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Aaron Todd

Aaron  Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.

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PPA Goes Beyond its Mission Statement

12 Apr 2006

By Aaron Todd

The Poker Players Alliance is a nonprofit membership organization comprised of poker players and enthusiasts from around the United States who have joined together to speak with one voice to promote the game, ensure its integrity, and, most importantly, to protect poker players' rights.

This statement, taken from the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) Web site, represents the major goals of the organization, but the PPA is more than just an advocate for players' rights, and some of its highest profile players proved that last week in Washington, D.C.

The PPA was hard at work on its' primary mission on Capitol Hill as the U.S. House of Representatives' Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security held a hearing to discuss legislation brought forward by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), dubbed the "Internet Gambling Prohibition Act."

In an effort to give poker players a voice in the debate, the organization held a press conference featuring its president, Michael Bolcerek, and three of its most successful members: Howard "The Professor" Lederer, Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, and Greg "Fossilman" Raymer. The PPA also hosted an evening reception, allowing congressmen, staffers and PPA members to discuss the legislation and Internet poker in general.

But between the two events, the PPA took the opportunity to go beyond its mission statement.

Lederer, Ferguson and Raymer used the few hours they had between events to visit injured troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. They played a few poker hands with the recovering young men and women, giving the soldiers autographed T-shirts and a few poker tips along the way.

"These are people who have served this country, and they've had one of the worst things happen to them," Lederer said. "They probably played poker when they were (overseas) and now that they are back here, and I think poker helps them get through these tough months of recovery."

My colleague Ryan McLane was fortunate not to have to go through that recovery period after coming home from Iraq last fall. As a medic in the National Guard, Ryan's job was to mend soldiers in the field. I can't imagine doing what Ryan did. I'm grateful that there are people willing to make this commitment, and I'm very aware that I could never do it myself.

Just before heading off to war, a year before Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, Ryan spent a night in the Big Easy with a group of fellow soldiers playing as much poker at Harrah's as he could. The night gave the members of his unit something to look back on, but perhaps more importantly, something in common they looked forward to doing on their eventual return. (For more on Ryan's experience, read his column "Newer New Orleans.") The game itself was secondary; it was the reminder of home that was important to Ryan and his friends.

During Lederer, Ferguson, and Raymer's visit, a number of soldiers indicated that they played poker to pass the time during their deployment, while others said that they were avid online players. All the soldiers were excited to meet some of the top players in the game.

"Those guys are heros in my mind, and their efforts are appreciated by myself and the poker players," Bolcerek said. "It was a special time to give back to the service that they provided us."

Media was not permitted to attend; it wasn't a photo opportunity. The PPA didn't use the time to promote its mission. Instead, it was a chance for some of the PPA's biggest names to thank a few young men and women who have given up more than most of us can imagine in service to our country.

"It was humbling for me to be there and to see what a good time they were having just playing poker with me," Lederer said. "If I were in their position, I don't think I would be looking at life in the same way. They are really just remarkable people."

Most Americans embrace the mission of the PPA, despite the uncertain landscape online poker faces as Reps. Goodlatte and Jim Leach (R-Iowa) each have an Internet gambling bill moving through the House of Representatives. In a survey of 964 Americans conducted by ICR, an independent market research group located in Media, Pa., 74.2 percent of those surveyed believed that the federal government should not prevent Americans from playing poker on the Internet. But even the conservative republicans who sponsored this restrictive legislation, along with the 18 percent surveyed who believe the federal government should prevent Americans from playing online, should applaud the PPA for taking the time to give recovering soldiers an afternoon they will remember for the rest of their lives.

For more information on the PPA, including information on how to join, visit the organization's Web site at

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