February 26, 2011

The Ironman Approacheth

"It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them."

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

I apologize for the recent lull in posting. It's been a pretty hectic couple of weeks, but I'm pretty well settled into the new corporate gig. I have now completed two of the three four-hour sessions of mandatory orientation. In eight hours, I have learned three important things: a) our company most definitely has a wellness center (let's take another tour!), b) I can have wine shipped to my office, and c) "corporate trainer" might not be an oxymoron, but it attracts them.

Soul-sucking corporate indoctrination aside, the new gig is looking like a good fit. Lots of interesting, friendly folks to work with, and several challenging projects already on my plate. Plus, I get a company car; wonder if I can trade it for a company wine cellar? Along with all of the hoopla over the new job (that's with a soft "J"—"yob"), I've also been helping my good buddy Shiz from the old law firm coach his daughter's high school Mock Trial team, which sucks another eight or so hours out of my free time each week. But, they're a good group of smart kids, so it has been fun. Plus, it gives me an excuse for the occasional Meadows ATM run with Shiz after practice. Shiz is a degenerate dice man, but is a mathematical whiz who I've been teaching some poker. We've played a few sessions recently, but frankly, despite several lucrative outings, there has been a notable lack of hilarity at the tables. Maybe the corporate gig has truly sucked out my remaining soul ...

Thankfully, there is always hilarity when the Ironmen hit Vegas, and those High Holy Days are quickly approaching. The official dates (selected as always by consulting the Mayan lunar calendar to determine when basketball wagering can be can be coordinated so as to avoid Spring Break and/or the Apocalypse) are Wednesday, March 9 through Sunday, March 13. Personally, I will be arriving in Vegas around 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, and staying through late afternoon on Monday, March 14 (at my age, I need warm-up and cool-down periods to deal with all the hijinks).

For those who aren't familiar with the Ironman of Poker (IMOP) competition, it is essentially a five day escape from Iowa to poker Mecca, with a healthy dose of prop-betting, Euro-tilting, and sports wagering thrown in the mix, all seasoned by a healthy dose of alcohol. Here are a few random events from past IMOPs which I have previously shared:
  • The Deuce-Five:  Wherein I felt buddy Sahara during the Aria tournament.
  • The Sherminator:  Wherein an annoying trust fund d-bag gets an ironic taste of his own medicine. ("I am the Highlander!").
  • The Beatdown at Bally's:  Wherein I am tackled during a poker game by a drunken Englishman who later is ejected with his buddy after exhibiting poor vocabulary choices near the wrong pit boss. ("Mum").
For the first time ever, we have the full IMOP crew returning, with nary a newbie in sight. Our cruise director, Santa Claus, has released the preliminary schedule of events, with a few highlights I can share with my loyal readers:
  • The "signature hand"—long a featured event—will return. For those of you wondering what a signature hand is, think of playing "the Hammer" game for five full days (albeit with a different personal junk hand), except your opponents have no idea you're playing. Snap a few Aces after rolling over, say, 6-3, and hilarity ensues. Multiply that by a dozen guys playing their own signature hands, and the anti-Iowa cursing can be heard up and down the Strip. Seriously, it is quite common to have folks at your table see you roll over a signature hand, and groan, "Oh, you're part of that crew?" This year, in honor of the sixth IMOP competition, the official signature hand for all Ironmen will be the mighty Deuce-Four, a/k/a "the Grump".
Santa at the kickoff drinking event for IMOP-V.
  • The Ugly Jacket Dinner will return, natch, at a fine establishment to be named later (Delmonico at Venetian is the old standby, but we've been venturing out to other classy joints the past couple of years). After winning it for three straight years, I stumbled to third last year. However, I believe I have found a strong contender for this year, and hope to return to sartorial dominance.
My winning Jacket Dinner entry from IMOP-IV.
Sahara is on the left, enjoying a caipirinha at Samba.
  • Last year's cheesy concert t-shirt contest has been discontinued; who wants to see Sahara rocking yet another one of his Michael Bolton outfits? Instead, the Ironmen will be competing in a "Mad Hatter" outrageous headgear contest, most likely coinciding with the TI tournament. This event will require a little planning on my part. On IMOP-II, I wore a red and black Mad Hatter style hat during a cash game session at Venetian, so I really can't plagiarize myself. Perhaps a fez?
Sahara with his prize-winnning t-shirt from IMOP-V.
  • The four official tournaments will be:  Thursday, 1:00 a.m. at Golden Nugget; Thursday, 2:00 p.m. at TI; Friday, 9:00 a.m. at Caesars; and Saturday, 1:00 p.m. at Aria. Given my general dislike of the Caesars poker room and the ungodly early hour, I'm trying to convince Santa to switch this to the Mirage late morning / noonish tourney.
Barbie pulls off the "Meat Tank" prop bet—saving a BBQ rib from dinner,
and pulling it out to gnaw on when his opponent tanks on an all-in call.
  • Santa has finally implemented a plan he and I have been mulling for a couple of years—The Third World Poker Tour. Ironmen will be randomly assigned—sentenced—to play a two hour session at some of the finer poker rooms in Vegas:  Tropicana, Hooters, Excalibur, Luxor, Stratosphere, Sahara, Circus Circus, Riviera, and Imperial Palace. Santa and I agree that one of the best parts of the Vegas poker experience is playing at some of the less-glamorous rooms. Most of the Ironmen are poker snobs who live at Venetian, Bellagio, Wynn, or Aria, and whine about "slumming it" at Mirage or MGM (don't even suggest Planet Hollywood, TI, or Bally's!). Hopefully hilarity, hijinks, and arrests will ensue.
In past IMOPs, the crew has roomed in suites at Wynn, Bellagio, and Venetian/Palazzo, usually with a discounted poker room rate. This year, many of the guys are continuing to use the Venetian as home base, but I and a couple of others will be using players' club room rates at TI and Mirage. The rooms will be cheaper, the quality is still good (after all, it's not like we need the rooms more than four hours a day), and there is no poker play requirement. Don't get me wrong, I can and likely will rack up 6+ hours a day at Venetian, particularly if they are spreading 1/2 PLG on a regular basis. But I do like the freedom to move around the Strip and hit up some other rooms I love (Bally's, Aria, Planet Hollywood, Bellagio, TI, Mirage, Wynn, and Imperial Palace will almost certainly merit a session or two each).

