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Ryan McLane

Ryan  McLane
Ryan McLane was a poker reporter for Casino City. Although he has a strong background in reporting, the same can't be said for his poker skills. He has never won a major tournament nor is he a professional player. Currently, Ryan lives in Boston and occasionally makes international treks to cover tournament poker and news.

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Poker Players Should Join the Poker Players Alliance

30 Mar 2006

By Ryan McLane

I never really thought about the fate of Internet poker before I took this job as a gaming industry journalist. I deposited my online bankroll, played my nightly Internet games, and assumed it was my right to play wherever and whenever I wanted.

Come to find out - there are many powerful people who don't agree.

On March 15th, the House Financial Services Committee passed a bill introduced by Representatives Jim Leach (R-IA) and Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) that would make it illegal for Internet gambling sites to accept financial transactions like credit cards, checks, wire transfers and electronic fund transfers.

The point of this bill is to stifle Internet poker, denying online rooms important conduits of money and essentially killing gaming sites at their root. The bill is headed to the House floor for debate and although there are no assurances that the bill will even make it to a vote, it's still a serious attack on the millions who view online poker as their recreational right.

This isn't the first time a bill like this has come before Congress. In fact, this isn't even the first time this particular bill has seen the House floor. Certain legislators have tried to ban Internet gambling (poker included) since 1997. So far they haven't succeeded, but as long as there is a moral perch to preach from, the attempts will continue.

Attacks on the game are not limited to the Internet. Live poker games, especially tournaments, are being shutdown worldwide, most noticeable here in the United States. Here are some interesting examples. After each article summary, I added a link to the full article so readers can gather more information.

Last year (2005), authorities shut down Phil Hellmuth's charitable Phil Hellmuth Poker Challenge, an event held to raise money for breast cancer. With more than 600 people slated to attend the day was sure to be a successful one against a painful disease. It was not to be. Texas State gambling laws closed the event.

Another Texas poker mishap involved a small group of senior citizens who enjoyed playing penny poker at their senior center. Because of the same Texas anti-gambling laws, their "harmful" game was shut down.

I have a few questions about these Texas-sized attacks on harmless poker events – were the laws originally written to prevent charitable work and senior citizen activity? Do the laws still make sense? Shouldn't the laws provide adequate explanation as to what constitutes gambling and what does not? And, where is Chuck Norris when you need a little Texas justice?

These two examples come from Texas, but there are hundreds of these anti-poker stories circulating in newspapers worldwide. In the short time I've covered poker I've learned to not be so naïve about the status of the game. If players are not careful, especially those who love Internet play, they may find the game they love taken away.

There are legislators in positions of power who have made it a personal quest to rid the country of Internet gaming. Judging by what I've read, these legislators know little about the game, in most cases claiming they've never played. Rather than try to understand why poker has become immensely popular online, they'd rather ban it with a blanket of morality.

In my humble opinion, banning something without adequate understanding is cowardly and kind of scary. It's one thing to analyze one statistical report and draft laws based on numbers and assumptions. It's quite another to sit down at a poker table and actually understand why people love to play. If these questing legislators sat down with their constituents and played a few hands they might see poker's recreational viability and conclude it is a game of skill that when played correctly, is a very enjoyable activity. I can't imagine Washington D.C. doesn't want to get their hands into this lucrative tax conduit, so why not work with the industry and players to come up with a mutual beneficial agreement?

I doubt many of poker's strongest opponents have ever played the game, but if they have, I must conclude they are hypocrites and simply trying to attach their name to legislation in order to appease a certain morality-based constituency. I pray that's not the case. I challenge any opponent of online poker to sign on and come play some poker with me. I guarantee you at least a good time.

Here are my thoughts on the games legality:

1.) Poker is a game of skill…period.

There is a reason some people can make a living off this sport and some people can't. The separation between professional and amateur is argument enough to prove poker is a skilled sport and should be treated as such. Skill always rises to the top in the long-term sports competition and poker is one of the strongest examples. I allow there is an element of luck in poker games, but the skill required to know when a situation calls for a gamble is what sets it apart from luck-based games. It's not like the lottery (a state-sponsored form of gambling by the way), a person needs to know what they're doing before luck can make them a millionaire. No one wins the lottery twice, but some poker players are able to win all the time. Sit down and play against a pro, Mr. Congressman, and see how you do. Was he just lucky or was he just plain better? The game requires skill, if you can't see that, then I have a seat for you at my home game.

2.) Poker requires limits.

Some people can't handle the money management required to play responsible poker. Some people value their skill level a little higher than they should. Some people become obsessed with winning and their fervor makes them habitual losers. All three cases are examples of how poker can become a harmful hobby (similar to games like pool and backgammon). Like everything in life, a few bad apples shouldn't ruin it for everyone. If a player can't manage their money, they shouldn't be allowed to play, but millions play poker responsibly everyday and cause no more harm to society than your average cribbage player. I agree we need to make restrictions in poker to keep people safe from themselves, a sentiment expressed by Massachusetts Senator Barney Frank, but to take away peoples' rights to play is ignorant. I will not pretend to be an expert on what those restrictions should be, but in my mind, developing a strategy for helping people who have poker addictions is a far more effective way to deal with Internet poker play than an outright ban. Far too many people game responsibly for lawmakers to even think they can claim it their social responsibility to banish the game.

3.) People have a right to play poker.

People have a right to their desired forms of recreation. My grandmother loves poker and probably drives the booming poker TV ratings higher than anyone else in her demographic. She plays the game often, however, with her fixed income, she knows her limits and never plays for anything other than coins. She has lived a long and glorious life and is a great example or someone who understands that games were invented to provide amusement. Adding a little money to her games just ups the thrill level a tiny notch. I dare you to try telling her she can't play anymore. She has a right to play for her pennies and I have the right to lose mine to her.

What Can Players Do To Help?

There is something players can do to help preserve the game. Thanks to the Poker Players Alliance (PPA), all poker players now have a voice in Washington D.C. The PPA is a non-profit organization run solely on membership fees and donations, boasting a membership total of more than 20,000 players. The goal for the end of 2006 is to have 100,000 members, a number that would give the group serious clout when it's decision time on poker legislation.

I recently joined the PPA. After winning an online tournament, I was given the option of donating $25 of my winnings to the PPA. I was hesitant at first because I like my winnings, but after reviewing the PPA site and getting some answers to my questions, I believe the group is viable and important for the game's future.

It costs $25 to become a full member, but there are other donation options. Whether you are a professional or an amateur, a live game or online player, a home game specialist or a casino junkie, the game needs your help. Don't let non-players decide the fate of our game without at least hearing from the very people who have made the game the world's most popular sport. Join the PPA today.

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