Sunday, October 28, 2007

The PPA Lobbies the Federalies

[Cal here, taking over for the rest of the weekend duties---]

Haley quipped to me in a phone conversation early in the week about the "Hundred Man March" scheduled to take place in Washington D.C., where about 100 Poker Players Alliance representatives traveled to the U.S.'s capital to lobby Congressmen on poker's behalf. The 'Fly-In,' as the PPA termed it, went off as scheduled, and the PPA generated some mainstream press. After acknowledging the few dozen headlines generated, however, did the PPA publicity tour accomplish any real good?

The PPA certainly trotted out its horses for the effort. In addition to the PPA's own name bosses, John Pappas and former Senator Al D'Amato, poker's celeb call also offered up Howard Lederer, Annie Duke, Chris Moneymaker, Vanessa Rousso, poker-promoting Harvard Law professor Charles Nesson, and many others. The PPA came fully armed as well. With an agenda full of publicity-generating events and a coherent list of poker "Talking Points," the fly-in was likely the most effective effort yet by the PPA.

One wonders, however, if the PPA wasn't preaching to the choir in its rosy reports on the fly-in's impact. For starters, though, here's just a bit of the talking points supporting the legalization of poker that the PPA wanted to publicize. All typos and such are left intact; we'll just hope they didn't actually give the printed version of this to legislators or major mainstream newspapers:

Prohibitions Don't Work:

The UIGEA effectively bans online poker in the U.S. and drives those players underground. Meanwhile, poker continues to grow in popularity nationwide.

The UIGEA does nothing for effectively addressing...

Money Laundering

The UIGEA forces law enforcement and financial institutions to redirect resources on blocking poker player's financial transactions instead of tracking down terrorist financing. This creates an even larger hurdle for law enforcement to police for potential money laundering. The UIGEA does not help track down terrorist financing.


The best way to keep children from accessing online gaming Web sites is to strictly require that all operators employ the best in class age-verification software. This can only be done through a licensing approval process and regulation. The UIGEA does not use the best way to prevent underage gambling and protect children.

Problem Gamblers

The problem gambler is perhaps hurt most by the prohibition. Sadly, these people will continue to gamble and will fall prey to unscrupulous operators that will work outside of the law. The UIGEA does not try to help problem gamblers.

The UIGEA Does...

Lose money for the U.S.

Billions of tax revenue is being lost. According to an economic analysis, 3.3 billion in federal tax revenue and addition 1 billion in state tax revenue could be raised if the federal government were to regulate Internet poker. This tax revenue made from American players is going off to other countries.

Allow other kinds of Internet gambling

The UIGEA allows people to gamble online for horse races and state lotteries, but not for poker. Why can't I play a skill game like poker with other consenting adults?

Quote from UIGEA:
(i) IN GENERAL- the term 'unlawful Internet gambling' shall not include any activity that is allowed under the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978 (15 U.S.C. 3001 et seq.).


It goes on for several pages, hitting all the hot points, including the skill games argument and the pending Frank and Wexler bills.

The PPA did do quite a bit during the two-day fly-in, including face-to-face sessions with about 50 Congressman. That's impressive, but it's likely that the vast majority of these were Congressman already on record as supporting the Frank and/or Wexler bills. It's converting the unwashed heathens that needs to continue to occur, not just the congratulating of those already converted. The PPA also touted its Tuesday night reception on Capitol Hill, which drew eight -- yes, eight -- members of Congress. As PPA honcho John Pappas noted, it's hard to get Congressman to attend any functions of this type, given all the demands for their time from competing lobbyists and state functions. Still, eight's not going to effect much change if that's all there is. Only time will tell.

And there's the issue of the mainstream press. The PPA did a solid job of getting its message out. The PPA is also maintaining an impressive list of mainstream articles on its efforts, though they're picking and choosing many of the best "pro" pieces.

Were those good pieces the only ones out there. In so many cases, it seems that the articles' writers couldn't bother to research the issue and offer facts and figures of their own. Instead, they almost unanimously opted for the easy way out, finding a "talking mouth" from the other side, whether there was anything factual there or not.

A CNet piece, for example, dissed the whole concept of the PPA fly-in with this brief intro:

"America's online poker enthusiasts descended on Capitol Hill this week with two messages for Congress: Poker's good for the brain, and stop jeopardizing our games already."

Later on, it dove into an extensive rebuttal from the anti-gambling position with no cited facts whatsoever:

Supporters of the federal online gambling ban say the law is necessary to clarify that forms of offline gambling already considered unlawful by state and federal laws are also prohibited in the online context. They argue gambling has a host of negative consequences--including addiction, bankruptcy, divorce and crime--that are only aggravated by the relative anonymity the Internet supplies.

The law requires banks and payment processors to take certain steps to block transactions stemming from "unlawful" forms of gambling--that is, those that violate any federal, state or local laws. (Bets on horse racing, lotteries, fantasy sports and games that don't involve exchanges of anything of "value" are exempt.)

Because Congress has historically left it up to each state to decide how much or how little gambling to legalize, it's not always clear where online gaming for money--and poker in particular--fits in from state to state. So, with the risk of hefty fines and criminal penalties if they don't do their part, payment processors seem to be playing it safe, opting to stop accepting transactions from online poker and bridge sites even when it's not clear laws are being broken, critics of the ban said Wednesday.

A stock photo in the piece carries the following caption: "American poker players want Congress to scale back an online gambling ban that's 'inconveniencing' their games." In other words, boo-hoo.

For all that, though, the CNet piece at least attempts to explore the problem, though editors already had to insert a correction after misreporting the status of a Pennsylvania case exploring the skill-vs.-chance argument regarding poker.

The point is that the CNet spin is the common one. The PPA put a positive spin on the event, but whether any real good has been accomplished at all is another question altogther.

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