Anyway, if you happen to be in Vegas in early March, and run into some dunken Midwestern maniacs at the poker tables, you're likely in the presence of one or more of the Ironmen. If you want to confirm, just wait until one of them loses a big pot and see if they utter the magic phrase:

"Damn you, Erik Seidel!"

February 11, 2011

The Modern Duke Brothers—
A Contrary View of a "Sick" Wager

Randolph Duke: Pay up, Mortimer. I've won the bet.

Mortimer Duke: Here, one dollar.

Randolph Duke: [chuckling] We took a perfectly useless psychopath like Valentine, and turned him into a successful executive. And during the same time, we turned an honest, hard-working man into a violently, deranged, would-be killer! [laughs]

Trading Places

There has been a lot of chatter in the poker world this week about a prop bet between two young online poker players, Ashton “theAshman103” Griffin and Haseeb “InternetPokers” Qureshi. Essentially, Griffin laid 3:1 odds that he could run 70 miles in 24 hours. Qureshi took the bet to the tune of $285,000, while another friend took $15,000 in action, bring the total wager to $300,000 against Griffin, to Griffin's $900,000 if he lost.[1] Griffin won.

The response in the poker community has been predominately "Sick!" Unfortunately, that's "sick" as in "awesome or amazing", not "sick" as in "morally reprehensible".

Qureshi wrote a lengthy blog post (Part 1 & Part 2) explaining the bet from his perspective. Shamus at Hard-Boiled Poker notes the moral implications of the bet, but lets Qureshi off the hook for his behavior:

It’s a harrowing read, one that should give a great deal of pause to those eager to celebrate Griffin’s accomplishment and/or the undeniably fascinating culture that seems to produce such rash, risky behavior. Qureshi is highly self-critical throughout, recognizing the absurdity of the situation of his having bet on his friend’s body to fail him physically -- perhaps even irreparably. The experience seems to have been unrelentingly hellish for the 21-year-old Qureshi, and he writes with the self-awareness and perspective that belies his young age (and which he appears to have been lacking when he agreed to the prop).

—"Sick Bet: Griffin, Qureshi, and 'the World of Poker Players'”, Hard-Boiled Poker (Feb. 10, 2011).

There's no question Qureshi's post is well-written—it's a well-written, self-serving non-apology filled with superficial moral musings and self-pitying personal reflections. But let's let Qureshi speak for himself.

First, we learn that Qureshi moved into a house with Griffin and another young poker phenom, Daniel "Jungleman12" Cates (a/k/a "Jungleman").

I was a lot more mature than the two of them. Both Ashton and Jungle respected me. They would call me the "papa bear" of the house. I looked after them.

So, Qureshi knew Griffin looked at him as the mature, responsible person in the house. Qureshi also knew Griffin wasn't mentally or emotionally balanced, based on this conversation between Griffin and mutual friend (and co-bettor) Doug (a/k/a "WGCrider") while out drinking the night before the wager:

Ashton replied "Well, thanks... You know... I feel sad all the time."

Doug looked at him.

"I feel anxious and depressed, and I haven't been happy in a long time."

So, if a friend tells you he's fighting depression and anxiety, should you help him get family support or professional treatment, or should you make a near-million dollar prop bet with him? Tough call, but Qureshi figures out a way to rationalize it, repeatedly:

As I was looking at him I thought to myself... I've been in this situation before. I've seen Ashton make lots of silly prop bets. I've seen him get scammed, burned, taken advantage of countless times, and I've also seen him offer a lot of silly prop bets that weren't in his favor. Every time I've refrained from taking part; refrained from having anything to do with it. I know that he fucks up a lot, and I know that he's a degenerate sometimes. I've known Ashton for years and I've watched him travel down his road. Many times along the way I've tried to stop him, to advise him, to pull him out of harm's way, but ultimately he finds himself there again and again.

I had come to realize that I can't stop Ashton from doing these things. I knew that no matter what I said or did, he was determined to do this prop bet. I know him, I know the frustration and anxiety he's been feeling, and I know the look in his eyes and the resolve in his voice. I thought there was no way that he could run 70 miles. The way I saw it, he was ready to grab a handful of his money and throw it into the wind. I can't save him. I can't stop him.


I thought to myself, he's giving money away. He's not going to stop until he sells off all of that action and puts up 900k of his own money. If I know he's going to throw 600k into the wind, what difference would it make if it were my hand that caught it instead of somebody else's?


We protested. No, I said, he was going to do this anyway. I couldn't stop him. He was going to do it anyway. I was helping him wasn't I? I was worried about him wasn't I? I was watching over him wasn't I? What difference did it make whether it was my money or someone else's?

Look, if you play poker long enough with friends, you will be confronted with the situation where one of your friends goes on uber-tilt, whether because of a bad run of luck, drinking, or stress from family or work issues. You watch this friend burn through a couple extra buy-ins because he simply is emotionally out of control. In most cases, you keep playing, winning some of his cash. In a way, the losses likely serve as a good lesson for your friend once he steps away from the game, and might prevent similar blowups in the future. But this only works if you know the losses are not significant to your friend, that his mortgage and utilities will still get paid, and his family's lives and relationships will not be adversely affected. When a friend spirals out of control with gambling, and does or threatens to do something potentially harmful to himself or his family, you have a moral choice to make. You can try to help your friend, but if he refuses, it's simply wrong to rationalize that he will gamble anyway, and take his money yourself. That's not being protective, that's profiteering.

