September 29, 2010

Justice Sanders, In the Conservatory,
With a Con Law Hornbook

Between football games this past weekend, I was mulling over the recent Washington supreme court decision in Rousso, which rejected the PPA's attack on Washington's total ban on internet gambling.  Reading the forums over at 2+2, the general consensus seemed to be that the decision was wrong, and the justices were either stupid or had ignored the law for political reasons.  This reaction was remarkably similar to the collective 2+2 response to the recent Pennsylvania appellate court decision in the Dent appeal, where the court rejected the PPA's patented "poker is a game of skil and is not gambling" argument (note: the Pennsylvania supreme court has not yet determined if they will review the decision).  Here is a sampling of comments from those two discussion threads:
So tilting that morons have the authority to make these decisions in are country.  A game that has skill, but predominantly chance.  Pff gtfo [link]
You can lead a horse's ass to knowledge but you can't make it listen.  [link]
It's so ironic, much like an experienced player who knows he holds the edge, but fears and treads carefully to the amateur's unpredictability (stupidity?), we fear the stupidity (unpredictability?) of ignorant judges and juries. [link]
It seems the majority in this case cherry picked decisions that supported what they wanted to decide.  [link]
As you know, I agree about the problem of judges ignoring fact and law when making decisions.  ... This is what happens when judges and politicians ignore the US Constitution for a long time.  The system of laws established by the founding fathers is replaced by an unpredictable system of politics.  [link]
I can't believe judges can't discern that poker is a game of skill.  It's just baffling and makes me wonder if it's more political.  [link]
Sorry to disagree but I've lived here for most of my life and the state and local governments in PA are as corrupt as they come.  Organized crime is very real and has a much bigger influence than you can probably imagine here. ...

Of course I can't prove anything but you shouldn't just dismiss the recent decision to allow table games in regards to this reversal.  If someone showed me undeniable evidence that "the fix was in" I would not be surprised in the slightest bit and as you can tell by the tone of my message, I would be more surprised to learn that there wasn't some sort of "favors" or "influence" used to get a couple of judges to play ball.

I could also be wrong and the judges have no sense of logic or reasoning at all and are influenced by their churches etc.. but PA is so damn crooked.  [link]
Basically I don't think it would matter how logical the argument was/is if you have judges that owe some 'favors'.  [link]
They reach different conclusions because the state court justices are ruling what they want the law to be; not what it is as decided by SCOTUS.  Too many judges rule like arbitrators; what they want to rule rather than what the law should require. [link]
I didn't bother to read the opinion.  Once I read that the Court decided that B&M gambling did not compete with online gambling or visa versa, then I knew it was a strictly, and typical, political decision. [link]
The ruling by the Supreme Court of Washington is irrational at best and ludicrous at worse. These kind of political decisions (evading all past legal precedent by irrational and ridiculous factual findings) are killing the US economy, its society and the American Dream.  [link]
The problem is that this totally bogus, political decision will haunt the whole online poker industry for another 1-2 years until SCOTUS reverses it. Also, it just makes the whole US legal system more of a lottery than a judicial system.  [link]

Now, as a lawyer, I think it is more than fair for people to critique judicial decisions, and even disagree with them strongly on their merits.  I can think of a half dozen cases off the top of my head where I briefed an appellate case, and felt the court reached the wrong decision (or in one case, correctly ruled for my client, but for the wrong reason).  But claiming that a court ruled against your position because the judges were stupid, ignorant, incompetent, "political", and/or corrupt is simply sour grapes whining which does nothing to advance the cause of poker legalization.  It's kind of like a sports team blaming a referee for a bad loss while ignoring the players' lack of talent and sloppy execution, and the coach's bad game plan and poor in-game decisions.

In any event, one or two judges might get an issue "wrong", but the recent poker legalization fight hasn't been argued in front of a couple of maverick or senile judges.  In Dent, two of three judges ruled against the "poker as a game of skill" argument (the third would have reversed for lack of evidence and not reached the merits of whether poker is gambling under Pennsylvania law), while in Rousso, a unanimous nine-justice court ruled that Washington could ban online gambling without violating the Constitution's Commerce Clause.  For that matter, we can throw in another panel of three appellate judges from North Carolina who unanimously ruled against the "poker as a game of skill" argument back in 2006 in the Joker Club case.  Do poker legalization advocates truly believe that 14 out of 15 appellate judges are collectively too stupid, ignorant, corrupt, or political to rule in favor of poker if the pro-poker side had the better of the legal arguments?

Let's focus for a moment on the Rousso decision.  When I watched the oral arguments, I felt that at least three of the justices—Justices James JohnsonRichard Sanders, and Gerry Alexander—were open to Rousso's constitutional arguments, and were skeptical of the state's justifications for treating internet gambling differently than brick and mortar gambling.  Yet all three of these justices signed onto the majority opinion, without a dissent or even a concurrence among them, despite the fact that Washington's Supreme Court has a high rate of dissenting and concurring opinions filed for a state appellate court (for the year October 2000-October 2001, 38% of decisions had a dissent, while the nine decisions entered during the past two weeks—the period including Rousso—had four dissents and two concurrences).  Even more significant is that Justice Sanders wrote the opinion for the court! 

What's so noteworthy about Justice Sanders?  Well, Justice Sanders considers himself a libertarian who has a personal responsibility to defend the rights of the individual against the oppression of big government.  Perusing some of Justice Sanders' speeches and writings since becoming a judge paints a picture of a judge who is skeptical of state claims of expansive government powers, sees the role of the judiciary as curbing state actions taken without constitutional authority, and feels he has a duty as a judge to dissent and speak his mind rather than sign on to a flawed opinion for the mere sake of judicial collegiality.   Not surprisingly, many of Justice Sanders' speeches have been to libertarian and conservative organizations such as the Cato Institute, the Federalist Society, the Goldwater Institute, and the Washington State Libertarian Convention. 

A review of the opinions, concurrences, and dissents authored by Justice Sanders demonstrates he is unafraid to advocate ruling against the state or to find constitutional violations by the state on a wide range of issues, including property takings, criminal forfeitures, civil commitment proceedings, free speech rights, and criminal due process rights.  Of some interest to today's younger internet poker players, Justice Sanders wrote a dissent in a medical marijuana legalization case (Seeley v. State), asserting a state constitutional right for use of marijuana on personal liberty grounds.  Of more immediate interest to the Rousso decision, Justice Sanders wrote a dissent in a Dormant Commerce Clause case (Franks & Son v. State) in which he stated that a road use flat-fee tax for trucks was unconstitutional as it placed a disparate economic burden on out-of-state truckers.  It is indisputable that Justice Sanders not only feels he has a duty to dissent when he doesn't agree with the court's majority opinion, but he relishes the opportunity to dissent, and issues dissents freely and often.

Turning back to the Rousso decision, poker advocates should take seriously the fact that the court was not only unanimous, but the decision was written by Justice Sanders.  Yes, the great libertarian champion who fearlessly defends the little guy against an overzealous state government, that's the guy who wrote these passages [.pdf]:
The State wields police power to protect its citizens' health, welfare, safety, and morals. On account of ties to organized crime, money laundering, gambling addiction, underage gambling, and other societal ills, "[t]he regulation of gambling enterprises lies at the heart of the state's police power." [cites].

