Ominous Clouds Gather!
I nearly conked out last night at 9PM, not good. I'm trying to get my circadian rhythms set for Pacific time and that wouldn't have helped. So I brushed my teeth, combed my hair, and headed down to the IP's new poker room. Priority #1 was to stay awake till at least midnight. Number two was to win the money
The good news is that I stayed up till 12:30! The bad news is that I dropped a hundred bucks playing $2-4 limit. I just wanted a nice friendly game where I didn't have to use my brain, and that's what I got. Had a good time, folks were nice, dealers were friendly. Had a couple of beers too. Well, more than a couple. Five, I think.
But the cards! They smote me! Things started off poorly when I hit top two against a guy who flopped a set. Then I flopped trip nines and built a nice pot...until the attractive blonde in the one seat also turned over J-9. "You play that garbage?" she actually said to me.
Four times I had AK and lost thrice. A guy rivered a gutshot on me. I had a guy on the hook with aces when I made 2 pair with QJ, but the board paired fours and another big pot eluded me. Not once all night did I hit a draw, even on the last hand when I tossed in my little all with an open-ender.
But I managed to stay up "late" and enjoyed myself. Mission Accomplished.
Raging Solo...Minus the Rage
Since this was my last free day before I put on my hardhat and boots and descend into the mines, I decided to play tourist again and wander among the big casinos. Eight hours later, I think I might've overdone it. A bit.
Especially as I overdid it a bit yesterday as well. Somehow I didn't see Caesar's Palace the last time I was in Vegas, so that was the first place I hit. I checked out the hushed stillness of their poker room, but the silence was rudely broken by my stomach's growling. I realized I hadn't eaten in about 15 hours and so I went foraging.
When I walked past Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill I froze in my tracks. The day I had the worst hangover of my life I lay in bed, so very, very sick, watching a show about Flay getting the Mesa Grill ready for opening. Since then I've always equated that eatery with abject misery. Could I really pass up the chance to put that horror behind me? I also hadn't eaten for 15 hours, so in I went.
I had a nice meal there, though the Mesa Burger wasn't anything extra-special. The horseradish mustard was hot enough to clear the sinuses, but the fries, nicely seasoned as they were, disappointed. They specialize in margaritas, and since I think I've had maybe 2 margaritas in my life I put myself in the hands of Ben and Ashley, who were tending the bar. What they presented me with was pretty doggone good, though I'm not an expert on the subject.
I was told that Jennifer Love Hewitt was supposed to lunch there later that afternoon, and while I was tempted to stick around, my wanderlust won out. Not that I recall where I went after that...maybe back to the IP, where I played in their 2PM tournament. I brayed my way to the final table, playing such horrid poker that I wanted to put a bag over my head. I finished 10th, my shortstack skills doing me no good when my A-4 ran into A-J.
Feeling the need to wander again I moseyed over to the Bellagio. I looked in the poker room to see if Linda
was dealing, and when I didn't spot her I found a comfy chair in the sports book and watched Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Sitting in one place for more than two hours did my feet some good, as did the three beers I drank, and when I wandered back I searched the room again, and there she was. I almost didn't recognize her without the cornrows she had in Aruba. I didn't think I should go up and bother her at work, especially as I'm the bashful sort. Plus, I'd had a few. As you can probably tell from this pretty awful photo:
I planned on playing some poker after I got back to the IP, but I just didn't have it in me. I blew forty bucks on slots in about fifteen seconds before I decided to head up to the room. I'm trying to get my body on Vegas time so I stayed up past midnight before I surrendered and got under the sheets.
After eight hours solid I was up and ready to head north. I'd never visited the Mirage before--I liked, very much. Visited Treasure Island before hopping across the road to the Wynn. Wow. Wowie wow-wow. I wasn't just impressed, I was gobsmacked. It's a beautiful place.
This might've been due to the fact that, again, I hadn't eaten in about 15 hours. While skipping a few (hundred) meals might do me some good, I decided to allow myself some nourishment:
I drank my Pilsner Urquell in the Parasol Lounge, which was a pretty nice place to drink a beer in solitude and contemplate the Meaning of Life, and other weighty topics:
I reluctantly left the Wynn and headed toward the Venetian, which required me to walk a good distance outside. The sun felt good--at first. And then it started sucking the moisture out of my brain. Hydration, I think, will be important over the next seven weeks.
