May 20, 2012

Inertia Poker Players Can Believe In

Last fall, the Poker Players Alliance organized poker player support for an online petition to the White House advocating the legalization and regulation of online poker. On Friday, the Obama Administration posted its response, which was disappointing only to those poker players who were naive enough to believe that the online petition was something other than a silly publicity stunt on both sides. Chris Krafcik, Research Director for GamblingCompliance, asked me for my take on the response. I emailed him the following:

I don't have any profound insight to share re the Obama Administration's statement on iPoker, mostly because I think the statement is pretty much a standard political puff piece, a souped up version of a polite blow-off letter from a legislator to a constituent on an issue the legislator doesn't care about. The statement basically restates the current status of the law—federal law bans sports betting, states can authorize iPoker and other forms of iGaming, and violations of state iGaming laws may also be a violation of federal law. The statement then placates any social conservatives or law and order types by ticking off the usual laundry list of concerns—addictions, minors, fraud, and money laundering.

I think the most telling sentence of the statement is: "The Administration will continue to examine this issue and is open to solutions that would help guard against the use of online gambling sites as tools for conducting illegal activities or preying on unsuspecting individuals to the extent that online gambling is permitted." I read this statement to mean that the Administration is not actively pursuing any particular policy re iGaming or iPoker. Given the Administration's other policy priorities, combined with the fact this is an election year, I doubt the Administration has any interest at all in spending political capital on a niche issue like iPoker where there is strong social conservative resistance, no real political pressure from the President's base, and the issue has little resonance as a pivotal electoral issue either nationally or in swing states. In fact, legalizing iPoker on a national basis is probably a political negative for the President, likely to be portrayed by conservatives as another example of the President dictating social policy to the states.

In short, I think this statement is utterly inconsequential, and was intended to be so. Of course, the poker world will seize on it to support their collective delusion that iPoker legalization is a major political issue.

To be blunt, President Obama does not give a flying pig about internet poker or gambling. Nothing the President or his Administration have said or done at any point in time indicates the remotest interest in the issue near and dear to the hearts of poker players. At best, the President is not opposed to iPoker legalization, and if presented with an iPoker bill hammered out by the major casino, Indian, and law enforcement interest groups, would probably sign it (which is admittedly a major advance over the Bush Administration). But don't expect Obama or his Administration to lift a finger to push an iPoker bill through Congress.


  1. "Google Translate" needs to put you on permanent retainer.

  2. Well, you know what they say: see a broad to get dat booty yak 'em, leg 'er down and smack 'em yak 'em.

  3. I miss poker. Barbara Billingsley also spoke jive. R.I.P. Mrs. Cleaver.

  4. PPA did a petition? How cute! Is high school over soon? I do hope they thought of it as a membership & fundraising gimmick, right? And it looks like their national petition got nearly three times as many people as were attending my high school back in the day; what a sweetly energetic little class project, here's your gold star, now don't forget to finish cleaning your rooms.

    You know I'm one of those annoying cranks who thinks the "O" and many others on that side of the avenue probably do simply believe most of what they have repeatedly said about this sort of thing, and pretty much for the reasons they have stated over and over for years. That they see themselves as being in the oh so excruciatingly noble business of selflessly protecting the vulnerable masses from exploitation by bad people wishing to make dirty money operating private businesses lacking sufficient justification for the collective social good while providing unhealthy activities the oppressed victims won't understand they shouldn't want and enjoy. They are our protectors, and we should be grateful. No double reverse backflip with a twisting dismount to find "social conservatives" somehow lurking behind Barack or Nancy to pull their strings is required, unless one really, really, really needs it as an analgesic to relieve the occasional aches and sniffles of cognitive dissonance.

  5. But mostly, good job, fine post worth the click, thanks. I have no doubt you're right to point to what should be coming into focus clearly by now: It is a small box currently in storage on a shelf in a corner down a back hallway in the national political world, the content of which truly excites the juices of relatively few and isn't realistically likely to be getting front burner treatment anytime soon.

    Long ago I worked for a session for a legislator, and came to partly specialize in drafting vapid drivel for the things he needed to respond to but didn't want to actually answer and certainly not take any actual time on during the legislative session.

    Took that task with relish, because it was so much fun. It really was. "Thank you very much for your insight on the important issue of [fluoridated water, secret plots by Bavarian Illuminati, etc]...drivel, drivel, drivel...and you can rest assured [Mr Salted Nutbar, Mrs Perpetual Pest] that I will be giving your concerns all of the careful attention they clearly deserve.
    Sen Gough Jakoph"

  6. @ Local Rock: I think you expressed my exact point shorn of all my usual lawyerly euphemisms and qualifiers. Well said.

    As for whether the Obama Administration wants to avoid the legalization issue or even ban iGaming altogether, well I haven't heard them put much out there from which to draw conclusions. It's certainly true that many Democrats oppose iGaming legalization for the nanny state reasons you note. It is scary indeed when the social conservative Republicans and nanny state Democrats join forces to impose the Greater Good on all of us because they know better. There is certainly a healthy dose of that going on with the iGaming issue. But never fear, the casinos will eventually buy enough political souls to get the iGaming bill they want, and I suspect there will be more Democrats purchased by Gargantuan Gaming because their principles are unmoored from faulty and facile interpretations of various ancient Aramaic and Greek texts.

  7. @ Local Rock: I forgot to add, I too was struck by how an organization claiming more than a million members with scores of poker pros / celebs posting petition links on Twitter, Facebook, and the Holy 2+2 couldn't even cross the 10,000 signature mark. Poker player political effort is a foot wide and an inch deep.

  8. Well, seems we're pretty much on the same page, so I suppose you should probably be worried. Except that I haven't been all that overwhelmed by the political efficacy of the commercial casino interests (what I can see of it while seated outside in the light of day) outside of about one and a half states, and I'm almost starting to wonder if this is just the magic pink unicorn trotted out to provide a thinly plausible explanation (if they talk about it real fast) so that analysts of domestic Gaming Inc at brokerage houses can dutifully pretend to believe some companies might eventually be able to pay all the coupons on their bonds some day... when the unicorn comes.

  9. Geez, Local Rock, why all the cynicism? Clearly the pink unicorn probability has been factored into the junk bond price by the efficient capital market hypothesis. Bonds available from your local Lehman Brothers broker.

  10. Efficient allocation indeed, as I note that I could take an unsecured cash advance on my VISA for less vig than a Certain Enormous Titan of gaming can mortgage the casino housing the ATM I'd be doing it in. And local rumor has it lately they've been busy out back in the shop at night trying to figure out how to entice a Pink Unicorn to get frisky with a Black Swan...

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