Internet gambling introduces new ways to exacerbate these same threats to health, welfare, safety, and morals. Gambling addicts and underage gamblers have greater accessibility to on-line gambling -- able to gamble from their homes immediately and on demand, at any time, on any day, unhindered by in-person regulatory measures. Concerns over ties to organized crime and money laundering are exacerbated where on-line gambling operations are not physically present in-state to be inspected for regulatory compliance. Washington has a legitimate and substantial state interest in addressing the effects of Internet gambling.  [pp. 12-13].
This is not to imply the dormant commerce clause can be satisfied any time the State invokes the magic words: "public policy determination." But here there is a legitimate public interest. The ban on Internet gambling is a public policy balance that effectively promotes that interest. A reasonable person may argue the legislature can balance concerns for personal freedom and choice, state finance, and the protection of Washington citizens in a "better" way -- but he or she must do so to the legislature. [p. 21]

Justice Sanders is obviously a smart man who understands the issues in this case.  He favors a libertarian, individual rights, limited government jurisprudence.  He is also unafraid to publicly take unpopular positions, ruffle some feathers, and slap down the state government, whether in majority opinions, dissents, or speeches.  If ever a judge existed who would willingly champion the poker legalization cause, even if only in a blistering dissenting opinion, Justice Sanders is that judge.  Yet Justice Sanders not only didn't vote in favor of the poker legalization position, he actually wrote the opinion rejecting the pro-poker position!  If Justice Sanders isn't buying what the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) is selling, I doubt there's much of a market for their argument among most mainstream appellate judges.

Sometimes in law, you just have to recognize when you have a dog of a case.  The PPA's poker legalization lawsuits seem to have fleas.

On a Slow-Roll

Recently, F-Train had a thoughtful post on slow-rolling, the rude and rather unsporting practice of keeping your cards hidden from your opponent at showdown, when you have a strong or even nut hand.  Frankly, it's rather reminiscent of a cat playing with a mouse—giving the poor victim what appears to be a chance at survival, when their doom is, in fact, sealed.  Now, cats do what they do out of instincts hard-wired by evolution; none of us think of cats "choosing" what they do, at least in a morally culpable sense of "choice".  But people do make choices, including whether to be a jerk or not.  As F-Train put it:
I've been slow-rolled before, of course.  Play the game long enough and it will happen at some point (although being flat-out lied to on top of that was a new one to me).  My question: what possesses people to act like that?  Are their lives so miserable that the only way they can get any joy is by trying to give others a false sense of hope, just so that they can watch those other people deflate?  Are they so insecure that they can only find any self-worth by tearing down the people around them so that they feel better about themselves?
Consider these two scenarios I've recently encountered, and debate whether the player slow-rolled or not:
  • During a recent eventful session at the Meadows ATM, I'm in the small blind, UTG player raises, couple of callers, so I call with JTs, and the big blind calls.  Flop is J-7-3 rainbow, I check, UTG bets, I check-raise, BB and UTG call.  Turn is a Ten.  Donkey Kong!  I bet, both players call.  River is an 8, with no flush possible.  I bet, BB calls, UTG raises!  This perplexes me, since I put him on top pair good kicker or an overpair.  I figure he would have played a set faster.  There was a four-card straight on board, but I couldn't figure him for a 9, unless maybe 99.  Finally, I call.  Then, the BB snap-calls, which confuses me.  We all sat there for a few seconds, and even though it wasn't my place to show first, I fear heat death so I finally shrug and say, "Top two" and roll over my hand.  BB pauses, then shows 97o for the straight.  UTG pauses a bit longer, looks at both of our hands, then finally rolls over ... Q9s for the nuts!  I say something snarky like, "Wow, you weren't sure if a straight was good?" and mentally debate which of various medieval torture devices to use on the both of them.  Anyway, the situation was rather annoying, and it has me rethinking my practice of showing first even if I don't have to in order to keep the game moving; being a nice guy isn't always the right play at the table.
  • During a recent session at Riverside Poker Emporium & Donk-A-Rama, I found myself in a hand with a maniac who was playing literally any two cards, and doing some good-natured trash-talking.  I had AA in the blinds, and 3-bet his usual button-raise; he came back over the top, and we got it all-in right there.  Now, I usually don't show my hand on a preflop all-in, though it's not a hard and fast rule, and if someone else shows their hand and it's been a friendly game, I may roll mine as well so the table can sweat the hand.  So, first question—is it wrong not to immediately roll over AA/KK in a preflop all-in?  In any event, because this kid had been running like god, I didn't roll my hand.  The flop came down A-Q-T with two to a suit.  Yahtzee!  I said, "That can't be good," half in jest, and half certain in a fatalistic way that the kid had KJ.  The turn completed the flush.  I looked at the kid and said, "That really is bad for me."  Kid was silent, but looked at his cards.  The river was an innocuous small card.  I rolled over my hand as I said, "I doubt these are good."  Kid looks at my hand and mucks, then asks, "Your hand was no good, huh?"  Second question—Since I showed in turn and without delay on the river, was this a slow roll?  Third question—Was my joking about not liking the flop or being behind out of line?
Now consider this scenario from the IMOP Tournament of Champions, when I found myself in a hand against buddy Santa Claus playing 1/2 NLHE at the Venetian.  Here's Santa's official version of the hand:
I am in BB with 73off and get to check my option.  Flop comes 3-5-9.  One small bet and Grange and I both call. Turn is 7 for my two pair and I lead out for $25.  Grange comes along with a flat call that doesn’t feel right.  Turn is a paint card, no flush.  I think for a few moments knowing that Grange will raise a bet here whether he has it or not.  I decide pot control and check to him.  He bets $65.  I sit and ponder, mumbling nonsense that he makes fun of.  I decide he’s got either nothing at all or 7/5s for two pair.  I call and say, “Do you have two pair?”  He replies, “No…” and before I can let him finish I proclaim, "Well I do!" and flip up my hand.  He then grins and finishes his sentence, “…no, I don’t have two pair.  I have a straight,”  And flips his cards over one at a time showing 6/4s.

Just for some background, Santa and I have this running joke where we imitate Sammy Farha, saying, "I have ... straight" in a dramatic tone with a bad accent.  So, I was using that line when the showdown occurred.  Also, I'm certain Santa was mentally preparing some taunt against me as he stacked the chips from the pot he was sure he had won.  Oh yeah, he's a good friend.

So, where do you draw the line for what's ethically acceptable and unacceptable practice at the table?  Consider these ethical questions:
  • Does a player with the nuts need to show immediately at showdown, without regard for the order of showdown (thereby forfeiting his right to see his opponents' cards)?  Or does slowrolling only occur if a player delays when it is his turn to show? 
  • Can a player with a strong hand pause to "read" his opponents' cards?  What if he has the nuts; does he still get a moment to read his opponents' cards to see how they played the hand? 
  • Does the size of the pot matter; should a player get more leeway with a big pot while we are more strict with small pots? 
  • Is it OK to slow-roll for dramatic effect, as with quads or a straight flush, or with some kind of improbable winning hand? 
  • Is slow-rolling acceptable when the opponent has been a jerk in this hand?  Prior hands?  Has slow-rolled you?  Has slow-rolled another player? 
  • Is it slow-rolling if another player asks if you have a certain hand (e.g., "You got an ace?" when an Ace is on board and he is clearly indicating a pair of aces is good), and you do not show that hand, even when you have it or a stronger hand (say, middle set)?
  • Is slow-rolling OK if it tilts a player?  After all it's not against the rules, and isn't poker about getting opponents to play poorly?
 So, to put it another way, a slow-roll is neither slow nor a roll.  Discuss!

September 24, 2010

Down Goes Rousso!
Washington Supreme Court KOs Constitutional Challenge to Online Gambling Ban

The Washington supreme court today handed down its decision in the Rousso appeal, affirming the constitutionality of the state's outright ban of all internet gambling (.pdf version).  As my faithful crAAKKer readers will recall, this is the outcome I predicted earlier this year after watching oral arguments.  Although the court's ruling was not surprising to me, I was somewhat surprised both by the author of the opinion, and by the fact the opinion was unanimous.  While following the Rousso and gambling law appeals the past few months, I signed up for the court's online notifications for when new decisions are issued.  The Washington supreme court has a notably high rate of concurring and dissenting opinions for a state appellate court, indicating the justices are not shy about voicing their analytical disagreements.  The fact that the Rousso decision was unanimous indicates a strong rejection of Rousso's constitutional arguments.  The strength of the rejection is even more evident when one considers that the justice authoring the opinion, Justice Richard Sanders, was one of the three justices at oral argument who seemed most skeptical of the state's justifications for the gambling ban, and most open to Rousso's arguments in favor of striking down the ban.