The Venetian was pretty awesome too, though I can't see myself ever going for a gondola ride. Even in Venice, I don't think I'd want to do that. Not for fun, anyway. To get from point A to point B, sure. But not for kicks.
OK, this has gone on far too long already. After that I headed back to the IP, and after checking my email saw that the WPT's Mandalay Bay event was going on at, uh, Mandalay Bay. So why not head up there and see what I could see? I didn't have a press pass and I wasn't supposed to be covering it, but what does a poker reporter do? He heads for where the action is!
Thing is, I still hadn't eaten. I thought about stopping to grab a bite at a half-dozen places, but I never did. I wanted to get there first--food could wait. And like the 40-watt bulb I am I didn't decide that until I was past the Bally's monorail stop. So I walked all the way up to the frickin' MGM in the burning sun, crossed over to Excalibur, and rode the tram to Mandalay Bay. By now my brain was so parched I was only operating at about 50% of peak.
They have the tournament set up right in the middle of the casino, and the gawkers were out in force. One guy spotted Barry Greenstein sitting near the ropes and was so surprised he dragged his buddy over. I walked around, seeing lots of faces I recognized from TV and from Aruba. I guess I could've identified myself and maybe been allowed inside the ropes to do a little reporting of my own, but again, I was dehydrated and hungry. And my feet and back hurt. I was pretty much a mess.
And then, as I nearly completed my first circuit, I saw Isabelle Mercier sitting at a table with Erik Seidel and the Grinder. I didn't swoon, I didn't burst into joyful tears. I was cool. I smiled at her, but she didn't smile back because I was behind her. I didn't think now was a good time to introduce myself. Not with all that security around.
I took a couple of pics of her, none of which came out at all. Nor did the pic I took of World Champion Jamie Gold chomping down on a hoagie. I need to learn a bit about photography.
After that, I surrendered. I rode the tram back to Excalibur...and then couldn't find out how best to get back to the MGM for the monorail. After twenty minutes of circling I said the hell with it and walked out into the sunlight. I was actually at the rear of Excalibur, so I couldn't see the MGM to get my bearings. "Biggest goddam hotel in the world, I'm a half-mile away, and I can't even SEE the goddam place," I fumed. I did more fuming as I followed a half-dozen pretty Japanese women who walked in a staggered line and kept me from passing them as they zombie-marched along the sidewalk. I took Japanese in college, I wish I remembered how to say, "Get the (deleted) outta my way!".
It took about 15 minutes hiking through MGM to the monorail stop, after a brief pause at the poker room to reminisce about the good time I had there during my visit two Decembers ago for the blogger get-together. Finally reached the monorail stop, the monorail finally arrived, I finally made it back to the IP, I finally got some food and drink in me. And then, I started writing this.
And now I'm done. Not sure what I'm gonna do the rest of the evening. But a trip to the Stratosphere is out. Oh, jeez, I didn't even tell about my aborted attempt to walk to the Rio. Let's just say, I don't know if you can get there from here. And if you can, I wasn't about to find out. Not when I was walking and saw a sign on the on-ramp for SALT LAKE CITY. Yeah, that can't be good. I guess I'll see enough of the Rio over the next 47 or so days.
Before you head out to a picnic or the park or even the couch to watch whatever ballgame is on, read this Op/Ed from Andrew Bacevich
, whose son was killed in Iraq on May 13th.
Go West, Still Moderatly Young Man
Sitting at my gate, waiting for the plane that will take me to Cinci, and thence to Vegas. As always before I fly I'm a bit freaked, but the freaking-level goes down with every flight. I'm pretty much beat, especially after the little adventure I had last night. See, I thought I left my cell phone in the pocket of some shorts I washed. And then after getting wet up to my elbows rummaging around for it I couldn't find the damn thing. Turned out it fell under the seat in my car...but it caught on the springs underneath and hung there, just out of the reach of my frantically-searching hands. Great way to kick off the expedition.
Had a very nice breakfast (eggs, bacon, ham, hash browns, toast, coffee). No beer--I told you I'm getting better at flying.
It still hasn't hit me that I'll be, like, in Vegas for seven weeks. That I'll be covering the World Series of Poker. I'll probably start believing it after the third night working till 6AM and I start hallucinating purple pandas. But by then I'll believe anything.
