Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Dial up and Deal: Online Poker in America

Here is an essay one of my friends from U of A, Matt Miller, wrote on online poker in America. If you got some time, its a great read...

Dial up and Deal: Online Poker in America
The practice of playing poker in America has become one that is generally accepted. When most Americans think of a poker room, they imagine a weekend rubbing elbows with the greats at the luxurious Bellagio in Las Vegas or playing by the boardwalk at the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. Casino poker has proven to be one of America’s favorite pastimes and has also become a great source of taxable income for the United States government. But what happens when the casino doesn’t exist in reality. What happens when the bricks and concrete of the massive real world casinos are dwarfed in size by casinos comprised of bits, bytes, and file extensions? What happens when you can get the real world experience at your very own computer? The result is a change from poker as most know it, to the world of online poker; a world where fortune, or famine, is just a click away. This is an exciting prospect to some, but to others, such as the U.S. government, it is anything but and must be stopped at all costs.

The most popular form of gambling online has come in the shape of online poker rooms, where people from all over the world can pit their poker skills against one another for sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars. Illegal in the United States, these online card rooms are based in locations such as Gibraltar, Costa Rica, and the U.K. in order to avoid the heavy taxation that the United States would impose, if the casinos were legal to run on U.S. soil (Stone). But illegality and far off locations does not mean it is difficult for the average American to play poker online for real money. Within five minutes of turning on your computer, you too can be in on the action with over 100,000 people at any given time, wagering up to $250 million per day (“About PokerPulse”). Credit most of these numbers to a man named Chris Moneymaker, the amateur player who, in 2003, beat out 837 professional poker players to win $2.5 million and the Main Event of the World Series of Poker, held annually in Las Vegas. Moneymaker qualified for the $10,000 event by playing a smaller tournament in, you guessed it, an online card room for only $40. After Moneymaker’s victory aired on ESPN, the world of online poker experienced what most call “The Poker Boom”. Thanks to ESPN’s broadcasting and heavy online marketing, regular college students like Jason Strasser are making up a majority of the new breed of online players looking to strike it rich. Commenting on the ease and availability of gambling online, Jason says “In college you live wired. The internet, instant messaging- it’s an access thing” (Habib 2). Although Strasser plays some very high limits, he is mostly a part time player, putting school first. But, with a reliable high speed connection and an itch to play cards, the laws of the United States are no hindrance to making money and enjoying online poker whether it’s part time during college or a full time career.

This easy access is the problem that most legislators have with gambling online. The prospect of increased compulsive gambling and a contingent of underage gamblers are what worry them most (“Gambling E-Nation”). But, since when has it been Congress’ job to dictate to the American public what to do with their hard earned money. In America today, citizens are so heavily taxed by this same legislative body, that we’re not free to do what we please with most of our money. Now they’re trying to tell the American public what to do with the amount that they keep. This type of control sounds too totalitarian for our democratic society. It is not Congress’ job to impose its reign on the financial dealings of American citizens. Why shouldn’t Americans be free to gamble online if that’s what they choose to do with their money? Limits and restrictions are already imposed on deposit amounts, as to ensure that no one is abusing this activity and wagering more than they can handle. Secondly, the effect that online gambling can have on children is minimal. Most every online gambling site requires age verification other than simply typing in your birthday, and in order to gamble with real money, you need to have a valid credit card to make a deposit. Any parent who will deposit money into an online gambling site for their child has problems greater than anything reparable by any body of legislature. Gambling online should be open to those who are old enough to enjoy it responsibly and those who are responsible enough not to abuse the privilege.

Despite repetitive arguments like those above, the government cannot be swayed. Congress seems to think that letting online poker run free will lead to the popularization of other, more dangerous types of gambling online, including sports books which “may lead to undermine the integrity of sports” (“A Gambling E-Nation”) Most notably the NCAA, which has had numerous problems with gambling and endorsement in the past. But the question still is, how can poker lead to something like fraud in the NCAA? It’s highly improbable that someone logging on to Pokerstars.com for the first time will later become the target of the FBI for fixing the Final Four. A majority of the people who play on these websites play solely poker, whether online or at the casino. They are not gamblers looking for action; they are attracted to the special skills that one needs to become a winning poker player. It seems completely illogical to make the bridge from poker to fixing professional or collegiate sporting events. It seems as if the government is now looking for any excuse to get online poker off of American soil. Even the WTO is looking to change America’s tune. A recent decision after a grievance from Antigua led to the WTO telling America that their online gambling ban needed to be changed, as it was a violation of the rules of global trade. The decision was immediately appealed by the United States (“House of Cards”). It’s obvious that the United States is completely against online poker, but with such attention from the WTO, it seems as though their quest to stifle online gambling may have to take a detour.