Before digging into the court's decision, let's take a minute to consider the questions most on poker players' minds:  a) Can this decision be appealed? and b) What does the decision mean for online poker legalization efforts?  The first question is easy—because a federal constitutional issue is at issue, Rousso has the right to file a petition for writ of certiorari ("cert") to the United States Supreme Court.  The U.S. Supreme Court rarely grants cert in more than 1-2% of the cases where petitions are filed, so the odds are rather long against Rousso.  However, this case does present an interesting issue of Commerce Clause jurisprudence in the realm of online commerce, so the case might at least stand out and get a little closer review from the Court.  But even in the unlikely event cert is granted, I'm not certain the present court will be all that interested in striking down Washington's online gambling ban.  The Justices on the Court's conservative side tend to favor state control over "police power" regulations, and gambling regulation is a quintessential exercise of state police power.  Plus, gambling is not a particularly attractive or compelling economic activity, and once you throw in the money laundering and teen addict memes, it's tough to see the Court leaping at the chance to take the case.  Finally, with Congress at least making some attempt to impose a federal system for legalized gambling, the Court may decide it is simply premature to wade into a dispute that seems likely to end up being rendered moot by federal preemption, if not this year, then within the relatively near future.

Turning to the second question, the Rousso decision is, without question or qualification, "bad for poker".  Online gambling of any kind, including online poker, is now unambiguously and inarguably illegal within the State of Washington.  Period.  So, any online poker site which permits individuals located within the Washington state borders to play poker for money is violating Washington law.  Now, those poker sites might be difficult for Washington to prosecute because of jurisdictional issues, but there is no longer any gray area or wiggle room to assert that online poker is legal in Washington.  The Rousso ruling may be the biggest nail in the PokerStars and Full Tilt coffins if a federal online poker regulatory system is enacted which bans "bad actors" from federal licensing—under the language of the current version of HR2267, those sites no longer have any basis to claim they have not been violating Washington's gambling laws if they have taken any wagers from or paid winning wagers to any person located in Washington state since the ban was enacted. 

As far as online poker legalization efforts in general, the Rousso litigation attacked an outright state ban on internet gambling, and failed to have the statute stricken on constitutional grounds.  Similar attacks on less restrictive laws merely regulating online gambling in other states would seem equally immune to court challenge, and the Rousso decision would be available for other courts to cite.  Of course, other state or federal courts examining laws from other states might reach a different conclusion than the Washington supreme court, but the Rousso decision is fairly standard Commerce Clause analysis, so expecting a different result in another case requires quite the leap of faith.

Turning back to the Rousso decision, the court's analysis was actually rather succinct for a constitutional law decision, suggesting the court found the analysis rather straightforward.  The court began by determining whether Congress had explicitly granted states the right to regulate internet gambling.  Not surprisingly, the court determined that neither the Wire Act nor the UIGEA gave states such authority (pp. 4-6).

The court then turned to the Dormant Commerce Clause analysis, which examines first whether a state law discriminates in favor of in-state businesses to the detriment of out-of-state businesses, and then analyzes whether the law's effect on interstate commerce is justified in light of the state's police power interests.

Looking at the discrimination issue, the court easily concluded that the statute applied equally to in-state and out-of-state internet gambling sites, banning all such sites on the same terms (pp. 7-8).  However, Rousso had argued that the effect of the otherwise neutral statute was to favor in-state brick and mortar ("B&M") casinos at the expense of online gambling sites, most of which were based out-of-state.  The court rejected this contention, concluding that online and B&M gambling are different types of activities, and the online gambling ban would not necessarily directly lead to the effect of people gambling in Washington B&M casinos (pp. 8-11).  In other words, people in Washington who are unable to gamble online might well gamble in B&M casinos, but they might just as easily spend their online gambling dollars on any number of non-gambling activities.  Absent some direct economic link between the statute and in-state businesses (the B&M casinos), the online gambling ban was not a prohibited protectionistic statute, but instead was a neutral law with some potentially indirect, constitutionally permissible economic benefits for in-state B&M casinos.

Having found the statute was not unfairly discriminatory, the court next had to weigh the benefits of the online gambling ban against the degree to which the ban burdens interstate commerce.  Now these types of balancing tests are notoriously difficult to apply with any precision, which the Rousso court acknowledged in a footnote (pp. 13-14, n. 7).  Nonetheless, the court readily accepted the state's morality and welfare justifications for the statute (pp. 12-13):
The State wields police power to protect its citizens' health, welfare, safety, and morals.  On account of ties to organized crime, money laundering, gambling addiction, underage gambling, and other societal ills, "[t]he regulation of gambling enterprises lies at the heart of the state's police power." [cites].

Internet gambling introduces new ways to exacerbate these same threats to health, welfare, safety, and morals.  Gambling addicts and underage gamblers have greater accessibility to on-line gambling -- able to gamble from their homes immediately and on demand, at any time, on any day, unhindered by in-person regulatory measures.  Concerns over ties to organized crime and money laundering are exacerbated where on-line gambling operations are not physically present in-state to be inspected for regulatory compliance.  Washington has a legitimate and substantial state interest in addressing the effects of Internet gambling.

Rousso and the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) had argued that Washington could just as easily achieve its objective of protecting its citizens from this parade of gambling horribles by legalizing and regulating online poker, rather than banning it outright.  The court rejected this argument, concluding that online gambling regulation was not inherently superior to Washington's outright ban (p. 15):
Internet gambling has its own unique dangers and pitfalls.  A regulatory system to monitor and address concerns unique to Internet gambling would take significant time and resources to develop and maintain.  Even so, no regulatory system is perfect.  Some concerns will not be fully addressed, while loopholes may permit others to slip through the cracks.  The legislature decided to avoid the shortcomings and ongoing process of regulation by banning Internet gambling altogether.  The legislature could have decided to step out in the rain with an umbrella, but instead it decided to stay home, dry, and without the possibility that its umbrella would break a mile from home.  The judiciary has no authority to second-guess that decision, rebalancing public policy concerns to determine whether it would have arrived at a different result.  Under the dormant commerce clause, we observe only that it is not clear that regulation of Internet gambling could protect state interests as fully as, or at least in a comparable way to, a complete ban.

While still evaluating the possibility of imposing a regulatory scheme in lieu of an outright internet gambling ban, the court also found that any attempt by Washington to regulate foreign-based gambling sites might in itself impermissibly interfere with interstate commerce, as foreign commerce is generally subject to federal laws and treaties which would trump Washington state law (p. 17).  Also, attempts by Washington to regulate out-of-state gaming sites would effectively export Washington's regulatory standards and impose them on other states, which would likely be an impermissible burden on interstate commerce (p. 18).

Rousso also had argued that Washington could legalize online gambling with the regulation of online gambling sites handled by authorities in the licensing country.  The court rejected this suggestion, noting that the legislature could have determined that such foreign-based regulatory action would be insufficient to protect Washington residents from "social ills" such as "permitting its citizens to be exploited, scammed, or made unwilling participants of money laundering schemes" (p. 19).