Liverpool vs. AC Milan
Two years ago I was at work following the Liverpool-AC Milan final thru ESPN GameCast. After Milan took a 3-0 lead I shut it down and went back to doing my actual job. I checked back an hour or so later to read the game story...only to find the game was in penalties. That'll learn me.
Last year I liveblogged my Gunners losing to Barcalona, and this year I'm in the bar with my brother to watch AC Milan try to take their revenge. The beer is cold, the wings are hot, the WiFI signal is strong, and our waitress is a doll. JoeSpeaker
himself couldn't wish for more...although there are two guys wearing red-and-black striped jerseys here. We'll outsing them.UPDATE:
Liverpool dominates the action...and trails at halftime, thanks to a brilliant handball by Inzaghi. That goal wouldn't have counted in the NHL.
Did I mention our waitress is a doll? A pretty, hot doll, who is treating us like Arabian sheiks? Lately every customer-service interaction I've had has been top-notch. What's changed in America?UPDATE UPDATE:
OK, Inzaghi was onside...though the other guy wasn't. Still, good goal. Jeez, what a dull game. Compare this to NHL playoff hockey...well, don't. One is the Beautiful Game. One is the Greatest Game on Ice.
Tell you what--playing poker in a bar, six beers in, in the afternoon, is very nice. Very nice indeed.
Breakfast of Champions
This, of course, is a leftover slice of Pittsburgh Pirogi Pizza from the Church Brew Works
. Mashed potato, with onion and garlic mixed in, fills a chewy pizza crust. Cheddar cheese spread thick on top. Fantastic.
But I had to gild the lily. I couldn't help thinking the pizza needed a little something. And when a little something is needed, bacon is always a good alternative. I decided against crumbling the bacon and sprinkling it all over. I'm a purist.
An Even Bigger Deal
I must've gotten one of Amazon's first copies of Anthony Holden's Bigger Deal
, because I actually finished it more than a week ago. I haven't read any reviews of it around the blogosphere, which surprises me, and I haven't written one myself yet, because I'm a lazy sloth (and that probably doesn't surprise you). Suffice to say you should get a copy and read it post-haste. There's actually a long section about why writers tend to gravitate toward poker. I felt Holden was speaking to me directly. Though he didn't mention me by name.
I read Bigger Deal
with a sense of dread, because I worried that at some point I could come across a line like "I spent the evening playing poker with a wonderful chap named Brad from PokerStars
" and I think I would've burst into tears. But I made it through the book without crying. Heh heh heh. I'm sorry, I default to envy.
From Otis, we also learn that Holden, Al Alvarez, Lee Jones, and other big-time writers are now collaborating on...a poker blog
. It comes full circle, does it not? Holden and Alvarez inspire scores of writers (myself included) to start blogging about poker, and now, years later, they're starting a blog of their own. Maybe now I should write a biography of Prince William.
I heartily recommend you subscribe to their new blog, even if it's sponsored by Stars and I am Professionally Committed to Wiping Them Off the Face of the Earth. The fact that Holden, Alvarez et al are blogging about poker is, if you'll pardon the expression, a Big Deal. Actually, that's pretty much unpardonable. Anyway, I'll write a review of Bigger Deal
very soon. And you should read Big Deal
and The Biggest Game in Town
if you haven't already. I'm actually re-reading the latter book for about the 15th time just now. Think I'll get back to it, if you don't mind.
The Heavy Hitters
As you've no doubt read elsewhere, PokerNews
will be providing live updates and chip counts at this year's World Series of Poker, and I will be a part of the pirate crew supplying Total Coverage. I am honored, humbled, and, yes, a little bit frightened to be working with such an elite force--Pauly
and the Shrink
and a bunch of other hardnose, hardcore reporters. And me.
Seven weeks in Vegas. Jeepers. Reading about Pauly and Otis's
hijinks the last two years I've dreamed about covering the WSOP myself, and now that I've got my chance it all seems a bit surreal. Not that living and working in Las Vegas for nigh on two months won't be extra-surreal.
Actually, things have been weird for me on many fronts lately. The thing is, all the weird stuff has been GOOD weird stuff, which is a nice change of pace.
And yes, it has been pointed out to me that, at some time during the World Series, I might find myself in the same room as Isabelle Mercier. I think "petrified" is the right word to describe how I feel about that. But I'm sure Pauly and Otis won't do anything to embarrass me. If I thought they might, goodness, I wouldn't be able to sleep!