Here's a thought. If you are ever confronted with the moral question, "Everyone else is taking advantage of my friend, why shouldn't I do it too?", the correct answer is, "Because he's your friend."

Now, it's also important to note that the initial wager was only for $70K. Then, Qureshi and his friend Doug did a little research to determine how difficult the task would be, and discovered, not surprisingly, that it would be a daunting, physically draining experience.[2] At this point, Griffin contacted Qureshi to see if they could up the wager, and Qureshi eagerly agreed, based on this rationale:

At that point I thought that if all these people think Ashton can't do it, then there's no way he can win. He thinks he knows his body, but you can't know how your body would respond to that level of physical and psychological stress if you've never been there. He can't know. He can't know what three back-to-back marathons would do to his calves, to his knees, or to his heart. He still had alcohol in his system and had gotten almost no sleep, and I knew that he was feeling anxious. I figured this is Ashton standing in front of the railroad tracks again - this is him sitting at 500/1k heads up against Phil Ivey with his roll, desperate to have something change, for something to rile him up, to feel alive and meaningful again.

My, how noble. Making a physical endurance bet with a friend you know is hungover, sleep-deprived, and "feeling anxious". Showing no regard for the serious physical effects the wager might have on your friend's legs or heart. Yup, what a pal. Definitely shows Qureshi was "looking out" for Griffin.

Now, it's true that the initial wager might have been made with only a vague idea there might be a remote chance of serious physical consequences to Griffin's health. But when the bet was only a few hours old, Qureshi not only knew that the prop bet had a significant chance of being dangerous to Griffin's health, he actually admits he was betting on a serious health issue to arise in order to win the bet:

At around 8PM, I spoke to a friend of mine who had some experience in running marathons. I told her the entire story, about how Ashton was feeling out of it, how he was unable to sleep, and that he'd been drinking heavily the night before. She told me with an unexpected graveness - "You guys need to be watching him constantly." I replied, "Well, we're checking up on him every half hour or so, bringing him food and drink and stuff." "No, no, you guys need to be there in case something happens. If he collapses or gets a heart attack, he'll need immediate medical attention. Somebody needs to be there. Like, right now. The likelihood will only go up the longer that kid runs."

Slowly, the realization settled in. I know Ashton, and I know how much heart he has. He's a beast. He'll keep pushing and pushing until the brink of his physical limits. The question was never whether Ashton had the force of will to win this bet, but whether or not his body could withstand it. In reality, I knew that Ashton wouldn't give up. The bet I was making was that Ashton would be physically incapable of going any further. I was betting that Ashton would either: pull a muscle and be unable to run, collapse from exhaustion, damage his joints, or have a heart attack. There was no other way that he would lose.

Like most folks who play poker or enjoy gambling in general, I've made prop bets with friends over ridiculous challenges or for silly stakes. In fact, I even have a running challenge going this year against two poker-playing friends. But the idea of making a bet where the health or safety of one of my friends would be placed in jeopardy, even if the most severe consequences were somewhat remote, is utterly unfathomable to me.

Qureshi's story takes an interesting turn when Griffin's parents arrive, understandably worried about his physical and mental well-being. Griffin's mother confronted Qureshi:

"No Haseeb, you two aren't his friends. It's all about money isn't it? That's what you guys want right? That's what you're here for, that's why you're making my son do this?"

No, no. No...

Ummm, actually, yes, yes. Yes. It was all about the cash. If not, why hadn't the bet been called off after the parental intervention? Nothing prevented Qureshi from simply telling Griffin's parents, "Hey, you're right. This is crazy. Let's cancel the bet and go talk to Ashton about why he's been acting so recklessly, and figure out how to help him." That's what a friend would do.

Of course, Qureshi had no interest in canceling the wager; he wanted to win! When Griffin's parents were unable to convince him to unilaterally drop out of the challenge, they began watching over him at the gym where he was running on a treadmill. As for his "friends", Qureshi and Doug?

Doug had been coming down with a cold all that day, and his cough was getting noticeably bad. I told him that he should get some sleep and drink lots of liquids. There was no point in him staying up if the parents are going to be watching Ashton all night. I'll make sure everything's all right, I told him. He agreed and went upstairs to get some much-needed sleep.

What a pal! Making sure your buddy gets his rest when he's coming down with a sniffle. Never mind your buddy who's possibly running himself to death because of your prop bet ...

Qureshi then caught several hours of beauty sleep himself before heading over to the gym to watch Griffin. But, after only a few minutes, Qureshi found himself imagining his friend collapsing on the treadmill, letting him win the bet; who of us hasn't wished physical harm to our friends for a few bucks? Unable to deal with his guilty conscience, Qureshi fled the gym, and called two friends for confession and absolution:

"Fuck, fuck Rachel. What if he has a heart attack? What if he goes to the emergency room? How am I going to even know? His parents aren't going to tell me. I was sitting there on that fucking bench, imagining him falling over... what kind of a person does that make me? What kind of fucked up person am I that I'm imagining him getting hurt? What's wrong with me?"

Of course, his friends assured him he wa not to blame, but rather Griffin was fully responsible for the wager.

"Listen, Haseeb. Nothing's wrong with you okay. This whole thing is just mad. He's a madman, and he's brought you into a mad situation, and it's making you go mad too. Nothing is wrong with you. Calm down, okay?"

What happened to "Papa Bear" Qureshi who would "look out for" his buddy Griffin? Suddenly Qureshi is just an innocent victim, caught up in Griffin's maelstrom of madness? Griffin is really the person responsible for Qureshi's moral angst? At least the Catholic church makes you say a few Hail Marys and Our Fathers before giving such a moral whitewashing.

