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Top-10 gaming industry developments I'm thankful for

21 Nov 2011

By Aaron Todd
It's the time of year when Americans think about all the things that they're thankful for. I'm thankful for my family, especially the great health of the two newest members, our twins, who were born earlier this year. But I'm also thankful for a number of developments in and around the gaming industry which make my job a lot more fun. So here's my list of the top-10 things I'm thankful for in the gambling world.

10. Creative players/dark humor
Shopping's "Black Friday" is fast approaching, and a lot of Americans will be thankful for deals and 2-for-1 specials. But it was pretty hard to come up with something to be thankful for in the aftermath of online poker's "Black Friday," the day when the Department of Justice shut down PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker in the United States. But there was a small positive to take from the news, and that was the reaction by a few folks who ran with a MS Paint thread about poker players pre- and post-Black Friday on the twoplustwo message boards.

If you're ever having a bad day, look up a Photoshop thread on twoplustwo and you're bound to smile. I mean, who wouldn't laugh at some of the things people have come up with after seeing Phil Hellmuth riding a giant hot dog on the water?

9. Caesars shuttle bus
When I head out to Las Vegas to cover the World Series of Poker, I do like to take at least one day to check out some places I haven't been before and do some exploring. Being able to take the free shuttle bus from the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino to other Caesars properties allows me to do so without having to pay the exorbitant costs associated with taxi cabs in Vegas. The drivers are friendly and courteous (though you will have to suffer through the same bad jokes if you ride it multiple times), and a $1 tip is nothing compared to the $10-$12 cab fare you'd have to pay to go just two miles to get to the Strip.

8. Game developers
There's nothing I like more than wrapping my head around the strategy for a new game. When our managing editor, Vin Narayanan, returned from the Global Gaming Expo last month, he brought back the rules for several new games that developers are trying to bring to casino floors. My favorite was "pai jack," a combination of pai gow poker and blackjack. Players are dealt five cards and must arrange their hands into two blackjack hands, one with three cards and one with two cards. The three-card hand must have a higher point total than the two-card hand. Players then compare their hands to the dealer, and if they win both, they get paid even money, if they lose both then they lose, and if they win one and lose one, they push. Players also automatically win 2:1 when they play two face cards and an ace in their three-card hand. And the latest craze in the Casino City Home Game is 1919, a Chinese poker variant where players are dealt 19 cards and must arrange them into five hands. (Full rules here.)

I'm most certainly thankful for all the people who create fun and innovative games. You give me new things to think about and try to master.

7. Mobile betting in Nevada
I'm not much of a Smartphone guy, personally. I don't even have a texting plan on my LG flip phone. But I am a big fan of the recent mobile betting options that have been developed and approved in Nevada, from sports betting on your BlackBerry to blackjack on a device provided by the casinos. I don't necessarily plan on availing myself of these options; as I mentioned, I don't have a Smartphone, and if I'm going to play blackjack, I'm going to do it at a table. The reason I'm a fan of these technologies is that they bring us one step closer to a regulated Internet gambling marketplace. If you can make a sports bet using your cell phone, it's hard to argue that playing poker on your laptop is somehow wrong. And the sooner we regulate Internet poker (ideally all Internet gambling, but let's start where there's at least some political will), the better.

6. Passage of casino legislation in Massachusetts
As a resident of the Bay State, I've been told that the passage of a bill that would expand gambling to a few resort casinos in Massachusetts was a sure thing more times than I can count. But earlier this month, it finally came to fruition. While the bill has yet to be signed by Governor Deval Patrick, it appears that he may do so as early as this week. The state will grant licenses to build three resort casinos and one "slot parlor" within the commonwealth, and while it will be several years before I'm able to visit any of these resort casinos myself, I'm thankful that the industry will be providing construction jobs in the short term, lots of jobs for future casino employees in the long term, and a shorter trip for me to play poker in a casino environment.

5. Foxwoods poker room
While I look forward to having an opportunity to play poker closer to home in a few years, it is nice to have the largest poker room on the East Coast a two-hour drive away. Foxwoods Resort Casino & MGM Grand at Foxwoods offers lots of options, from $2-$4 limit Hold'em to $75-$150 mixed games. There's even a $1-$2 pot-limit Omaha eight-or-better game running most weekends, and sometimes during the week. There are also plenty of tournament options, with weekly events running every day during most of the year and special tournament series that offer more than your standard no-limit Hold'em events during the World Poker Finals and the Foxwoods Poker Classic.

4. Alfonse D'Amato
I'm grateful for all the lobbyists at the Poker Players Alliance and FairPlayUSA who are advocating the regulation of Internet poker. But there's something about a prominent former Senator who has a way with words backing your cause that makes it all seem possible. D'Amato has a flair for the dramatic and is a skilled orator who can make arguments by lawmakers who oppose his position look silly. D'Amato's involvement in the PPA drew people's attention and he was able to bend a few ears that may have otherwise been unbendable. There's still a long way to go, but I'm grateful that D'Amato has been one of the main reasons that we're closer than ever to a regulated Internet poker marketplace.

3. Venetian sportsbook
I don't bet on sports that often, but when I do, I like to do it in a fun, exciting environment. The Palazzo Resort Hotel Casino has one of the best sportsbooks I've seen, but after hearing Vin's report (go to 38:20 mark of the show) from his recent trip to Las Vegas, I'm looking forward to visiting The Venetian Resort-Hotel-Casino to check out their newly revamped offering. The 10,000-square-foot facility features a 100-foot-wide high-definition screen, and in-running betting, which allows players to bet on almost anything, from the spread to the outcome of the next drive in a football game.

2. Problem gaming advocates
One the most important aspects of the gambling industry is finding help for people who have gambling problems. I'm thankful that there are many organizations that advocate for those who have gambling problems. But I'm especially thankful for those who do so with an understanding that banning gambling or opposing expansion does not help the problem. The National Council on Problem Gambling, for instance, does not take a position on whether Internet gambling should be regulated and licensed, but Keith Whyte, the organization's executive director, has recently testified at Congressional hearings that people in the United States can and do gamble on the Internet now, and that government regulation would allow problem gamblers to have greater control over their limits. I'm thankful that organizations like these are looking out for those who have a gambling problem by taking a commonsense approach rather than a nuclear one.

1. Sympathetic lawmakers
I have to admit, I was pretty excited when I found out that a recent redistricting plan in Massachusetts would put me in Rep. Barney Frank's (D-Mass.) Congressional district. Frank has long been an advocate of regulating Internet gambling, so to have the opportunity to vote for him next fall is a true pleasure. Frank, along with Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.), Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), are championing a cause that I have advocated for years. As I see more and more support in Congress, I hope that something will actually happen sooner rather than later.
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