I'm still writing for the UltimateBetBlog
, which is undergoing some major upgrades as we speak. When the new and improved site is up and running I will trumpet the news far and wide. And this site is also going to be changing in a big way in the near future...but I think you've had about all the news you can handle at one sitting.
You never really leave high school, do you? OK, I got tagged by D to the P
, so here are seven random things about me you probably didn't know:
- My internet writing career started on Amazon.com, where I was one of their top 100 reviewers for awhile, but my big break came, uh, when I entered an erotic story writing contest (under a pseudonym, of course). And I won. No, I will not provide a link to it, nor will I ever share it with another living soul. No way, no how.
- After dropping a pass on the playground in 3rd grade I screamed "Shit!" at the top of my lungs. I don't know that I'd ever even THOUGHT that word before. I immediately slapped my hand over my mouth, but the teacher on duty heard me, and the squeaky-clean Gene received a stern lecture about using blue language. In retrospect I realize that my teacher was quite bemused by the whole episode...but I didn't use a curse word again until I was like a junior in high school.
- I hate karaoke and wouldn't dream of ever singing in public. But I sing in my car when I'm driving by myself. And I belt it out, dammit. There have been times when I've gone to the lake for the weekend when I've arrived almost hoarse.
- I don't like broccoli--I freakin' LOVE IT. Not raw, don't like it raw, but I can eat me a whole bowl of steamed broccoli and be a happy guy.
- I tend to stay friends with my ex-girlfriends. To a disturbing degree. How disturbing? Try this on for size--I did the reading at the wedding of an ex-girlfriend...and I brought another ex-girlfriend as my platonic date...this after I'd just gone out a few times with my future ex-wife.
- I missed my first exam in college. Blew off the class to study for another exam. See, I thought the Astro test was on Thursday...International Relations on Wednesday...whoops. Still got a B+ in the class. Still have nightmares that I have to take a final in a class I haven't attended all year. And they're BAD dreams, man.
- When I was a baby I developed cysts around my ears that had to be removed, and to keep me from looking even more freakish I had to have some plastic surgery afterwards. Years later the guy who operated on me appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show, and the topic that day was "Plastic Surgeons Who Operated On Their Wives".
Wish I'd Thought Of That One
I can't say that I follow baseball all that closely (living in Pittsburgh will do that to you) and I find the media's obsessive coverage of the Red Sox-Yankee rivalry pathetic--it's the battle between the Bad Guys and the Worse Guys.
Still, the Yankees signing Roger Clemens elicited a fantastic one-liner from one of Bill Simmons' readers
. In an act of stupendous self-regard Clemens yesterday announced to the crowd in the middle of the game
that he was signing with the moribund Yanks. Which inspired this line from a John F. in Kansas:
"This is historic ... who ever heard of a rat jumping ON a sinking ship?"
Celebrity Ain't What It Used to Be
They hockey game ends and the Derby coverage begins and NBC leads with the Queen of England entering Churchill Downs. OK, yes, that's nice, the Queen is attending the Derby.
Then they shows quick shots of other celebrities attending today's race.
Gene Simmons. Jenny McCarthy. And then they show Cybill Shepherd, but they don't actually give her name.
These people are celebrities?
Then they have the "red carpet" with the glitterati walking in. And so we get to hear Nick Lachey and his new girlfriend (I didn't catch her name) chatting about the ponies.
These people are celebrities?
I understand that horse racing isn't as popular as it was way back when, but does NBC have to rub it in by showing Gene Simmons and Jenny McCarthy?UPDATE:
They had some guy talking to Jenny McCarthy about handicapping the race. I had to hit the MUTE button. It would not shock me if her voice was employed by interrogators at Guantanamo Bay.
Jesus Christ. They're interviewing Jennifer Tilly...and Phil Laak. Welcome to the Twilight Zone. And as I had the damn TV on MUTE, I didn't hear if they informed the viewers who the hell Phil Laak is. And, actually, chances are more Americans know who Phil Laak is than Cybill Shepherd.
Loved Phil's hat, by the way. And Jennifer's ensemble was a delight as well. Think I'm gonna start drinking. Excuse me.
I'll be writing a much-longer review tomorrow...but should I be ashamed in admitting that I liked Lucky You
? A lot? The reviews are almost uniformly bad, and I must admit I went in with fangs sharpened, ready to rip and shred. Instead I found myself really enjoying myself as the movie reached it's deeply-flawed ending.