Having salved his guilty conscience, Qureshi dragged Doug off for a relaxing breakfast. While at the restaurant, Griffin called Qureshi to let him know he had completed 60 out of the 70 miles, with three hours to go. Griffin offered Qureshi a buyout for $200K of the $285K wager. Obviously, Qureshi and Doug were so concerned with their friend's health that they jumped at the offer, right? Not exactly.

"Man... there's no way I can take that buyout. To pay 85k to have a shot at a million dollars? I need less than 10% chance of winning to stay in. The last ten miles have to be the toughest. We knew that going in, that it would get exponentially more difficult the further he went on. Ashton has a point at which he can't run anymore, everyone does. He's never done this kind of endurance running before. The only question is whether his body will hit its limit at 69 miles or 71 miles. I can't take this buyout. "

Doug agreed. We told him no. He asked if I was sure, if I really believed that this wasn't cake for him. I said I couldn't take that buyout. We didn't hear back from him.

Yup, despite the extensive hand-wringing and conscience-wrestling, when push came to shove, money still talked, friendship walked.

Before we left the restaurant, I dropped $5 in a charity collection.

Well, you've got that going for you, which is nice.

Of course, in the end Griffin pulled it off and won a rather ridiculous amount of money, more than many American families will earn in five years of full-time work. Now, we're all supposed to chuckle at those silly kids and their "balla" lifestyle, and ignore the moral implications of these kinds of prop bets.[3]  Several poker commentators have pointed to Qureshi's post-wager musings[4] as somehow delivering a meaningful insight into poker culture:

Something that I've come to think about is that perhaps there's something about the world of poker players that's fundamentally unhealthy. This generation of online poker players and its culture has existed for less than ten years, yet I've always had some assumption lodged deep in my psyche that if I'm not finding happiness through poker that it's just something wrong with me. And yet, there are so many people at every level of poker who are so deeply unhappy. It leaves me wondering.

And perhaps that's what really is the most difficult challenge for this generation of poker players. To infiltrate a world that is at its root, deeply unhealthy and imbalanced. To grab this bull called poker by its horns and to try to tame it for as long as we can. We hold on, and the bull bucks and tries to throw us into the droves of insanity around us. Some hold on, some don't. And maybe some are being dragged along the ground by this bull, and think they're still okay because they haven't let go. I remember writing over a year ago that as much as we learn about the game of poker, nobody really teaches us how to live as poker players. Nobody teaches us when we're supposed to let go of the bull.

Pardon me while I call "bullshit" on this pseudo-philosophical blather. Poker is a game. Poker is not a proxy for life. Nobody needs to learn how to "live as a poker player". All you need to learn is how to live as a decent human being. It is entirely possible to live a morally grounded, responsible life and also be a poker player. If you are fabulously wealthy and living a lifestyle where you prioritize conspicuous consumption over meaningful friendships, if partying and prop bets are more important than people, then your problem is not poker; the problem is your character.

The poker community has turned this prop bet on its head. The only "sick" thing about this wager was Qureshi's conduct.

[1] For the moment, let's simply whistle past the fact that Griffin has been lionized in the poker community for winning and losing millions of dollars while legally underage. Laws? Who needs them? But, no matter how you parse it, $900K is serious money for a prop bet.

[2] I've been a lifelong distance runner, running as much as 50 miles per week in my younger days. I've also completed a marathon in under four hours, but that was after three months of training added onto a good fitness and running base. Even so, the final six miles of the marathon was one of the more grueling physical experiences I've ever completed, and I physically had difficulty walking the next day, and couldn't run for more than a week. Although Griffin is a young, athletic guy (college wrestler) who had run as much as 22 miles in one outing, there is a world of difference between running 20 miles in one day, and running 25 or more miles. Trust me, the extra miles become exponentially more physically demanding. Even allowing for regular rest breaks to allow muscle recovery doesn't change the daunting nature of the challenge. Except for the rare folks who train for ultramarathons, running 70 miles in one day is likely far beyond the physical abilities of even most reasonably fit, athletic people.

[3] Frankly, the poker media deserves some criticism for glamorizing these physically dangerous prop bets. In the past, ESPN's WSOP broadcasts have focused on other equally dangerous stunts:  Erick Lindgren playing four rounds of golf in 100°F heat, losing ten pounds in the process; Ted Forrest running a marathon in 110°F heat, injuring his feet in pursuit of cash; and Ted Forrest (again) winning $2 million with a weight loss challenge, losing over 50 pounds (accomplished only by fasting for the last ten or so days). Yes, prop bets are part of the poker culture, and probably deserve coverage. But having the media treat them as amusing entertainment without any acknowledgment of the attendant serious risks only exacerbates poker's public image as the refuge of degenerate gamblers.

I would note, however, that Dr. Pauly did have a more sober take on the moral implications of these kinds of prop bets:

The human body can do wondrous things. Poker players often do bizarre things. When you add the two together, you're flirting between absurdity and extreme moral hazard.

The remainder of his thoughts on the subject are worth a read.

[4] Several commenters on Qureshi's blog, the Two-Plus-Two forums, and Shamus' blog post suggest Qureshi's tale should be made into a movie. Seriously folks?

February 09, 2011

The Intersection of Law & Online Poker:
Part 2—Subject Matter Jurisdiction in Civil Cases

In Part 1 of this series*, we looked at the concept of personal jurisdiction, which is the legal analysis of whether a court has the sufficient authority over a person or company to enter an enforceable legal judgment or decree that would be binding on that person or company. In this post, we turn to the concept of subject matter jurisdiction in the context of civil cases. Jurisdiction in the context of criminal cases will be discussed in the next post in this series.

