Monday, August 14, 2006

The World Series of Poker (WSOP) Diaries, Chapter Three: The "Dot-Com" Censorship Funnies

--- it takes a few days for the word to trickle into the mainstream, but the story over the ".NET" controversy at the WSOP final makes Page One of the Sunday edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "POKER'S UNEASY PAIR," the headline blasts, with the kicker: "World Series Event Tries to Distance Itself from Internet Sites."

By then we'd been living with it for four or five days. Everything you've read is true. Harrah's went a wee bit over the top concerning the appearance of ".com" apparel appearing on the ESPN cameras during the WSOP. The final verdict, put into effect about when Day Two action began, was that the extension ".com" was verboten; when I walk out into the Amazon Room, WSOP Asst. Director Charles Ciresi is poised at room center, eyeballing everyone who passes. Ciresi's got a honkin' huge roll of black duct tape in his hands, ready to cover up any transgressions.

The walkie-talkie Ciresi wears buzzes --- "get that guy with the duffel bag" echoes faintly through the air. Ciresi looks at a player who had just walked by, then chases him down; the dreaded ".com" expletive had been spotted (by security cameras panning the room, no doubt), and Ciresi tears off a strip of the black tape and excises the foul letters from camera's view.

That's how they did it, folks --- plus the sheets of ".NET" stickers that were left hanging everywhere, especially the media rooms. (Later on I'll tell you that I finally discovered a good use for them.)

But I see this surreal scene and I'm thinking, the whole time all this is going on, What a shortsighted, cowardly move. Pretending that the ".com" extensions don't exist does exactly what? Does it perhaps allow the ESPN televised episodes to be aired in Washington State? (That might make sense, in a programming sort of way.) But no, it's just another step along the appeasement trail, to try to create this artificial disconnect between ".com" sites and the fact that players actually gamble on them; it's a way for the powers that be to pretend that they're steering clear of any HR 4411-related controversy.

It's a cheap sop and it doesn't fool anyone. Worse, it may well have the opposite effect, that of throwing gasoline on the fire. After all, Harrah's has now told the world that they really do have something to hide.

And as you've already read, the edict strecthes to all appearances of the dreaded Cee-Oh-Emm word, which creates surreal moments. Dan Michalski, of Pokerati and fame, is about as agitated as I see him all week --- and of all the media types I meet, Dan is upbeat and friendly as anyone in the batch. On the day the ".NET"-emblazoned hammer drops, Michalski is wearing a brown t-shirt bearing the design of a company that makes poker tables and sells them online. As he's pointed out, it's a freakin' furniture maker, and totally legal. Even funnier, I notice the t-shirt's design is a bit busy; it's one of those looks that's designed to be read up close, and there is no way in hell that it would ever do anything in the background of a camera shot but bleed into a busy mess. It doesn't matter; it's cover-it-up-or-lose-it for Michalski, and he's almost apopleptic.

The next day I'm wearing a dark green t-shirt myself, and it gets the black-tape treatment as well. Pauly gives me the fake-hyena "Ha-ha-ha!" laugh as he points at the slab of tape below my collar, then saunters off.

Check your freedom of speech at the door, kiddies; this heah's private property.

Well, there wasn't much that anyone could do about it, but idiotic or not, it remained in place for the duration. Here's a photo of the first player that I saw who decided that a ".NET" sticker on the forehead was appropriate comment on the censorship; others would follow.

Disgusting. Shallow. Hypocritical. Deceitful. Pick an adjective, any adjective.

But whatever; what was done was done. As I mentioned, I finally did find a good use for those stupid ".NET" stickers, sheets of which were taped near doors almost everywhere, intent obvious. After several days wear, the top of my media badge broke, no doubt from the little plastic connector getting flexed too often as it was compacted down into my little waste pouch or notebook bag. The fix began with Scotch tape underneath and several ".NET" stickers over the top. I then punched a slit through the whole works and reattached the lanyard.

I guess the stickers did have a use, after all.

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