I dunno. Maybe the movie made me nostalgic for the past...you know, 2003. Maybe it's because lately I find myself unable to resist the fluffybunny adorableness of Drew Barrymore, who I used to be allergic to. I dunno.
Saw Lucky You
this afternoon, saw Spiderman 3
last night during the midnight showing with the people in their Spidey Underoos. A couple of quick points:
- I didn't expect a superhero blockbuster to have so much singing and dancing.
- It REALLY takes a lot to get New Yorkers to notice stuff. Two guys in leotards beating the shit out of each other while swinging 100 feet in the air, and no one seems to get too excited about it.
- If I was Topher Grace I would've been on the phone to my agent five minutes after the premiere. I mean, it's bad enough being second fiddle, but Grace was...let's see...eighth fiddle?
- What does it say about the world today that in a movie featuring a bad guy made of sand, a bad guy who zips around on a nuclear skateboard, a pile of black goo that turns you into a yutz with bangs, and bad guy with really bad teeth...that the true villain of the story turns out to be THE HERO'S FRICKIN' GIRLFRIEND?? Tell me that Venom was in any way scarier than Mary Jane Watson, and I'll say that you've never been heavily involved with a person who's a total pain in the ass. Lucky you.
The Usual Crap
I posted this over at the UltimateBetBlog
as well, but I figured I'd let yinz read it here too:
One of online gaming's most powerful opponents, Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, published an article yesterday
in the National Ledger titled, "Online Gambling: Will New Law Be Repealed - Don't Bet On It". The title's ghastly punctuation aside, I have a few quibbles with Sen. Kyl's piece and would like to address them here.
But before I begin, I must raise this hilarious point--the Senator's article is of course anti-gambling, but scattered throughout his piece are little hyperlink advertisements...promoting online gambling. If you read the article and let your cursor linger over the highlighted words "offshore gambling", for example, you'll get a little pop-up add for an online gaming site offering a deposit bonus. Un-believable.
Anyway! Sen. Kyl's article begins thusly:
"Last week, Arizona authorities raided four illegal online gambling rings, centered in Phoenix but operating in three states, seizing millions of dollars in cash, cars, and property. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said millions of dollars were being collected, and often extorted, from gamblers visiting online sites based overseas. This recent crackdown highlights one of the major problems our state and local authorities face: enforcing existing state laws prohibiting gambling over the Internet."
If you'd like to read about those raids you can click here and here. And when you DO read about them, you might find yourself thinking the same thing I did--why is Sen. Kyl using these raids as evidence that anti-gaming laws are a GOOD thing? Because one of the major arguments AGAINST prohibiting gambling was that these laws would force out honest, reputable operators and leave the field wide-open to exploitation to unscrupulous and/or criminal enterprises.
According to one of the articles, those arrested in the raids were charged with crimes that included conspiracy, money laundering, and extortion. Now, no online gaming company I know of has asked that conspiracy, money laundering and extortion be legalized. Because no online gaming company is in any way INTERESTED in engaging in conspiracy, money laundering, and extortion. They want to provide the best gaming experience possible for their customers--extortion isn't exactly one of their core competencies, to trot out some of my old B-school lingo. But extortion and loansharking and threats of violence ARE core competencies of criminal organizations. And this is what society reaps when it tries to legislate away activities that millions enjoy and consider harmless.
The Senator continues:
"Until recently, authorities were forced to search for other violations – in this particular case, money laundering and extortion – to go after criminals trying to evade our laws prohibiting gambling over the Internet."
Well, why? Why were authorities forced to search for other violations? Why didn't they just enforce the laws on the books prohibiting online gambling? Or...could it be that there WERE no clearly-defined laws about online gaming?
"Last October, the President signed into law the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), culminating a 10-year effort by Congress to provide law enforcement with the means to stop offshore gambling businesses from circumventing our existing federal and state gambling laws. The Justice Department is now working to draft regulations to implement this new law."First of all, what does it say that after a "10-year effort by Congress" the UIGEA passed only after former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist tacked it on to an anti-terrorism bill at the last minute? Second, what "existing federal and state gambling laws" were online gambling sites circumventing? Why didn't federal and state law enforcement, well, enforce those laws? Could it be, again, that there aren't clear, enforceable laws?