While personal jurisdiction is concerned with whether a court has authority over the parties to a legal dispute, subject matter jurisdiction focuses on whether a court has authority over the dispute itself. Federal court jurisdiction is limited by the U.S. Constitution and federal statutes. State court jurisdiction is determined by the U.S. Constitution, state constitution, and state and federal statutes (state court jurisdiction over certain types of claims can be preempted by federal law). State courts, however, are courts of general jurisdiction, meaning they can generally adjudicate all claims arising from statute, common law, or equity. State district courts will hear a wide variety of legal claims, including cases dealing with tort, contract, probate, family law, and criminal matters. Federal district courts, on the other hand, are courts of special jurisdiction, meaning their jurisdiction is limited to a narrow range of claims, notably including cases arising from federal statutes ("federal questions"), federal constitutional issues, admiralty law, and bankruptcy law. Federal district courts do hear tort or contract cases when the claim is against the federal government, or when exercising diversity jurisdiction, which allows parties who reside in different states to have their cases heard by a federal court rather than one of the parties' home turf state court (there is a statutory threshold for the amount in controversy—currently $75,000—for diversity cases).

Subject matter jurisdiction issues arise in litigation differently in federal and state courts. In federal court, subject matter jurisdiction issues are common, as the question before the court is whether the Constitution or a federal statute has granted the court jurisdiction over the claim in question. By contrast, subject matter jurisdiction issues are rather rare in state court, since the court generally has jurisdiction over claims except when there is a specific constitutional or statutory bar to jurisdiction. Regardless of the forum, however, subject matter jurisdiction issues are significant, because a lack of subject matter jurisdiction is an issue which can never be waived, the parties to a dispute can never agree (e.g., by contract, admission, or consent) to give a court jurisdiction it does not have under the law, and the lack of subject matter jurisdiction can be raised at any time in the litigation (yes, even on appeal after an adverse judgment in trial court).

Turning to gambling-related civil litigation, two of the most significant areas where subject matter jurisdiction concerns arise are when the legal issues in dispute run headlong into administrative law or tribal law issues. For example, let's say that you are playing poker at your local poker room or casino. You win a bad beat jackpot, but when the poker room manager goes to process the paperwork, it's discovered that a player at the table was only 20 years old, while the legal gambling age is 21. The underage player was dealt into the hand, but folded preflop. Despite the logical fallacy of assigning any causative link between the underage player being dealt into the hand and the eventual hitting of the badbeat jackpot, the poker manager declares the jackpot win void, and refuses to award you any money.

Like most Americans, your first thought is to take the bastards to court. Your first thought is almost certainly wrong, at least in term of legal strategy. Why? Because in most states, the courts lack subject matter jurisdiction over gaming-related disputes between casinos and their patrons.

This jurisdictional issue can be counterintuitive to laypersons. After all, the claim for a share of a wrongfully denied jackpot would seem to be a classic claim for breach of contract or conversion (a tort claim to recover money or property wrongfully withheld from the rightful owner). Instead, by state law, disputes over payments on wagers or jackpots are likely delegated to the state's regulatory agency with responsibility for gaming oversight (often referred to as a "gaming commission" or "gaming control board").** A casino patron with a dispute over payments of wagers or jackpots must file a claim with the gaming agency. The rationale behind this policy is that the gaming agency has expertise in understanding the intricacies of casino wagering processes, often having approved them in the first place. So, it makes sense to require patrons to submit wagering related claims to the agency rather than a court for adjudication.

One example of this principle in practice arose from a 19 year old man who won a $1.06 million slot machine jackpot. The federal court hearing the case determined that the claim was based on a dispute over payment of a gambling debt, and thus the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to consider the case. Erickson v. Desert Palace, Inc., 942 F.2d 694 (9th Cir. 1991). However, the court noted that a claim that a casino was running a fraudulent game (e.g., intentionally using loaded dice, an incomplete deck, or a rigged slot machine) could still be brought in court.

A similar result may arise in the context of casino gaming on tribal territory. Tribal gaming is governed by a series of state-tribe compacts negotiated pursuant to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). One item negotiated and included in any compact is the extent of the state's regulatory authority over casino gaming activities on sovereign tribal lands. In many situations, a tribe may offer casino gaming in states where no other gaming is available, or offer a wider variety of games than authorized in state regulated casinos. When claims arise based on non-payment of wagers or jackpots, tribes often retain sole jurisdiction for determining the validity of such claims. However, the scope of the tribe's jurisdiction may be even broader, encompassing claims based on related tort claims, such as fraud or violation of state consumer protection statutes. In cases where tribal authorities retain jurisdiction over these kinds of gambling claims, casino patrons are required to pursue their claims before the tribal regulators or in the tribal court system, and are barred from pursuing their claims in state or federal court.

The potential breadth of tribal jurisdiction over gambling claims can be seen in the North Carolina case of Hatcher v. Harrah's NC Casino Co., LLC, File No. COA04-823 (N.C. Ct. App. 2005). The case arose when a patron at a Cherokee Indian casino (operated by Harrah's) won an $11,000 jackpot on a slot machine, but was denied payment (apparently because of machine malfunction, though the case is not entirely clear as to the basis for non-payment). Cherokee tribal gaming regulations set forth an administrative procedure for contesting adverse wager payment decisions. However, the patron brought suit in North Carolina state court, seeking damages under the state's unfair and deceptive trade practices statutes. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court dismissal of the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction:

It is clear that the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has policies and procedures in place to resolve disputes such as the one plaintiff presents in the case sub judice. Thus, for our courts to exercise jurisdiction in this case would plainly interfere with the powers of self-government conferred upon the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and exercised through the Cherokee Tribal Gaming Commission. It would subject a dispute arising on the reservation between the casino and its patron to a forum other than the one the Indians have established for themselves.

Whereas the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has a greater interest in resolving patron disputes related to activities within the casino, and has policies and procedures for resolving such disputes, the interests of the Indians outweigh the interests of the state. Therefore, the exercise of state court jurisdiction in the present case would unduly infringe on the self-governance of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. For these reasons, we hold that our state courts must yield subject matter jurisdiction to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in the case sub judice and affirm the decision of the trial court.