The court also rejected the PPA's alternative argument that Washington in fact had the ability to regulate online poker, and in fact could effectively regulate online poker much as has been accomplished in other jurisdictions.  The court rejected the PPA's argument (pp. 19-20), reasoning:
Amicus Curiae The Poker Players Alliance champions the position that Washington can regulate Internet gambling itself, encouraging remand to the trial court for further proceedings to show that since other jurisdictions have had "success" with regulating Internet poker, Washington can too.  But what constitutes "success" is a fundamental public policy determination, reserved to the legislature.  Even if on remand Rousso were able to produce reports or studies stating some jurisdictions regulate Internet gambling in a manner that addresses gambling addiction, underage gambling, money laundering, and organized crime issues with success comparable to Washington brick and mortar regulation, the trial court would then need to determine (a) whether the findings from those reports and studies were reliable and outweighed contrary findings; (b) whether and to what extent such regulation could be budgeted for and implemented by Washington; and (c) whether gambling would increase due to the ready availability of gambling on a home computer, whether that increase would exacerbate current concerns -- e.g., causing individuals to go into debt, and increasing gambling addictions, underage gambling, and the prevalence of gambling in society, and whether such increases were "acceptable."  These purely public policy determinations demonstrate why the legislature, and not the judiciary, must make that call.

The court concluded its analysis by reemphasizing that, where there is a legitimate state purpose, it is for the legislature to weigh alternative policies and determine the best course of action:
This is not to imply the dormant commerce clause can be satisfied any time the State invokes the magic words: "public policy determination."  But here there is a legitimate public interest.  The ban on Internet gambling is a public policy balance that effectively promotes that interest.  A reasonable person may argue the legislature can balance concerns for personal freedom and choice, state finance, and the protection of Washington citizens in a "better" way -- but he or she must do so to the legislature. [p. 21]

... Rousso fails to show a ban on Internet gambling is useless to address legitimate state interests, including reducing underage gambling, compulsive gambling, and Washingtonians' unintentional support of organized crime and money-laundering operations.  [p.23]

Here, the legislature balanced public policy concerns and determined the interests of Washington are best served by banning Internet gambling.  The legislature chose the advantages and disadvantages of a ban over the advantages and disadvantages of regulation.  The evidence is not conclusive.  Many may disagree with the outcome.  But the court has no authority to replace the legislature's choice with its own.  Under the dormant commerce clause, the burden on interstate commerce is not "clearly excessive" in light of the state interests. RCW 9.46.240 does not violate the dormant commerce clause.  [p. 26].

Although I hate to say "I told you so" ... wait, who am I kidding?  Of course I love to be proven right!  In any event, the Rousso court's reasoning tracked closely with what I predicted in my initial analysis of the appeal:
  • The court would show great deference to the legislature's policy decisions.
  • The court would take into account the ongoing efforts to impose a federal regulatory scheme.
  • The court would find online gambling to be different in kind from brick and mortar gambling, and thus would reject the idea that an online gambling ban was a protectionistic effort to benefit in-state brick and mortar casinos.
  • The court would defer to the state's contention that online gambling would lead to a host of social ills, including underage gambling, pathological gambling, crooked games ("scamming" in the court's words), and organized crime and terrorism (money laundering).
Reading the court's decision, it seems the only issue I missed was the impact of federal legalization efforts, which were not cited in the court's decision.  Otherwise, though, the court's decision hit all the points I predicted months ago after merely reading the parties' appellate briefs.  Now, I have to admit that my prediction was really not all that impressive.  It's sort of like having the table rock check-raise all-in preflop; putting him on Aces or Kings is fairly easy.  But my point is that the court's decision should have been predictable for all the attorneys on the pro-poker side of the case.  What, then, was the point in pursuing this dog of a case, which resulted in a state supreme court going on record saying a state can not only regulate online poker, but ban it outright? 

Because of the PPA's hubris in pursuing this appeal, the Rousso decision will now be available to be cited and relied upon by other courts when they are confronted with the issue of state regulation of online gambling.  Much like the ill-conceived "poker is a game of skill and not gambling" line of litigation, the PPA has taken an area of law which was gray and ambiguous, and forced a state appellate court to clarify the law with a definitive decision adverse to the interests of online poker players.*  The PPA's attorneys are from a well-respected national law firm, and clearly are not idiots.  Absent any better explanation, the cynic in me wonders whether the PPA's litigation efforts are merely a stalking horse litigation strategy testing the legal waters for the PPA's puppetmasters at Full Tilt and PokerStars. 

In any event, with this latest appellate court defeat, it's high time for the PPA to throw in the towel on their failed poker "legalization by litigation" strategy, and refocus their resources on lobbying Congress and state legislatures for statutory changes.

* For the record, the PPA is "extremely disappointed" by the Rousso decision, and Rousso plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.  For my part, I'm extremely disappointed when my suited connectors fail to flop a straight flush, but I'm willing to lay odds that I will flop at least a dozen straight flushes before the PPA wins a pro-poker final decision from any appellate court.

September 22, 2010

David Whitley Can Kiss My Cam

A kerfuffle broke out this week in St. Louis over whether gay couples deserved to be seen kissing in public at sports events the same as straight couples.  The controversy had its genesis in the recent NFL game between the local Rams and the visiting Ariziona Cardinals.  During a break in the action, the stadium management will occasionally run a "Kiss Cam" feature, where TV cameras spot couples in the crowd and feature them on the stadium video screens, at which point the crowd cheers to encourage the couple to kiss.  Generally, this results in an "aww shucks, how cute" vibe.  During the Rams-Cardinals game, however, two male fans in Cardinals jerseys were featured (hey, they're rooting for the other team, they must be, ya know, gay, hehe, hehe), much to their discomfort (like dude, we're so totally not gay!  Wanna fight?).  This little stunt was unquestionably tasteless and sophomoric, but in the grand scheme of sports locker room type humor, it was rather harmless and even a little funny.

What wasn't funny was the commentary posted by David Whitley, national columnist for the sports website (hat tip to Tommy Craggs at the infinitely funnier sports site  Whitley proclaimed his support of gay folks, but suggested that gay couples should not be shown on the Kiss Cam because, well, he wasn't comfortable with kids seeing gay couples smooching.  Whitley's comments reminded me of a crAAKKer reader who recently posted a comment responding to my criticism of Republican gay weasel Ken Mehlman by referencing a blog post of his own.  Although his post rambles a bit (and makes a few different points that I would take issue with), one of his points was that he is personally uncomfortable with, and maybe even offended by, gay couples who show affection in public.

Digging into Whitley's complaints about the Kiss Cam controversy, let's first note what he is not advocating—Whitley's complaints are not that gays are crossing the line into publicly inappropriate behavior like the pawing, grinding, or otherwise sexually suggestive type of conduct most of us would find improper in any couple, gay or straight, at a family-friendly public event.  No, this controversy is about the "Kiss Cam", which is focused on the lighter side of romance.  So, Whitley obviously has no problem with couples kissing, hugging, or holding hands in public, but he definitely has a problem with gay couples doing so.

Now, while Whitley is getting all worked up over being subjected to the sight of a couple of guys kissing in public, maybe he should consider what those of us who are gay are confronted with on an everyday basis.  Look at ads, whether billboards, online, on TV, or in newspapers and magazines—plenty of straight couples being romantic.  Think of those "fluff" news stories at every level of the media about couples doing fun, quirky couples type stuff—all straight couples.  Go to a restaurant, the mall, the movies, the beach, a fundraiser, a party—lots of straight couples holding hands, hugging, or giving affectionate kisses.  On mainstream TV and in popular movies, with rare exception, the romantic storyline involves a straight couple being affectionate (and often more than just affectionate). 

Of course, popular culture is the way it is because most people are straight; hence, "straight" is "popular", "mainstream", or "normal".  And I'm fine with that, as I'm sure most gay folks are fine with it.  I also realize there is a certain "icky" factor for most straight guys when they see anything remotely gay (though remarkably, they often seem to find lesbians rather alluring).  But, most of us who are gay already go to great lengths to minimize the amount of "gayness" you straight folks are exposed to, partly to avoid awkward social moments, and partly out of self-preservation.  Straight folks put up pictures of loved ones at the office, bring a mate or date to office parties and outings, and discuss dates, trips, and weekend plans involving their spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend.  For many gays, being open about relationships at work can lead to negative consequences, such as lost promotions, negative reviews, or even termination.  Straight couples can kiss each other hello or goodbye, share a romantic meal, or hold hands in public, while gay couples who do so often risk enduring taunting or the possibility of physical violence.  A straight single person can "check out" and flirt with attractive single people of the opposite sex, risking, at most, having their advances turned down; if a gay guy gives even the suggestion of flirting with a straight guy, there's always a risk of physical violence.

