Thursday, July 12, 2007

CBS Sportsline Writer Gets the "BS" Part Right

[Canada Cal, borrowing Haley's soapbox for a bit---]

Those who would hate poker for poker's sake made another appearance this week, this time in the person of CBS columnist Gregg Doyel, who waxed long and with much bile against the World Series of Poker and about gambling in general. There's two avenues of thought on this one, as to whether Doyel went off on poker because "poker's not a sport," or whether Doyel is one of those anti-gambling purists intent on changing the world over to his way of thinking. But in the manner of all hate speech, Doyel's inflammatory and highly inaccurate text begs further examination.

So let's do that, shall we? Let's examine the words of one Gregg Doyel, who's given us a textbook example of the difference between writing that is skillful, and that which is responsible. His is the former, and most definitely *not* the latter. All of Doyel's word will appear in italics. And so:

They're in Las Vegas this week for the 2007 World Series of Poker, the visionaries and the dreamers, the desperate and the degenerate, the winners and the losers.

Oh, wait. Sorry. Made a mistake there. When it comes to hard-core gambling, there are no winners. Just losers.

Ahh. We have a preemptive strike on gambling in general. We also have the creation of a heirarchy here, a statement of relative worth. All gamblers are losers, according to Doyel, even those poker players who have won millions through superior skill. Doyel, though, isn't talking about finances --- he wants you to know that as a non-gambler, he's morally superior to any poker player.

High-stakes gambling is for addicts and idiots, which makes the World Series of Poker a celebration of the sad and the stupid. Watch this train wreck for yourself. It's available live on the Internet and will come to free television later this year thanks to ESPN, which can next build on this viewer experience by televising a DUI checkpoint or maybe a crack house.

Thank you, Mr. Doyel, for this wretched excess in paralogical pandering. It's a wonderful image, except for one problem: the World Series of Poker is fully legal, whereas driving drunk and smoking crack are not. But Doyel isn't about to let basic facts get in the way of the story he wants to weave.

Some studies say as many as three percent of all Americans have a gambling problem, and that the suicide rate for pathological gamblers is 20 times higher than for the rest of the population, but you won't see any of those stories on ESPN.

And any half-assed responsible writer knows to cite the source for such "studies," rather than blind-reference them, lest he be laughed out of journalism school. let's see the facts, not Doyel's presentation of them in the manner most advantageous to his sales job.

You'll hear instead about people like Dan Nassif of St. Louis, who parlayed a $160 investment at an online qualifying tournament into ninth place in the 2006 World Series of Poker, which earned him about $1.5 million. You'll hear about 2006 champion Jamie Gold, who won $12 million. Those are great stories, but every lottery has its handful of winners. And then there is everyone else. The ones you don't hear about. The losers.

That's because Nassif and Gold are winners... except in Doyel's morality play. And it's not a lottery, though it is intentional, this tying of poker to other forms of gambling.

• You won't hear about the woman who called a gambling hotline to say she was at the riverboat casino again, her weekly paycheck gone.
• You won't hear about the man who called a gambling hotline to confess that he had embezzled $48,000 from his job and lost it at a poker table and now is afraid he's going to jail.
• You won't hear about the woman who called a gambling hotline in tears after spending her family's grocery money on slot machines.

Those calls were placed within six months to the same hotline in Indiana. Those callers are among gambling's losers. Every state has them. Every city. Your city. Mine.

Yes, Doyel's plan of attack is clear, now. It's to demonize poker by lumping it in with other forms of gambling, games where the gamblers are doomed, long-term, because of the irreducable house edge. Notice how only one of the three instances he cites actually mentions poker? Which isn't to say that poker never causes problems for an addictive personality, but it accounts for a much smaller proportion of problem-gambling cases than, say, slot machines. But don't expect Doyel to share with you the proper factual research, because that's not on his agenda.

But still we tolerate and even celebrate this abomination called the World Series of Poker, this 10-day advertisement for addiction and loss. Now listen. Normally, I'm not one to rail on about the evils of this sport or the dangers of that one. Let boxers box. Let race-car drivers race. Let football players bang helmets. Let UFC fighters fight. This is a free country, and those are legal, noble pursuits even with their inherent risk. Freedom is cool.

"Freedom is cool," apparently, as long as it's a freedom of which Doyel approves. What utter, shameful crap.

But since Doyel doesn't approve of poker players' preferences in expressing their freedoms and choices, it's quite legitimate then, in Doyel's view, to refer to the WSOP as an abomination and a 10-day ad for addiction and loss. I'm guessing the 10 days refers to either the length of the Main Event of the number of ESPN nights of new episodes, or something, because the WSOP goes on just a bit longer than that: 47 days.

Gambling is not. Freedom to gamble is like freedom to inhale crack or inject heroin. You may enjoy it once or twice or a hundred times. You may be that one unlikely person impervious to its evil lure. But in most cases the addiction will eventually win.

Ahhh, definitely an anti-gambling diatribe. Gambling is drugs, bad rugs, and Doyel has taken it upon himself to save you from yourself. Spare us from such lunacies, please --- the modern world has way too many of these types the way it is.

Every day around the country, people -- regular people like you or me -- lose their job or home or car or wife or kids or all of the above because they cannot stop gambling. Regular people go to jail. Regular people commit suicide. Because of gambling.

Regular people make all kinds of bad decisions. Does Doyel smoke? Has he ever had a drink, maybe even just a beer or two? It would be interesting to know exactly the list of "social sins" that Doyel finds acceptable, because unless he's Mother Teresa's illegitimate child, he's done something which wasn't snow-white. As have we all.