Sen. Kyl seems to confirm that idea when, a few sentences later, he writes,
"The bill did not, as some have alleged, make online gambling illegal. Online gambling is already illegal under existing federal and state laws. The UIGEA simply provides the legal mechanisms necessary for authorities to enforce those laws."
OK, the Senator says that the UIGEA will give law enforcement the means to enforce existing laws. And how will the UIGEA bestow these powers?
"Principally, the UIGEA requires financial systems to block fund transfers associated with illegal Internet gambling, which is the most effective way to curb illegal activities of offshore websites beyond the reach of traditional law enforcement."
So...how does this help authorities enforce existing laws? It makes it harder for people who want to gamble transfer funds to their favorite online gaming sites, but that only serves to "curb" these nefarious people from, well, doing what they want with their hard-earned money. Plus, the onus falls not on law enforcement but on financial service providers, who risk angering their customers by, again, denying them the right to do what they want with their money.
Later Sen. Kyl writes:
While I stand and applaud the Senator's concern for state's rights...doesn't the UIGEA tramp all over the rights of states who DON'T have laws restricting online gambling? What if, oh, Rhode Island passed a law making online gaming 100% legal. Wouldn't the UIGEA "override any policy decisions made by state legislatures"?
"But some online poker operators are lobbying Congress to exempt online poker from the UIGEA. They allege it deserves an exemption because poker is "a game of skill" and an "American tradition." There are several reasons why Congress should reject this claim. Exempting online poker would undermine state gambling laws, making it much more difficult, if not impossible, for states to enforce their laws against gambling on online poker, and would override any policy decisions made by state legislatures."
Now, Senator Kyl is a politician and, therefore, needs the support of the voters every six years. And so he tries to show that he really has nothing against the great American game of poker:
"It is important to note that the UIGEA does not affect online poker for entertainment. If a poker player does not bet with a gambling entity or stake anything of value on the game, it does not constitute "gambling" and does not violate the law."
Got that? So long as you don't stake "anything of value", poker is hunky-dory. Of course, how one defines "anything of value" is rather open to interpretation, yes? One could argue that one's time is invaluable, and so even if no money is involved there is a price that is paid. What if you play for pistachios instead of quarters? I love me some pistachios, but my friends are more into cashews. Am I breaking the law here?
Maybe not, because Sen. Kyl then says, "Your Saturday night poker game is not affected." It isn't! Great! But...what if the buy-in for my Saturday night poker game is $500? Is that OK? How about $5,000? Is that cool? Or am I going to have a SWAT team breaking down my door? Am I going to be listed in the paper as running a criminal enterprise? Who decides how big the stakes should be: the players in the game, or Jon Kyl?
And then, of course, the Senator trots out the studies:
"Online poker is currently the most addictive form of gambling activity among American youth. The National Annenberg Risk Survey of Youth (ages 14 to 22) over the last few years has identified rising trends in poker and Internet gambling as significant and worrisome."Really? Because I actually looked up the Survey online and it said the following:
"According to the latest results...the overall percentage of male youth ages 14 to 22 who reported playing cards for money on a weekly basis DROPPED (emphasis mine) to 11.6% in 2006 from 12.5% in 2005."
It also said:
"Similar patterns were observed for gambling on the Internet...(A)though weekly use of Internet gambling sites held steady among all male youth (2.5% vs. 3.0% in 2005 and 2006 respectively), the pattern diverged for youth depending on age. For males under the age of 18, weekly use of Internet gambling DECLINED (emphasis mine) from 2.6% in 2005 to 0% (emphasis mine) in 2006. However, rates of Internet gambling rose among male youth over the age of 17 from 2.3% to 5.8% in 2006..."
So, let's get this straight. The number of young males playing cards has DROPPED in the last year. But Sen. Kyl called this a "rising" trend. The number of young males playing poker online has increased...but only among those older than 17. The number of those younger than that (who should not be able to play online in the first place) saw their numbers fall to ZERO PERCENT in 2006. Now, I find that goose egg to be a bit suspicious, but it certainly shows a sharp decline. And you can't say the UIGEA is responsible--it wasn't signed into law until October. Could it be that online gaming sites were doing a better and better job of identifying and blocking underage gamblers? It's possible...I'm also amused at how, in our society, we consider people between the ages of 18-22 "youths" when it comes to things like gambling, but when it comes to carrying an M-4 carbine around Baghdad and busting down doors looking for insurgents, we call them "Marines". But that's a post for another day. Let's look at the numbers of young people who actually ARE playing poker online. The percentage rose from 2.3% to 5.8%. So, about 1 in 17 young men between the ages of 17 and 22 play poker online. This is "significant" and "worrisome"? And could it be that more young people are playing poker because...poker as a whole has become more popular? Young people following a trend, that never happens!