But let's get back to poor Mr. Whitley.  He assures us he has gay friends and relatives, so his heart is pure.   Whitley personally doesn't have a problem with gays, he's just worried about the kids:
The sooner my kids see examples of racial harmony, the better.  But this issue has torn up entire religions.  Call me homophobic, but I just don't think a 5- or 10-year-old brain is ready to tackle those complexities.

Besides, can't we just enjoy our peanuts and Cracker Jacks?

Ahh, yes, the kids.  What parent wouldn't want to protect his or her kids from the awful, terrible, bad, evil things in life?  Like those gays and their darn kissing.  What an absolutely horrific, traumatic experience that would be, for kids to see two men or two women share an affectionate peck.  Yes, yes, by all means, let's save the kids from that peril!

Now, I understand how Whitley might be a little squeamish about discussing gays with his kids.  If only there were someone who could help him with that task.  Maybe some adult authority figure his kids already know and respect.  Someone who could give his kids an age-appropriate explanation that sometimes, guys love guys and gals love gals, and sometimes they kiss like Mommy and Daddy do, and it's A-OK if they do, because they love each other.  Someone to set a good moral example of love and tolerance to those who are different than the majority.

Someone like ... a parent?

You know, now that I think about it, I seem to recall that parenting involves more than just being good buddies with your kids, enjoying life, and avoiding anything that might interfere with the fun times.  When you sign up to be a parent, you get some responsibilities too, responsibilities that are often tough, unpleasant, and awkward for the parent, the child, or both.  Explaining death, or serious illnesses.  Discussing how to respect kids with disabilities, of other races, or from different socio-economic backgrounds.  Explaining divorce, whether your own or their friends' parents.  Tackling the awkward "where do babies come from?" and other sex education questions.  Warning kids about the dangers of gambling, drugs, tobacco, and alcohol. 

Now, it's nice to know Whitley is not entirely a jerk.  He wants to make sure we know he's actually fine with gays, he just doesn't want, you know, to see any gays:

If my daughter grows up and falls happily in love with another woman, I'll proudly walk her down the aisle.  But parents should be able to discuss such issues when they choose, not when the local sports team flashes them on a scoreboard.

So, what Whitley really wants is for all of us nice gay folks, the ones he completely supports, mind you, to kindly just act straight in public, so that his kids won't see anything gay, and won't ask him any gay questions, and he won't have to give any gay answers.   In other words, the millions of gays in America should make sure they don't act gay or express any sign of gay affection in public, just so Whitley can comfortably take his kids out of the house without fearing exposure to the gay menace.  Yes, that seems reasonable enough.

I'm going to let Whitley in on a little secret. This isn't the 1970s any longer. Gays are more visible than ever. Kids are going to see gay couples, on TV, in movies, on the internet, and yes, even in public. Some of their schoolmates may have gay parents.  At some point, kids are going to be naturally curious and ask about gays and gay couples.  This doesn't mean parents need to give some long, detailed, and uncomfortable explanation of what it means to be gay.  But a parent better anticipate the question, and have an age-appropriate response ready.

I do find it refeshing that Whitley expresses his open-mindedness toward his children being gay.  Odds are high his kids will be straight and this issue will never come up in his house.  But, odds are also high that one or more of his kids' friends will be gay.  Even in today's more tolerant society, teens viewed as gay suffer more bullying and attempt suicide more often than other teens.  What lesson will Whitley's kids have learned if Whitley's reaction to something as innoccuous as a gay kiss is essentially, "Ewww, icky!  I don't want to talk about it!"?  Does Whitley really think that squeamish avoidance is the best example to set for his kids in dealing with gay folks?

Whitley wants to think that "sometimes a kiss is not just a kiss."  I beg to differ.  A kiss, gay or straight, is an expression of love and affection.  If Whitley truly feels he needs to shield his kids and himself from such universal human emotions, then I can only hope he looks a little deeper into his own heart.

September 17, 2010

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, "MadBrooklyn" World /
"Dawn Summers" Does Des Moines

If you ever find yourself in Des Moines, Iowa in a dim-lit, near-vacant 70s-retro dive bar at 1:30 in the morning on a weekday, drinking Schlitz and Tangermeisters* with two Brooklyn gals you picked up at a seedy hotel eight hours earlier, debating whether pet chickens will eat mice while a one-legged grungy neo-hippie reads your aura, it's safe to conclude you have made some poor life choices.

My poor life choices—at least those relevant to this story—began last year when I joined the Twitter Borg.  A couple of the poker bloggers I follow—BWoP and F-Train—would occasionally engage in Tweet warfare (Tweetfare?) with a mysterious "RealDawnSummers", a lady smart enough to be a bigshot NYC corporate attorney, dumb enough to be a Patriots fan, witty enough to unleash a good zinger, clumsy enough to blunder into a better zinger, goofy enough to wear Liberace shoes, and nitty enough to uber-tilt.  In other words, "Dawn Summers" was eminently qualified to be a friend, foe, foil, and crAAKKer victim, all rolled into a sharp-tongued, angry-fisted package.  A few football and poker tweets later, and we were cyber-friends and life-enemies ("cyferlenemies"?).

Dawn breaks out the famous Liberace shoes at the Meadows ATM. 

For the past week, Dawn (a/k/a Stephane "Vanna" Clare) and her friend Mary (a/k/a MadBrooklyn) have been enjoying a whirlwind vacation in the Midwest.  Between seeing all the usual sites—Devil's Tower, the Big Rock Heads, the Grotto, the Arch, and the inside of various police cars—Dawn and Mary made an overnight stop in good ol' Des Moines, mostly to see cows and tractors, but also to calm their poker withdrawal shakes.  I directed them to "Living History Farms" for a little afternoon farm culture, then picked them up at the murder motel for a night of poker hijinks.

First off was dinner at Jethro's BBQ, in their newly opened location across the street from the Meadows ATM.  Of course Dawn (a/k/a "Wilma") made a scene when ordering dinner, complaining that there was no corn on the cob.  Now, there was a perfectly tasty jalapeño cream corn side dish, but no, Dawn wanted her corn on the cob!  Get used to disappointment.  Dawn ended up with BBQ babyback ribs that were, in her own words, "the best ever!", and somehow managed to leave a happy camper.

Dawn, in a rare happy place.

We then made the arduous three-minute trek to the Meadows ATM for some gamboooling.  Because it was Wednesday, the weekly Ladies Night Tournament was under way, with a majority of the players being, well, not ladies.  Dawn and Mary passed on my $20 prop bet for entering and final-tabling the tourney, so we had a ten minute wait until a tournament table broke and a new $1/2 NLHE cash game was opened.  We passed the time chatting with a nice regular player, Michelle (@chelmc23) who came up and introduced herself as the president of Dawn's Des Moines fan club; yup, Dawn is famous even in Iowa!  Apparently, Michelle was searching for online advice on playing Omaha Hi/Lo, and was somehow misdirected to Dawn's blog (well, one of her many, manyblogs).  See, Google has flaws.