Hobby poker players like Jason Strasser mentioned above, are not the only ones who will be negatively affected by a complete ban of online poker in America. Executives from the rising companies that run these online card rooms will have to take a severe pay cut, as 70% of most online players, and most profit, are from the U.S. (Stone 1). The CEO in the limelight in the hustle and bustle of Las Vegas these days is Calvin Ayre, the CEO of the poker room at Bodog.com. Bodog started out as an online sports book, and then opened an online card room after the start of the online poker boom. Bodog is known in the poker world for being very hip and chic, signing young professionals David Williams and Josh Arieh, who both made the final table of the 2004 Main Event, making over $3 million and $2 million respectively. Ayre, 45, lives the life of a 21 year old debutante now. He attends the swankiest Las Vegas parties and Los Angeles premieres, all because he runs a poker website (Gray). It is obvious that it’s not the end of the world for Calvin Ayre if the United States gets their way and bans online poker. He’s a very successful businessman otherwise, and would have to give up his chartered rides on private jets if the ban goes through. But for some people, people you might see walking down the U of A mall, it is quite near to the end of the world if the poker ban sees the light of day.

One of these people is my good friend Lee Gaines. If you were going to describe Lee in one word, it would be unassuming. Watching him walk past you on the mall would be an event you’d most likely forget. But if you get to know him, there’s no way you’ll forget this man. Gaines is a native of the Boondocks of Phoenix, and one look at his laid back demeanor and undertoned hip hop style, you’d think he’d fit right into the Aaron McGruder TV show. But there’s one thing you’d never guess about Lee Gaines after knowing him for a week, he’s a professional poker player. He plays online at Pokerstars.com under the pseudonym “Bill Ivey”, where he’s known for tearing up some of the highest stakes cash games and tournaments for thousands of dollars at a time, although he can easily remember his humble beginnings. Gaines recounts, “The first game I played was $.50/$1 limit hold’em where the biggest pot I was about $80. Now an $80 pot isn't at all significant at the limits I play, and losing $1,000 in one hand is not uncommon to me”(Gaines 1). Technically, it is uncommon, because Gaines is accustomed to being on the winning side of those pots. Gaines is a professional in every sense of the word. Not only is poker his sole means of income, he treats it as someone would treat a career. This is what differentiates Gaines from most others that play online. The people who deposit $200 to just play for fun are the people that Gaines takes to the cleaners in tournaments ranging from $22 to $530 and cash games as high as $10/$20 with no limits on the betting. “Someone getting lucky is just temporary, to win consistently, you need the skills” (Gaines 1). So how does Gaines feel every time there’s a bill in Congress to ban online poker, to put a ban on his career? Gaines doesn’t hold his emotions back on the subject:

I am associated with a lot of different online players that play different games and limits. A lot of them are pros, and some are students, some play just as a hobby and have full-time jobs. Although we are all different in that way, all of us think that banning online poker is preposterous. We all strongly agree that the government shouldn't control online poker. I think it’s crazy that the government can come into our households and tell us what we can and cannot do with our own hard-earned money. (Gaines 2)

By continuously attempting to ban online poker, the government is trying to take away the livelihoods of some of its own citizens. The reality of the situation is that online poker is now a part of American life, whether the government likes it or not. Both part time and full time players must let their voice be heard in a situation where ignorance is leading to fear, and the fear of the unknown is leading to the desire to rid the unknown from our society; even if that means ruining the career of citizens like Calvin Ayre, Lee Gaines, and the countless other Americans making a hard earned living from the world of online poker.

1 comment:

Benjamin Samuel said...

WOw man what a great piece! hits it pretty much dead on, on how a lot of online poker players feel about the pressure coming from the government on banning online poker. Truly amazing how many people, especially young adults, have made a living and more off of online poker. Your essay would make up a very good argument for all of the online sites to hold up against Congress when the government tries to force unwanted laws on online gambling.
-Inspirational ...C...no give it a C+ lol