that point if I felt that (the law) was unjustified," said Hoy. "I'm a conservative republican and I'm aghast right now at some of the congressmen that are supporting this bill that I think should know better. I don't think they understand the difference between poker and some forms of gambling."
The difference, according to the players and the PPA, is that poker is a game of skill. While there is some chance involved, the most skilled players continue to finish at the top of the biggest tournaments in the world.
"People make incredibly intelligent decisions under incredible amounts of pressure," Ferguson said. "The skill really comes across on TV. It's hard for me to imagine that people don't see it as a game of skill. Yes, there is chance involved, but I think that you have to agree that there is a lot of skill."
While the players object to the legislation at least in part because they don't believe that poker fits the traditional mold of gambling, others oppose it on purely ethical grounds. Radley Balko, a policy analyst with the CATO Institute, disapproves of the intrusive nature of the legislation.
"What the Leach Bill tries to do is force your bank or credit card company to identify (companies which allow deposits into online gaming accounts such as Neteller and FirePay) and prohibit you from doing business with them," Balko said. "And these companies serve a lot of purposes other than just placing bets online. It effectively deputizes private financial institutions to start monitoring its customers' behavior. I think we need to step back a little bit and ask ourselves if deputizing private institution is something we want to start doing. From a business standpoint and from a customer standpoint that should make everyone uncomfortable."
It certainly makes Hoy uncomfortable. An amateur player who has built up a $35,000 bankroll over several years, Hoy shares poker with his family, playing with his wife and teaching his 15-year old daughter to play. The couple plans to move to Las Vegas upon retirement to play more live games.
"I don't like to see someone legislating my morality," Hoy said.
More information on the PPA is available on the organization's Web site, www.pokerplayersalliance.org . The site includes information on how to join and how to write you congressman and your senators about this issue.
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