Those are not the stories you'll hear about during this 10-day marathon of naked greed called the 2007 World Series of Poker. You'll hear about the sunglass-wearing and absurdly named Chris Moneymaker, whose victory in the 2003 World Series of Poker helped pull that event out from under its rock. Beginning with Moneymaker, an accountant, four of the past five WSOP winners have been relative novices, people who don't gamble for a living. Listen and you'll hear that this could be you.

Noble. Insulting someone because of the way his name is spelled. Nor was the World Series of Poker "under a rock," but quite clearly, Doyel wants to bury it beneath one.

You won't hear that you're more likely to become like June Williams, the New Orleans retiree profiled by the Boston Globe after she lost her home to Hurricane Katrina and then days later lost her life savings -- less than $1,000 -- at a nearby casino. You won't hear how she cashed her grandson's $279 emergency check from the government and gambled that away.

Was June Williams playing poker? Highly unlikely, given the nature of the Globe piece. Williams' is a textbook example of a depressive gambler, but tying this to an attack on the World Series of Poker is sheer idiocy.

You'll see the beauty of Las Vegas with the winners smiling and the lights beaming. You won't see what happens when the cameras are off and the lights are dimmed and another degenerate has been allowed to gamble until his last penny is gone. You won't see how the casino that took his money bought him a bus ticket home, not from kindness but from self-preservation, because a loser like that would be bad for business. Get that guy out of here. Look -- here comes another one to take his place.

There's never been any doubt that Vegas (or any casino) is a harsh place for the addictive personality. But again, this is a case of the blurring of the lines, an argument made true only by ignoring the difference between poker and "house" games.

They're coming at a faster and faster pace, if the World Series of Poker is an accurate reflection. This thing started as a quaint little lark, a nine-player event in 1970 that was decided not by attrition but by congeniality -- a vote among players at the table. By 2003, it was still a humble event counting 839 contestants. After Moneymaker, it began to grow exponentially. Last year, there were more than 8,000 entrants. This year, almost 12,000 were expected.

Glad to see Doyel couldn't be bothered to do any research in what actual attendance at the WSOP Main Event was likely to be. Nope, grab a number off an early Harrah's sales pitch, toss it in and go. That's the recipe for shitty journalism, Doyel-style.

A seat at the table this year can be had for a $10,000 buy-in, and I don't want to know what some of these habitual losers had to do to get their hands on the money. There were countless qualifying tournaments, which means hundreds of thousands and perhaps even millions of people tried to get into this event and failed. They'll be back next year, but with more competition than ever.

You know, there really are some habitual losers and hardcore types among the Main Event thousands. Probably a few hundred, with folks such as Eskimo Clark among them. But a far, far greater number of the seats are filled by people who can afford the buy-in, either because they've become rich in other fields, or they're --- ahem --- winners at poker. And the line, "They'll be back next year, but with more competition than ever," is totally illogical. The relative price of any awarded seat is roughly $10,000 (plus travel expenses), plus the satellite fees charged to the players who entered. If getting to the WSOP is the point, then the price for that is a constant, averaged over all those who would try.

This is the world today. We'd rather not work hard for our fortune. We'd prefer to win it in the lottery or on a game show or at a felt-covered table. This is why U.S. college students are flunking out at an alarming rate as they spend their time hooked to a computer, trying to beat an endless supply of anonymous losers on the Internet.

Sad. Sure, everyone wants the easy road. But Doyel can't be bothered to provide a smidgen of evidence for assertions. If U.S. college students are "flunking out at an alarming rate," is the rate increasing or decreasing? And if it is increasing, is it solely (or even partially) due to Internet poker? Could we see some facts here? Maybe even one fact? Please??? For those that do flunk out, isn't it very likely that they would have flunked out anyway, due to some other time- or pleasure-diverting activity? What skillfully horrendous pandering this is.

And this is why that Indiana hotline recently took a call from a man wanting help for his wife, who gets paid every other Friday and then disappears for the weekend. She always comes back on Mondays because she's broke and has nowhere else to go.

Was she at a poker game? Or is this another slot-machine story mixed in to the stew?

Maybe some day she'll end up in Vegas at the World Series of Poker. Maybe she's there this weekend, just another loser in a city where she has way too much company.

No, highly unlikely she'd be at the World Series of Poker after all. The gambling addict most often chases the bells and the lights, the dreams of instantaneous riches. And despite what Doyel would have you believe, that's not poker.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

It's interesting, of course, to note the heavy preponderance of fantasy sports leagues on CBS, suggesting that Doyel's glass house has clear boundaries. Doyel's quite happy to accept pay from a major site who sees no problem in offering fantasy-sports contests, and Sportsline even maintains a complete poker section as well.

Quite frankly, if Doyel wants to walk the walk instead of just talking the talk, he should resign immediately, and take his skills and viewpoints to somewhere more in line with his views, like the nearest Baptist or Mormon church.

Maybe, though, just maybe, Doyel isn't the overly pompous, self-righteous anti-gambling zealot that he seems. Maybe he's doing this out of a pure love for sport, defending it as that glorious societal ideal where humans can compete for supremacy without literally killing one another.

If we were to use Doyel's own techniques for creating a skewed picture, we could even suggest that he might harken back to the 19th-century, when baseball was the only real game, the men wore top hats and the women bonnets, they didn't sell beer on Sundays and the darkies knew their place. Which probably leaves only one thing wrong with this picture:

That would be a terrible, raunchy thing to do, to suggest such a thing. But it's the level on which Gregg Doyel and his ilk do their work.

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