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Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

Poker players find reason to unite

10 July 2011

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- If anything positive has arisen in the three months since federal prosecutors imploded the Internet poker world, it's that the subject is no longer taboo.

A few members of Congress -- Democrats and Republicans -- support legalizing and regulating Internet poker. The Poker Players Alliance, a nonprofit Washington, D.C., advocacy organization, has seen its membership boom. Poker players, long known as a group not normally politically active, have taken an interest in the elective process.

It's early in the game and many hands need to be played.

"The poker community has become galvanized over the last three months," said Poker Players Alliance Executive Director John Pappas. "A lot of poker players were complacent, but that changed."

Brian Balsbaugh, who represents some of the game's top players through his Las Vegas-based Poker Royalty agency, has also noticed the change in attitude.

"Generally, as a group they don't want to be organized or get involved," Balsbaugh said. "Not anymore."

The reaction by poker players was not a surprise, given that a revenue stream was drained.

On April 15, U.S. Department of Justice indicted the founders of the three largest online poker websites, PokerStars, FullTilt and Absolute Poker, charging them with 11 counts of money laundering and bank fraud. The actions shut down their operations in America.

That left the U.S. online gaming community with few places to turn.

Many players gravitated to casino poker rooms in Las Vegas, Indian casinos and regional gaming markets. Some players found action on smaller and somewhat shady poker websites. Most, however, were outraged they could no longer play online.

What has been learned in the three months since "Black Friday" is that poker players want their game.

The World Series of Poker has long been considered the center of the game's universe. That has been much more evident during this year's six-week run at the Rio.

Player participation in the tournament's first 57 events increased nearly 7 percent from a year ago. Satellite game attendance, where the top prizes awarded were $5,000 and $10,000 seats into the major World Series of Poker events, grew more than 40 percent.

Originally, it was speculated the lack of Internet poker would reduce World Series of Poker players. The opposite turned out to be true.

Growth in live poker hasn't dried up calls for passing federal legislation making Internet poker legal and regulated. The problem is there may be too many bills floating in Congress.

Rep. John Campbell, R-Calif., and Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, introduced Internet poker legalization bills. Campbell's bill is a reintroduction of the proposal pushed in the past by Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass.

The American Gaming Association also entered the mix. In a keynote address to the Gaming Executive Summit in Madrid, Spain, last week, AGA President Frank Fahrenkopf Jr. said the Washington, D.C.-based lobbying group would push its own legislation later this year that would favor Nevada and New Jersey as the licensing and regulatory authorities in a future U.S. Internet gaming market.

Pappas said the competing proposals might confuse poker players. But he's happy that Internet poker regulation is being discussed.

"From a strategic perspective, it would be nice if everybody focused and got behind one bill so we can get this done," Pappas said.

Balsbaugh believes Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is key to any Internet poker bill getting through Congress. However, the Nevada Democrat failed to gain support for an Internet poker bill last December.

In any case, involvement and interest from the poker community is necessary.

Most players shun the limelight and would rather donate money toward the cause or candidates who support Internet poker. Others, such as 2004 World Series of Poker champion Greg Raymer, a licensed patent attorney, doesn't mind being out front.

"We just want players to get involved," Raymer said. "That's the main thing."

Actor Jason Alexander, a World Series of Poker's Main Event participant the last five years as a PokerStars- sponsored player, said the federal government is missing an opportunity.

"A penny a hand per player could solve the national debt in two years," Alexander said. "People want to play this game. There is no reason why they shouldn't."
Poker players find reason to unite is republished from