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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz
 

Protectors of Poker

11 October 2005

As poker continues to entrench itself in mainstream American culture, accompanying organizations are springing up to ensure the game -- whether played online, in casinos or at home -- maintains a steady increase in popularity.

The Poker Players Alliance, a Las Vegas-based nonprofit group, is attempting to become an advocate for the growing legion of poker players who lack collective representation. Founded earlier this year, the group is seeking members, has hired a Washington, D.C., lobbyist to follow poker and gambling-related federal legislation and is beginning to market itself through Internet poker events, live poker tournaments and other avenues.

From a two-person office located on the ninth floor of a building across from the Regional Justice Center, Poker Players Alliance monitors potential laws that might halt the spread of poker while gathering information and background on anything that could affect a person's ability to play the game.

For example, the group is looking into why authorities shut down a senior citizens poker game in Lewisville, Texas, and why a charity poker event in Houston, hosted by former World Series of Poker champion Phil Hellmuth, was forced to cancel.

Las Vegas gaming attorney Tony Cabot, who helped set up the organization, said it's too early to determine what kind of effect the alliance will have.

"This came about as a way to give poker players some type of voice," said Cabot, considered an expert on laws governing Internet gambling. He wouldn't divulge names of individuals, Internet gaming backers or gaming companies that funded the alliance's start-up costs.

"There had long been a feeling among poker players that their rights were not being recognized," Cabot said. "A small group of individuals decided something needed to be done."

One of the two main principles that drives the organization is that people have a right to play poker.

"The game is entrenched in American history," said Sam Gorewitz, a former Washington, D.C., sales and marketing representative who was hired this year to spearhead the Poker Players Alliance. "You can go back and find presidents, judges and Americans from all walks of life who play poker. All we're trying to do is to preserve that right."

Through its Web site, www.pokerplayersalliance.org, the group offers membership categories from $14.95 up to $1,000. What the organization doesn't do is recommend Internet sites or poker rooms to players seeking advice.

"We're an advocate to allow people to play poker, not for any particular place or location," said Gorewitz, who works full time with Jason Newburg, the organization's marketing director.

Gorewitz tried to dispel what he says is a growing misconception about the organization -- that it was founded by a collection of Internet poker operators to fight attempts in Congress to ban online gambling.

"By no means are we just focused on just Internet poker. We want to represent the entire poker industry," Gorewitz said. "We hope we can reach poker players on Internet poker sites through our marketing efforts. We've done marketing events at the Bicycle Club (a Los Angeles-area card room) with the World Poker Tour. We're looking to make sure people have the right to play poker."

Gorewitz, who marketed wireless products and services to nonprofit agencies such as the American Association of Retired People and the National Rifle Association, said Internet poker is in the spotlight because federal legislation has targeted online gambling.

The federal government has said online wagering violates several anti-gambling laws, including the Wire Act of 1961, which covers wagering across state lines. The U.S. Department of Justice said it's illegal for an American company to operate an online gambling Web site in the United States. However, there isn't a prohibition against wagering on the sites.

Last month, a bill in the U.S. Senate authored by Arizona Republican John Kyl sought to stop banks and credit card companies from processing transactions generated by online gambling sites, which could have precluded Americans from wagering online. The bill was killed quickly in the Senate.

"We're against any legislation that stops our rights to play poker," Gorewitz said.

Poker has boomed over the last few years -- cable television is flooded with poker events ranging from the World Series of Poker on ESPN to the World Poker Tour on the Travel Channel -- while millions play on the Internet and in casinos.

The other principle driving the organization is changing the way people classify and view poker -- from a game of chance to a game of skill.

Gorewitz, Cabot and others believe having poker recognized as a game of skill would make the game legal under the gambling laws of several states.

"That's one of our main goals," Gorewitz said.