Once the game started, it was hilarious to watch Mary and Dawn develop whiplash and TMJ disorder from reacting to the incredibly bizarre play at the table.  Overbets, underbets, bad bluffs, curious calls, our table had it all.  Dawn had a rollercoaster session, making some money when her AA held up, but then stacking off to Mary in a weird hand.  It had limped around to me in the big blind, so I made it $17 to go with 77.  At least seven of us saw a flop of K-J-T rainbow.  I checked, someone bet, Dawn went all-in for ~$125, someone called, Mary pushed (having the table covered), and some other short stack pushed as well.  I was shocked—shocked!—when Mary rolled over AQ, possibly her weakest starting hand of the session.  Dawn rebought, and I gave her a courtesy double-up when we both flopped flushes, only hers was the nuts.  I should've known she had a big hand, since she pulled a reverse-Meat Tank, keeping a leftover rib in the fingers of both hands, while calling my initial flop bet with her palms.  I'm such a bad player.  Le sigh.

Mary, however, gave a clinic in tight-aggressive play, somehow averaging one hand per hour, yet always having the nuts and getting paid off when she hit, while getting everyone to fold to c-bets even when she missed.  Clearly she knows that Jedi mind-trick thing.  Early on, she drug a big pot when the flop came out K-8-4 rainbow.  When Mary four-bet all-in, the only question in my mind was whether she had a set of 8s or a set of 4s.  Her opponent apparently wanted to know as well, calling with AK.  It was 88, obv.  A couple of orbits later, Mary collected another monsterpotten when she got it all-in preflop with—well, you really don't need me to tell you she had the pocket rockets, do you? 

Mary's tower o' chips (background).
"This is not the flop you were looking for!"
"Call my bet.  Now go about your business."

As for me, well, I had an up and down and down session, losing a little by missing a couple of combo-draw semi-bluffs, botching a couple of big hands with bad reads, and generally missing flops with good starting hands (AK, AQ, small pocket pairs, suited connectors ... whiff, whiff, whiff, whiff).  I did raise with KQ once, and flopped Broadway, only to chop with Michelle who had made the ridiculous play of calling me with ... KQ.  But I did pull out a crAAKKer command performance for Dawn.  A guy in between Dawn and Mary opened in middle position for $22.  A couple of callers to me in the big blind, and I find the lovely 84 of crubs.  Now, I only had a little over $100 behind, so I thought about folding, until I remembered our dinner conversation about Julius Goat and his brilliant poker insights in his Stupid/System.  As Mr. Goat notes"The key of poker is to be the one to call, and thus according to that math guy, to have the hand of greatest strength."  That's right, by calling, I could dramatically improve the strength of my hand.  Plus, it was crubs, and I clearly had a lot of outs.  I was actually a favorite!  So, I called, and five of us went to the flop:  8s7c4s.  Donkey Kong!  It checked to the preflop raiser, who bet $50.  Folded to me, and I pushed.  Another guy called.  Turn was:  4d.  Yahtzee!  There was irrelevant sidepot action.  River was ... who cares, some irrelevant baby card.  Preflop raiser bets, other guy folds (spade draw, combo draw ... don't know, don't care, he'd already paid me in full).  Preflop raiser shows Kings, like they're any good.  I roll over my canoe, and Dawn stares at me, then giggles.  She kept on giggling so much, she had to wrap up her head in her hoodie for a few minutes so as not to laugh in the face of the guy I just crAAKKed. Though, in hindsight, I think that would've been pretty sweet.

At some point in the evening's festivities, Dawn mentioned a friend had told her about the "world-famous 80s dance club in Des Moines".  Although my days of going out are well behind me, I do hear about hot bars and clubs, and I certainly wasn't aware of any 80s dance clubs.  The Dawn says, "It's called the 'High Life' or something like that."  I immediately laughed, because the High Life Lounge is about as far from 80s dance club as can be imagined.  The High Life Lounge is a retro-60s/70s themed place, looking like someone's old basement brought to life.  Dark wood paneling is on the walls, covered with old poorly framed photos and beer paraphenalia from Hamm's, Schlitz, and Miller High Life, natch.  Faux-wood Formica on the bar, small black and white TVs behind the bar, and old diner booths, tables, and chairs complete the "look".  They also serve lunch and dinner consisting primarily of old school diner food, but with some fun stuff like Velveeta grilled cheese sandwiches, fried chicken gizzards, and Spam and egg sandwiches thrown into the mix.  It's actually a fun, inexpensive, and popular local joint.  But "world famous"?  As I told Dawn, "I don't think 'world famous' means what you think it means."

Inside the High Life Lounge.  Classy, eh?

In any event, Dawn decided she wanted to check out the High Life Lounge, so we racked up around midnight and headed to downtown Des Moines.  Now the downtown bar and restaurant district has finally recovered after the flood of 1993, but even so, Wednesday is not exactly a major party night.  We arrived at the High Life and found it basically empty, except for a couple of guys at the bar, and the bartender.  Since Dawn had never enjoyed a Schlitz—never even heard of it!—I ordered one for her (Mary, as the big winner, actually paid).  So, we were peacefully debating the merits of using chickens for rodent control (Dawn does tend to warp conversations in weird directions), when Mary decided to take a picture of Dawn and me.  Somehow, the camera kept making my pale skin even more pale, to the point that my face was pretty much just a bright white blob.  Here is her best result:

Actual photo by MadBrooklyn, no photo-shopping.

As I posted on Twitter, Mary's camera made me look like a ghost, and made Dawn look like Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost.  However, the sig other saw my pictures of Dawn and proclaimed, "She looks like she'd be a hoot!"  High praise indeed.  And yes, Dawn is a hoot.  However, I'll lay even odds Mary murders her in a cornfield if they ever travel together again outside the East Coast.

What about the one-legged grungy neo-hippie?  Oh yes, I almost forgot.  So, as Mary takes a half dozen pictures, trying to get my face to appear on film (a very difficult task when photographing the soulless), a random guy—about mid-20s, scruffy, shaggy hair rubber-banded in back, flannel shirt—wanders over from the bar to offer some friendly assistance.  Turns out, he's not helpful.  But, he is entertaining, so I order Dawn a house specialty Tangermeister and we settle in to chat a bit more as the bartender starts putting chairs up on tables and generally uses a great degree of un-subtlety to indicate it's closing time and he resents our presence.  Now, when you see someone with a prosthetic leg, you generally have two reactions:  a) curiosity as to how they lost their leg, and b) a realization you shouldn't ask.  Dawn had only one of those reactions:
One-legged guy:  [trying to take picture] "Wow, you really do look like a ghost, dude!"

Dawn:  "So, how'd you lose your leg?"

One-legged guy:  [sitting down in our booth]  "Well, it's kind of funny.  I mean, you go out to a bunch of bars.  You wake up the next day, and you can't remember where you put stuff.  I mean, you think, 'I know I had it at that one bar, and I think I had it at the next bar, but then it gets kind of hazy.' "
So, as we finished our Tangermeisters, the one-legged guy had me place my hand palm up over the table, and he held his hand palm down above but not touching my hand, in an attempt to "drain my aura" to enable Mary to take my picture.  This was uncomfortably close to an exorcism, which would really destroy my poker ability, so I was happy when Mary distracted him with something shiny.  Alas, no successful pictures were taken, and we hurriedly finished our drinks and made our escape.

From their Twitter updates, it appears Dawn and Mary successfully navigated onward to Kansas City and their final destination, St. Louis (pronounced "Saahn Loo-ee"—trust me!).  But I am quite happy they stopped by to liven up Des Moines for one evening.  And I'm quite pleased they departed before permanently sucking me into their maelstrom of crazy!  I'm definitely looking forward to seeing them again in Vegas in December (note to self—bring extra bail money).

* Tangermeisters are comprised of Tang mixed with Jägermeister.