Hatcher v. Harrah's NC Casino Co., LLC, File No. COA04-823 (N.C. Ct. App. 2005) (citations omitted).

This kind of broad preemptive jurisdictional statute is not limited to tribal casinos. Some state courts give broad preemptive effect to state gaming statutes, finding that comprehensive state gaming regulations bar state courts from considering a wide range of common law tort or contract claims. For example, a pair of cases from Indiana arose from claims against casinos based on allegations the casinos had failed to bar compulsive gamblers from their premises. In the older case, a federal court of appeals affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit making various claims including breach of contract, breach of duty, fraudulent misrepresentation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and a federal civil racketeering (RICO) claim. Williams v. Aztar Indiana Gaming Corp., LLC, 351 F. 3d 294 (7th Cir. 2003). The court held that there was no evidence to support the racketeering allegations, even though the casino sent the patron a "Cease Admissions" letter, but subsequently permitted him to continue gambling despite knowing he was psychologically a compulsive gambler. Absent a RICO claim, the federal court lacked jurisdiction to consider any of the claims. Thus, the court did not reach the merits of the state law claims, which presumably were considered in due course by a state court.

The casino patron in the more recent Indiana case did not receive a warm welcome in the Indiana state courts. Caesars Riverboat Casino, LLC v. Kephart, 934 N.E.2d 1120 (2010). In Kephart, the casino sued its patron for unpaid counter checks. The patron countersued, alleging the casino knew she was a compulsive gambler, but nonetheless had actively solicited her to gamble through a series of offers of free rooms, meals, alcohol, and transportation, and the provision of a line of credit via counter checks, resulting in losses of over $125,000 in one night of gambling. The patron based her claims for damages (the recovery of her losses plus additional sums for mental and emotional distress) on a common law claim for a breach of duty by the casino. The Indiana supreme court held that the state's extensive regulatory scheme for gambling preempted any common law claim against the casino, and thus the court lacked jurisdiction over the patron's counterclaim:

In this case, not only does the statutory scheme cover the entire subject of riverboat gambling, but the statutory scheme and Kephart's common law claim are so incompatible that they cannot both occupy the same space. As the sole regulator of riverboat gambling, the Commission has adopted detailed regulations at the legislature's direction. See 68 Ind. Admin. Code §§ 1-1-1 to 19-1-5. Indiana Code sections 4-33-4-3(a)(9) and (c) require the Commission to enact a voluntary exclusion program. See 68 I.A.C. §§ 6-1-1 to 6-3-5. Under this program any person may make a request to have his or her name placed on a voluntary exclusion list by following the required procedures. 68 I.A.C. § 6-3-2. To request exclusion, applicants must provide contact information, a physical description, and desired time frame of exclusion — one year, five years, or lifetime. Id. Casinos must have procedures by which excluded individuals are not allowed to gamble, do not receive direct marketing, and are not extended check cashing or credit privileges. 68 I.A.C. § 6-3-4. A casino's failure to comply with the regulations makes it subject to disciplinary action under 68 Indiana Administrative Code article 13.

Kephart's common law claim would hold Caesars to a similar standard regarding known pathological gamblers in absence of the voluntary exclusion program. The existence of the voluntary exclusion program suggests the legislature intended pathological gamblers to take personal responsibility to prevent and protect themselves against compulsive gambling. The legislature did not require casinos to identify and refuse service to pathological gamblers who did not self-identify. Kephart's claim directly conflicts with the legislature's choice. To allow Kephart's claim to go forward under the common law would shift primary responsibility from the gambler to casino. It is apparent that the legislature intended otherwise. Therefore allowing a common law negligence claim addressing behavior essentially the same as prohibited under the statutory scheme irreconcilably conflicts with the intent of the legislature.

In sum it appears to us that by unmistakable implication the Legislature has abrogated any common law claim that casino patrons might otherwise have against casinos for damages resulting from enticing patrons to gamble and lose money at casino establishments.

Caesars Riverboat Casino, LLC v. Kephart, 934 N.E.2d 1120 (2010) (emphasis added).

Turning to online poker, at present no states or Indian tribes currently authorize and regulate internet gambling (though New Jersey recently passed an internet gaming bill, and several other states are considering doing so). However, subject matter jurisdiction issues can still prevent online poker players from suing internet poker sites when they have been the victim of fraud or cheating. For example, assume an insider at an internet poker site finds a way to view opponents' hole cards and uses his position in the company to defraud players of millions of dollars. Or, assume players violate rules by colluding or multi-accounting. Or assume an internet poker site refuses to pay back player deposits. What U.S. court would have subject matter jurisdiction if online poker players wanted to bring a civil claim for monetary damages against an internet poker site, or against another player using that site for nefarious purposes?

It's a difficult question to answer. In most states, there is a regulated gaming industry, but the online poker sites fall outside the state or tribe's regulatory scheme. So, claims against internet poker sites could not be brought through administrative channels. However, state courts might find that they lack subject matter jurisdiction over claims based on gambling that is illegal (or at least non-sanctioned) in the state. Or, courts might consider that a claim involving a victim in one state, a perpetrator in another state, using an internet poker site regulated by a Canadian Indian tribe with headquarters in Costa Rica or Gibraltar is simply a claim better pursued in a different jurisdiction (an issue which we'll return to in our upcoming discussion of issues of venue and forum). Given the costs and difficulties in bringing civil claims outside the United States, online poker players seeking monetary damages in civil court might well find themselves without any legal recourse whatsoever as a practical matter.

Next Up:  Subject Matter Jurisdiction in Criminal and Quasi-Criminal Matters

* Thanks to Drizz at Nickels & Dimes and Dr. Pauly at Tao of Poker for their links to Part 1.

