July 20, 2010

Annie Get Your Microphone

Dan Michalski at Pokerati reported this morning that Annie Duke will be testifying tomorrow on behalf of the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) in a Congressional hearing on online gaming laws.   A written version of her testimony is also available online, along with the written testimony of other witnesses who are scheduled to testify.  Now, these kinds of hearings tend to be more political Kabuki than substantive discussion of the merits of a particular bill.  It is highly doubtful that any particular witness will sway any votes.  Also, the witness testimony is mostly window-dressing, with the real investigative spadework done by Congressional committee staffers, with assistance from lobbyists who provide relevant research and position papers.  I suspect the PPA has already presented the committee with the latest version of its written talking points regarding poker as a game of skill, the widespread popularity of online poker, and the need for regulation of poker.  Frankly, those written submissions will be vastly more useful to pro-poker forces in Congress than any witness' testimony.

Although the live committee testimony is rather minor in the grand scheme of things, I have to wonder—why Annie Duke?  I know Duke has testified in prior Congressional hearings, though nothing in her prior testimony was particularly compelling or provided any insight beyond what could be submitted in a written statement.  But even though live testimony is generally rather lowstakes, there is always an outside chance that someone on the committee will attempt to use live testimony as an opportunity to set up a soundbite for an election campaign, showing how tough he or she is on the evils of gambling.  So, a witness must be selected with some care, to prevent easy attacks on the witness' credibility.

Unfortunately, Annie Duke carries a lot of negative baggage other potential pro-poker witnesses do not carry.  Duke competed on Celebrity Apprentice, where she performed admirably, but was cast in a light that made her appear villainous compared to the beloved Joan Rivers (and who can forget Rivers disdainfully spitting out "Pokah players are trash, dahling!  Trash!" at Duke, as well as Melissa Rivers' "Whore pit viper!" comment).  Although Duke's public image post-Apprentice is somewhat distracting, of more concern is Duke's long and close association with Ultimate Bet, where the most public and largest-scale "superuser" cheating scandal occurred, and whose management has been at worst complicit in coverup attempts, and at best less than forthcoming with details as to the extent of the scandal and the identities of those involved (beyond Russ Hamilton).  Finally, Duke is also the sister of Full Tilt Poker co-founder and co-owner, Howard Lederer.  Full Tilt is reportedly under investigation by a federal grand jury for alleged violations of federal gaming and money transfer laws, and has been linked to other individuals arrested for money laundering and similar money transfer crimes. 

Now, none of this baggage changes the validity of Duke's testimony, nor does it undermine the essence of the PPA's argument for legal, regulated online poker.  Unfortunately, that baggage does present an opportunity for political posturing during Duke's testimony that would undercut Duke's ability to make the most compelling case for online poker legalization.  Why give your opponents any opening to criticize your message by attacking your messenger?  It's not like Duke is the only person who could provide this type of testimony—off the top of my head, individuals* like Greg Raymer, Linda Johnson, Dan HarringtonBill Chen, David Williams, and Mike Sexton have the requisite combination of intellectual gravitas and respect within the poker community to be effective advocates for the PPA's positions, without the weighty baggage associated with Duke (or Howard Lederer, Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, Phil Hellmuth, or Mike Matusow, for that matter).  The use of Duke as the PPA's spokesperson before Congress makes me wonder how much thought the PPA really puts into formulating its legislative lobbying strategy.

As a poker player, I certainly wish Annie Duke well, and I hope the hearings go off without a hitch.  But, if the hearings turn into a verbal shootout to create some political drama for the voting audiences back home, then as Annie knows all too well, when things get nasty on camera, there's really no business like show business:

* ADDENDUM (22 June 2010):  This morning, while researching something else, I stumbled across an old 2+2 thread on the subject of Annie Duke's testimony to Congress back in 2007.  Apparently, there was some opposition to Duke's representation of the PPA even then, though it seemed based on her personality and some oblique references to a cheating scandal I had never heard of previously. 

However, the discussion thread did mention two additional individuals who I think would make smart, articulate, and credible witnesses without unnecessary baggage:  Barry Greenstein and Vanessa Rousso.


  1. David Williams stands out as "not like the others" on that list of names...


  2. Annie is a very talented woman. She started out in poker, but has used her celebrity to branch out into more mainstream opportunities. I think she has a bright future away from the table. I think her name recognition will help her influence the government to legalize poker.