September 14, 2010

Idiot Sports Announcer Watch (v. 1.1)—
Out With a Brain

The return of football season means the return of a crAAKKer feature that went on hiatus after its initial debut—the Idiot Sports Announcer Watch.  Let's face it, there is really no reason to watch sports on TV between the conclusion of March Madness and the beginning of football season, with the exception of golf majors where Tiger Woods or Zach Johnson are in the hunt on Sunday.  But with the return of football, it's time to discuss the most annoying development in sports reporting and commentary—the abandonment of grammar when discussing player injuries.  The typical offending statement goes something like this:
"The Happy Hippos' defense is going to be challenged tonight, since star cornerback Joe Smith is out with a knee.  Rookie Billy Joe Jim Bob Johnson is really going to have to step up and elevate his game."
Setting aside the silly sports clichés—we can cover those in future posts—since when did folks who supposedly hold journalism or other college degrees start thinking the formulation:

"Smith is out with a [body part]."

was an acceptable grammatical replacement for:

"Smith is out with a [medical condition]." ??

This isn't difficult.  If you want to report a knee injury, you can say "ACL rupture", "meniscus tear", "knee strain", or simply a generic "knee injury".  See how easy it is to make your sentence grammatical, merely by adding one little word? 

The silliness of the "out with a [body part]" formulation is evident from the fact that even the offending announcers themselves do not use it consistently.  Have you ever heard an announcer report that a player with a concussion was "out with a head" or "out with a brain"?  How about a player suffering from the flu being reported as "out with lungs", or a little salmonella resulting in a player being "out with a small intestine"?

Look, I understand that language evolves constantly, and it is probably foolhardy to rail against such a relatively harmless grammatical error.  But, sports are widely watched by kids, and if they hear non-grammatical usages, they tend to adopt them, which can only be detrimental (assuming, of course, that educators and employers still care about things like grammar).  Also, given that many of these same nitwits in the sports biz will debate grammatical esoterica like whether "RBI" or "RBIs" is the proper plural form for the abbreviation for "runs batted in"*, I think a little grammatical respect is appropriate for "out with a [condition]".

Incidentally, there will be no further posts today.  I'm out with a sinus.

*  For the record, I don't give a flying pig which one you use.  But, I think "RBI" as a plural sounds stilted and pretentious.

September 11, 2010

Friday Fun (v.1.15)—
Tailgating with Eskimo Pee

I was supposed to attend the Iowa civil war today, but was waylaid by the start of what is shaping up to be a nasty cold.  So, I shipped the sig other off to Iowa City with some friends and bail money, and dropped the Berkster off for a full day playdate with his brother Bo.  Thankfully, that gave me a full day of napping with some football watching thrown in.

Berkeley and Bo on a play date this spring (Left).  Bo napping at our house (Right).

Berkeley getting comfy.

Sig other tailgating with Santa Claus
at the Iowa-Iowa State "game".

With both of the boys having crashed after their full days of fun, I have time to share some fun sites with y'all.  Enjoy!
  • My alma mater, Drake University, has been in the news because of its "D+" ad campaign.  D+?  Wow, guess I could've gone out more and studied less! 
  • Anyone who went to physics class could've developed a bar trick based on sticking their bare hand into a beaker full of liquid nitrogen, without suffering any tissue damage whatsoever!  (Link includes pictures). 
  • Speaking of cracking the books, here's a Cliff Claven factoid:  "Well, ya know Normie, book sizes are based on sheep."
  • Speaking of livestock, the recent Iowa State Fair featured a blue ribbon champion steer which had previously won the blue ribbon in 2008.  Now, considering champion market steers are always auctioned for slaughter, how did "Doc" pull off this apparently impossible miracle
  • Continuing with the freaky science, I just learned that figs are carnivorous.  I'm certainly never going to look at a Fig Newton cookie the same again.
  • For those students who prefer to party, here's a list of alternatives to booze, just in case you find yourself out of beer after the liquor stores close.  Not sure if fish heads and Eskimo pee are readily available, but it's always good to know you have options.
  • Finally, check out this interesting video of the stroboscopic "rolling shutter effect" (via Neatorama) and some similar still photos by Jason Mullins (ADDENDUM: and a neat helicopter optical illusion).  My readers who are photo buffs probably already know all about this effect, but it was new and quite fascinating to me.

September 09, 2010

Poker Nicknames

When at a poker table with strangers—which is common even in my local casino—I tend to assign nicknames to the more memorable folks.  It rarely has any real connection to their playing ability, but is more a way of labeling folks who stand out from the usual riff-raff at the tables.  A lot of times, the nicknames are pretty obvious, based on things like their resemblance to an actor (e.g., Doogie Howser/NPH, Steven Seagal, Richard Simmons), their professed or implied profession (e.g., Sheriff, Professor, Pimp), or their favorite sports team/athlete (e.g., Tex, Colt, Gator, Jeter).  Occasionally, I will needle a friendly player with his/her nickname, but mostly I keep the nicknames to myself or share them with friends in relating hand histories or a trip report.

Flamingo:  A tall stork-like kid wearing a bright pink shirt while playing poker at ... Bally's.  When he got a call from friends to line up the night's clubbing activities, I made a dry crack asking, "Aren't they expecting you back at the Flamingo for the night shift?"  He gave me a confused look and said, "Oh no, I'm not from here, I'm from Florida."  Of course, I was the only one who saw the humor in his reponse, but at least I got a chuckle out of it.

Montana:  Short guy who looked all of 16 years old who I played poker with at TI.  He managed to win a ton of money at roulette from Steve Wynn on Encore's opening night, then gave it all back, "instead of getting a couple of hookers and some Cristal like I should've done."  His nickname is because he was from Montana, which seemed so incongruous with his party boy attitude that it has stuck with me.

Cowboy:  Guy I've played with a few times at Planet Hollywood, always has a big cowboy hat, western style shirt, big ol' shiny belt buckle, and polished cowboy boots.  If this guy has ever actually branded cattle in his life, I'll eat his hat.  Horrendous bluffer, btw.

Sherminator:  This nickname isn't even mine, instead being bestowed on one unfortunate young donkey by Santa Claus and Lucky during IMOP-II.  This poor kid truly thought he was a poker pro, snidely stating, "I play the player, not the cards."  Santa and I tilted Shermy during a late night session at the Venetian, when we managed to trap Shermy's Kings with Santa's Queens and my Aces, everyone all-in preflop for a monsterpotten.  Sure enough, short-stacked Santa stole the main pot with a river Queen, while I managed a nice profit with the sidepot.  While Shermy was debating the preflop call, Santa even threw in a gratuitous, "I play the player, not the cards."  I'm wondering if the Sherminator ever played poker again.

Chris Owen, a/k/a "Sherminator" in the
"American Pie" movie series (image source).

Dragon Lady:  This is an older Chinese woman who plays a lot at the Venetian.  Long red talons ... errr fingernails, and an angry, combative personality make her rather memorable.  I'm fairly certain she hates every dealer and every player involved in any hand she loses.  I wouldn't be surprised if some of those dealers or players wound up dead.  Seems like an obvious villain for the next James Bond flick.

Fish Sticks:  An older nit who would be otherwise utterly forgettable, except on three occasions at three different Vegas Strip poker rooms, I've seen him open up his backpack and pull out a baggie filled with his lunch/dinner.  You guessed it—good ol' frozen fish sticks.

Garanimals:  This is a new one from my recent visit to the Riverside Poker Emporium & Donk-A-Rama.  There was a younger guy, clean cut, most likely a student at the nearby University of Iowa.  He was a terrible player, chronically grinding a short stack at the 2/5 NLHE game, routinely limp-calling preflop for $20-$30, then check-folding the flop, despite having invested over 20% of his stack.  Just a very curious playing style, though I didn't find many hands where I could try to exploit his weak-tight style.  In any event, he was wearing an orange polo style shirt with a green crocodile on the front.  I immediately nicknamed him "Garanimals".  Apparently, I should be placed on gay probation, as I had no idea what brand was represented by the croc logo.  But, my sig other gave me a huge eye roll and derisively advised me the brand was Lacoste.  Who knew?  This poor guy will forever be known to me as "Garanimals".

September 08, 2010 Is a Putrid Swine Carcass

"Pigs get fat.  Hogs get slaughtered."