** Nevada gaming complaints and decisions are available online. Some of the more interesting complaints include:
  • A baccarat player walking on the baccarat table at Caesar's Palace.
  • Security guards at Treasure Island improperly detaining and removing from a player's pockets a $500 wager the player had improperly removed from a table game.
  • A Harrah's sportsbook supervisor unilaterally rescinding sports wagers which had been accepted.
  • The Palms co-sponsoring an improper charity poker tournament, then withholding payment of proceeds for several months.
  • Planet Hollywood allowing a nightclub on premises to run amok. 

February 02, 2011

The Intersection of Law & Online Poker:
Part 1—Personal Jurisdiction

In the debate over whether online poker is legal, and the extent to which state governments can regulate online poker, there are several important, interrelated legal concepts—personal jurisdiction, subject matter jurisdiction, venue/forum, and standing—which are thrown around with little or no explanation. Often, poker players merely offer a flippant, "Well, the court can't have jurisdiction over that company/person/group" without really specifying the legal basis for that claim, or offering analysis supporting their conclusory claim. This post is the first of four posts looking at some of the common legal concepts related to jurisdiction in the context of online poker. Of course, the legal issues being discussed are complex, have developed over a long period of time, and remain in flux even today as courts attempt to apply old legal concepts to new situations (in this case, internet commerce). But poker players interested in understanding online poker litigation should at least have a basic understanding of the legal issues in play in order to evaluate for themselves the merits of various pronouncements being made about the interplay of the law and online poker.

Personal Jurisdiction

When online poker players make claims that the federal or state governments "don't have jurisdiction" over online poker, online poker players, or online poker companies based overseas, it's important to know exactly what is being asserted. Jurisdiction is an important legal concept directly tied to a court's power or authority to enter rulings and judgments that are binding and enforceable. Any court in the world theoretically could enter an order directing that John Smith of Des Moines, Iowa be thrown in prison or pay one million dollars to another person. Whether that court order is enforceable, however, depends on whether the court has the authority to bind John Smith to its order. In other words, court's power to enforce an order depends on whether it has jurisdiction to enter that order.

Although there are several types of legal jurisdiction, the two most basic jurisdictional concepts are personal jurisdiction and subject matter jurisdiction. A court must have both kinds of jurisdiction to enter binding, enforceable judgments.

Looking at personal jurisdiction, a court has jurisdiction over a person or company based either on their residence or their activities. Personal jurisdiction is governed by due process considerations of whether a person or company has sufficient connection to a state to fairly subject them to the court's authority. If a person resides in California, or a company is incorporated and based in California, it seems axiomatic that the person or company is subject to the authority of California state courts. But what about people who merely travel through California, or companies located outside California but which do business, directly or indirectly, with people or companies located in California?

Courts can still gain personal jurisdiction over people or companies located outside their territory via long arm statutes. This jurisdiction can either be specific (limited to a particular claim) or general (applicable to all claims). Courts examining whether personal jurisdiction exists generally use the "minimum contacts" test set out by the U.S. Supreme Court in International Shoe v. Washington. The concept of "minimum contacts" is necessarily vague and fact-dependent, but the general concept is that, where a non-resident person or company has sufficient contact with a state, it is fair to expect that person or company to appear in and be subject to the authority of that state's courts.

The minimum contacts analysis is straightforward in many cases. An Indiana resident driving a car in Ohio should expect to be subject to Ohio court jurisdiction for a traffic accident occurring in Ohio. A Kentucky company selling its products in a dozen states and contracting with vendors in another dozen states might reasonably be hailed into court in any of those states where it does business. In each of these situations, the party is said to have "purposefully availed" itself of the legal benefits and protections of the forum state; i.e., the person or company has intentionally acted in some manner within the state, or engaged in a transaction which will occur in part within the state.

Difficult personal jurisdiction issues arise when companies are located outside a state (or even overseas), and do not intentionally engage in commercial activities in a particular state. For example, what if a company manufactured a machine component part and sold it to a manufacturer in Texas? The machine manufacturer then distributes the assembled product throughout the western states. Should the component manufacturer be subject to personal jurisdiction in Arizona, despite having no direct contact with Arizona or Arizona residents and companies? Has the component manufacturer had any contacts with Arizona, let alone "minimum contacts"?

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments about personal jurisdiction in two lawsuits arising from foreign-based manufacturers who produced products or product components that eventually wound up causing injuries to residents of states where the companies have no physical presence and have never done business. See Goodyear Luxembourg Tires v. Brown and J. McIntyre Machinery Ltd. v. Nicastro (check out SCOTUSBlog for an excellent recap and analysis of the arguments and the underlying issues). Although these cases arise from physical products, the fact the companies involved are foreign-based means the Court's holdings in these cases will have some impact on the analysis of personal jurisdiction by other courts when they confront jurisdictional issues related to foreign-based internet poker companies. Keep an eye out for the Court's decisions in these cases in the next few months.

Turning to the specific issue of personal jurisdiction over internet companies, courts have struggled to find a workable analytical framework for determining which out-of-state or foreign-based internet companies can be subject to a state's jurisdiction. Although a number of tests have been developed, many courts have analyzed the concept of "purposeful availment" by examining the nature of the company's internet website and its use in promoting the company's business within a state. Essentially, a passive website that merely advertises a company's good or services is insufficient to establish personal jurisdiction, while an interactive website that actively takes orders or facilitates sales of goods or services within the state will be sufficient to establish personal jurisdiction. Websites that fall somewhere in the middle—exchanging data with users, but not actually selling products or services—require additional analysis of the degree of the commercial nature of the data exchange.

So, turning to internet poker companies, how do personal jurisdiction concepts apply to claims against the companies? Although the companies are based outside the United States, they operate websites which actively engage in commercial activities within all (or almost all) fifty states. Although many internet poker companies would assert they are not subject to personal jurisdiction in the United States, their commercial activities likely do, in fact, subject them to jurisdiction in the courts of most, if not all, of the states.