And how many of these young people are dropping out of college to go pro, and how many merely play the odd $5 sit-n-go between chem labs? How many truly develop into "problem" gamblers?
Well, that depends on how you define "problem". And here's how the Annenberg Study defined it:
"If respondents had engaged in one or more specific gambling activities in an average month, they were asked four questions about difficulties related to their gambling. These items asked whether in the past year the respondent had (a) "often found yourself thinking about gambling," (b) "ever needed to gamble with more and more money to get the excitement you want," (c) "ever spent more than you had planned on gambling," and (d) "ever felt bad or fed up when trying to cut down or stop gambling?"
So, if you play poker online, and someone cracked your Aces with 8-4 offsuit, and you brooded over it later that night, you are a problem gambler. Welcome to the club!
I don't mean to be flip about gambling addiction, which of course is a very real concern. But the people most likely to ignore laws banning online gambling, and those most likely to be exploited by unscrupulous operators, are gambling addicts. If online gaming were legalized and regulated those people could be more easily identified and possibly given the help they need. Again, the arguments put forward by those in favor of prohibition in fact support the legalization and regulation of gambling.
And then, at the end of his piece, Sen. Kyl rather shoots himself in the foot:
"And finally, if poker gambling enthusiasts truly believe it is a "game of skill," they can gain an "exemption" by proving that to a court. Under most definitions of "gambling" in state laws, games of skill are not "gambling" even if there is an entry fee and a prize to be won. While poker, like other card games, involves an element of skill, the hands that win or lose are a result of chance – "the luck of the draw." If enthusiasts could prove otherwise to the satisfaction of a court, then they would not be subject to online gambling restrictions." First of all, there's an element of luck in ANY game. Tee shots land in divots, a tipped pass can turn into a touchdown, a stray pebble can transform a routine ground ball into a game-winning base hit. And to deny that luck doesn't play a role in poker is to deny the game one of it's charms. But as even Sen. Kyl concedes, poker contains an "element of skill". There is such a thing as a "good poker player". And there are, in fact, "great poker players". Phil Hellmuth, Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan don't each have ten WSOP bracelets because they're the three luckiest human beings on Earth. They have all that bling because each is a supremely gifted poker player.
Sen. Kyl might think he's correct when he says "the hands that win or lose are a result of chance", but in fact that statement shows his ignorance of poker. Because in poker the best hand often DOESN'T win. Because a superior player outplays his opponent. Or, maybe the better player loses the hand...but he loses far fewer chips than a lesser player would've lost. Or maybe the tables are turned and it's the better player who holds the cards...and he knows how to build the biggest pot possible. Who wins and loses a particular hand is NOT the whole story.
There's far, far more to poker than showing down your cards and seeing who has the best hand. And there's far, far more to online gaming than addiction and vice and criminals preying on our children. People play poker for many reasons. Because it's fun. Because they can make money at it. And, well, because it's THEIR time and it's THEIR money and they can spend both any way they damn well please.
Are there legitimate issues surrounding online gaming (underage gamblers, addiction, etc) that need to be addressed? Certainly--so let's address them. Prohibition is not a viable option. Passing a law without open debate is not how a democracy is supposed to work. As citizens, more so than as poker players, it's important that our lawmakers know that WE understand the issues, too. And that we expect our rights to be respected, and not stripped away in the guise of "what's best for us". WE should be the ones making those decisions.
UPDATE: As Mr. Nuts and Haley point out in the comments, a Federal Court ALREADY has ruled that poker is a game of skill. I'd forgotten about Baxter vs. the United States, wherein poker legend Billy Baxter convinced the court that his gambling winnings were due to skill, not luck, and should be taxed as "earned income". Baxter won, the ruling held up on appeal, and when the Feds decided not to take the case to the Supreme Court tried to get Baxter to make a deal. Which he refused to do. So, again, the point Senator Kyl raises to attack online gaming boomerangs on him.