"You can shear a sheep a hundred times, but only skin it once."

These old farm-based aphorisms remind us of the perils of being excessively greedy.  It appears that the soulless corporate overlords at (I refuse to link on general and specific principles) failed to learn that lesson in their Advanced Pillaging course during their MBA studies.  For the past 15ish years, I have been the manager for a fantasy football league.  It's a pretty casual crew, more in it for fun than any serious money (and the league certainly would never even so much as dream of violating Iowa gaming laws limiting casual gambling losses to $50.  Nosirree, Bob!).

Thankfully, around the time we organized the league, several internet sites were starting to offer services that would track players, handle trades and roster moves, and most importantly, keep score.  Early on, I signed up with one of the sites (Rotoworld, maybe?) that seemed to handle the process well, and did so for a modest fee.  Several years later, I moved the site over to, because they offered live, real-time scoring, rather than delaying scoring until after the week's games concluded.  Along the way, the fee for keeping our league online gradually increased (from something like $50 per year to a little over $100 per year), but I personally paid the fee because:  a) it saved me immense hassles in managing the league (everything is virtually automatic after the draft), b) paying the fee allowed the league to micromanage scoring and roster options (rather than being stuck with rather unsatisfactory "standard" options offered by several leading free sites), and c) the guys liked being able to track the live scoring feature while watching the week's games.  Many leagues pass the online fees along to the other players, but since this league was for fun, I always ate the fee and passed through the entire entry fees as prizes.

In any event, over the past three months I received a series of emails from  Early on, the emails were pretty standard "come back now and save!" types of solicitations:

This is your last chance to save $20* on your league.
Offer ends this Thursday, August 12th at 11:59pm ET

Dear Fantasy Team Owner,

Purchase your league, Frozen Tundra, now to save $20 off the full price of your league.  You'll pay $159.99- that's less than $14 per person in a 12-team league.  Your league will enjoy the ultimate fantasy experience this season with:
  • Rapid live scoring via GameTracker.™
  • Full control to customize league transactions like trade and waiver options.
  • Multiple draft options, including auction drafts.
  • New tools to help you set your lineup each week- Learn more now.
  • 24 hour Help Center support.
  • Also check out the newly redesigned now available in Beta via the link at the top of the current site.
— email of 8/9/2010.

Of course, as a premier procrastinator, I held off, in part because the price seemed a big jump from last season (my hazy memory is that the fee last year was around $120), and in part because I had decided to check out a few competing sites which were offering similar services for free or at a fraction of the price.  But, if you had pressed me at that point in time, I probably would have told you I expected to sign up with again this year, mostly from inertia—all of our league's quirky scoring and scheduling preferences were already set-up, the guys were already signed up on the site, and frankly, moving seemed like quite the hassle.

Well, I didn't meet their randomly assigned deadline, and I figured, at worst, I would be out the extra $20 by not taking advantage of the special early-bird renewal rate.  Oh well, it was my own fault.  And, frankly, I waste more money on a bottle of wine or a bad preflop call all the time, so I wasn't losing sleep over the extra Jackson.

Well, one week to the day later, emailed me again, but this time, the tone had changed from friendly salesperson to impatient bill collector:

TO: [Grange95]
From: Fantasy Football Billing

Payment for your Fantasy Football league from is now due. Your free trial period is about to expire.  Please review your statement and remit payment to ensure uninterrupted access to your league.  This invoice covers the total cost of your league.  As of the time this message was sent, we have not received payment foryour league.  If you or another member of your league has already paid, please disregard this notice.  Thank you for your business.
Qty Item Price
1 Fantasy Football League $159.99
Subtotal: $159.99
Total Due: $159.99

— email of 8/16/2010.

Now, this "invoice" is utterly ridiculous for a number of reasons.  First, the "free trial period" is a joke.  I know how the site works, having used it for years.  But notice how the free trial period only operates between football seasons, when it is utterly without value.  How can one "test" any features (new or old) when there are no players to draft, and no games to score? 

Second, I absolutely despise companies who send me product solicitations disguised as "invoices".  I haven't purchased your product yet, so how can you possibly be billing me for it?  What a slimy tactic, more what I would associate with a telemarketing scam than with a supposedly reputable media site.  Note the particularly odious implication that my payment was late.  A pox—trichinosis, maybe?—on your marketing staff.

Finally, just to twist the knife in further, note the price of the league.  That's right, it's the same $159.99 price had touted earlier as being the rock-bottom bargain discount rate, subject to an expiration date.  So, all those folks who signed up early, thinking they were getting a great $20 discount, guess what?  You got suckered!  Let's just say after a couple of these fake invoices, I suddenly developed a keen interest in investigating alternative fantasy football sites.

So, guess what I found in my email box last week?  Yup, another sales pitch from

Don't miss your absolute last chance to save $20* on your league.  Offer extended until Thursday, August 26th at 11:59pm ET

Dear Commissioner,

Football season is almost here. Renew your league, Frozen Tundra, now to save $20 off the full price of your league. You'll pay $159.99 - that's less than $14 per person in a 12-team league. Continue to enjoy the ultimate fantasy experience with:
  • Detailed league history spanning back to your league's inaugural season.
  • The ability to have anywhere between 2 and 30 teams, and up to 4 Owners per team.
  • New tools to help you set your lineup each week- Learn more now.
  • The Fantasy Sports Trade Association award-winning league manager 8 out of 9 years.
  • Phone Gurus available for New League Setup Assistance 7 days a week between 8am and 12am ET at 1-877-322-GURU (4878).
  • Get your football information faster with the newly redesigned, featuring cleaner layouts and easy to use navigation.
— email of 8/24/2010.
Note that this email reverted back to the original sales pitch, but suddenly touted a special two-day "extension" of the special discount.   Sorry guys, by this point I was seriously annoyed, and motivated to do a little more comparison shopping.  Although there are several good free sites, I ended up settling on's fantasy football service because:  a) it allowed the same rule and roster flexibility, b) it offers real-time game scoring updates, and c) it was free.  Yes, the sports media mothership, which is fully capable of sucking spare change from your wallet, provides essentially the same services as, at absolutely no charge!  Now, I know that some of these services either were unavailable or were fee-based in the past, but since I haven't really investigated alternatives in the past 3-4 years, I'm starting to wonder how long I was's huckleberry.

In any event, I was setting up our league on today, and wanted to verify the scoring rules we had used on  Imagine my surprise when I discovered our league page still existed, but I was locked out from even looking at our own league constitution and scoring rules!  Instead, I got this "welcome page":
Your Grace Period ended.

Please submit payment to re-activate your league.

Don't worry! Your league remains completely intact.  However, your grace period has ended so we must restrict access to your league until payment is received.  Resume full use of your league by completing your purchase now:
  • Safe and secure credit card payments
  • Simple one-step process
  • Available 24 hours a day
  • PAY BY PHONE: 1-877-266-6474 (toll-free 8:00 AM ET to Midnight ET. 7 days a week. )
Fantasy Football Commissioner is the most powerful and reliable league manager available.  Doesn't your league deserve the best?  Fantasy Football Commissioner has been voted the "Best Fantasy Football League Manager" by the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.
 And don't forget our money back guarantee.

If there is any way we can be of help in your purchase decision, please let us know.  (Call the toll-free number above or contact us via the Help Center.)
Wow, holding my league information hostage. wants $179.99 to simply let me look at the rules I wrote for my own fantasy football league?  Like I care that much!  Plus, I happen to have plenty of documents and emails with the league rules and records, it was just more inconvenient to find them than to go the league home page.  Sorry, but your last little dirty trick failed, and you have lost me as a customer.  Come spring, I'll be moving my March Madness bracket off your site and relocating it ... well, just about anywhere that doesn't try to strong arm me.
"No question now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."

—"Animal Farm" by George Orwell
An animal with far more utility and
character than

(Image source at