A recent example of these kinds of personal jurisdiction issues arose in a trademark infringement lawsuit brought by WMS Gaming, an Illinois company that designs slot machines, against PartyGaming, which operates the PartyPoker site (the site withdrew from the U.S. market after enactment of the UIGEA). PartyPoker refused to appear in Illinois federal court to defend the case, instead asserting, "This issue is about jurisdiction. PartyGaming has never had any physical assets located in the US but is perfectly prepared to defend the merits of this claim in the appropriate jurisdiction." After a default judgment was entered, WMS Gaming appealed, seeking an increase in the amount of damages awarded. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals entered a decision granting WMS Gaming's request for enhanced damages. The court also noted in its analysis that it had personal jurisdiction over PartyGaming:
We also note that while the defendants had the opportunity to contest the district court's personal jurisdiction over them, they have now waived their opportunity to do so. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(1). While we thus cannot rule on the point, it does appear to us that their business contacts with the United States probably would have sufficed to secure personal jurisdiction under Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(k)(2).

WMS Gaming, Inc., v. WPC Productions, Ltd., 542 F.3d 601, 605 (7th Cir. 2008) (emphasis added).

Issues of personal jurisdiction can also arise in the context of state attorneys general attempting to enforce a civil remedy, such as an injunction pursuant to consumer protection statute. For example, the Minnesota courts have affirmed a finding of personal jurisdiction against a Nevada online sports betting company (based out of Belize) when the state attorney general sought an injunction barring the company from soliciting business from Minnesota residents through ads which deceptively claimed that such wagering was legal in Minnesota:
Appellants [Granite Gate Resorts, et. al], through their Internet advertising, have demonstrated a clear intent to solicit business from markets that include Minnesota and, as a result, have had multiple contacts with Minnesota residents, including at least one successful solicitation. The cause of action here arises from the same advertisements that constitute appellants' contacts with the state and implicates Minnesota's strong interest in maintaining the enforceability of its consumer protection laws. Appellants have not demonstrated that submission to personal jurisdiction in Minnesota would subject them to any undue inconvenience. For these reasons, we hold that appellants are subject to personal jurisdiction in Minnesota because, through their Internet activities, they purposefully availed themselves of the privilege of doing business in Minnesota to the extent that the maintenance of an action based on consumer protection statutes does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.

State of Minnesota v. Granite Gate Resorts, Inc., 568 N.W.2d 715 (Minn. Ct. App. 1997).

A finding of personal jurisdiction, however, is only the beginning of the legal analysis. There may be treaties which govern foreign-based internet companies that would trump state or federal law and bar jurisdiction. Further, even if a state has personal jurisdiction over an internet poker company, the state may lack subject matter jurisdiction; e.g. the state may lack jurisdiction because federal preemption or the Dormant Commerce Clause places jurisdiction over internet gambling outside the purview of the individual states. Similarly, a state might have personal and subject matter jurisdiction, yet refuse to consider a lawsuit because of issues related to proper venue; venue issues arise when more than one court has jurisdiction, and the courts must decide which of them is best equipped to resolve the matter.

One final issue that arises in personal jurisdiction cases is that lack of personal jurisdiction can be waived by a party intentionally or inadvertently (as noted by the court in the WMS Gaming decision).  As will be seen in the upcoming discussion of standing, internet poker companies challenging state court actions may refuse to appear in court at all, fearing that doing so will result in a waiver of any personal jurisdiction defense. Instead, these companies will often default (fail to appear), particularly when they have no assets in the state (the approach taken by PartyGaming in the WMS Gaming case). When the owner of the default judgment attempts to enforce or collect on the judgment in the internet poker company's country of residence, validity of the judgment can be challenged on the company's home turf (not to mention it can be incredibly difficult and expensive to attempt to enforce judgments overseas). Similarly, individuals may refuse to travel to the United States or to a particular state to deny personal jurisdiction to the courts.

In sum, then, when online poker advocates assert that internet poker companies are beyond the jurisdiction of the state and federal courts of the United States, to the extent they are referring to personal jurisdiction, they are likely incorrect.

Next up:  Subject matter jurisdiction

ADDENDUM (3 Feb. 2011):  The paragraph discussing the WMS Gaming decision was inadvertently omitted from the original version of this article.

ADDENDUM (7 Feb. 2011):  The paragraph discussing the Granite Gate case was added. I had originally planned to discuss this case in a later post for this series, but have decided it properly belongs in the personal jurisdiction discussion.

February 01, 2011

Playing Where the Money Is

"I rob banks because that's where the money is."

—Attributed to famed bank robber Willie Sutton

An anonymous commenter from my post about a recent poker trip to Kansas City inquired:

Curious as to why you do not play 2/5 [NLHE]? Seem to have the experience and game to win at this level.

I do, in fact, play 2/5 NLHE and 1/2 and 2/5 PLO from time to time, though in the past three years I have only played PLO in Vegas (1/2 at Aria and Venetian, and 2/5 at Aria). In Iowa, I used to regularly play 2/5 NLHE at the Meadows, the Horseshoe in Council Bluffs, and Riverside near Iowa City. In Vegas, I have played 2/5 NLHE mostly at Bellagio and Venetian, with a couple of sessions at Wynn. Frankly, back when 2/5 NLHE was the smallest game spread by Bellagio, that room was consistently my most profitable place to play in Vegas (though I hated the crowded room layout and snooty management).

However, I have definitely played a lot less 2/5 NLHE over the past year and a half. There are a number of reasons:
  • Bankroll: There have been a number of home projects, vacations, etc. that I have paid for by dipping into my poker funds (and yes, I have kept a dedicated poker bankroll for several years now). So, with a smaller bankroll, 1/2 NLHE is a better fit, since $1,000 is four or five buy-ins at most games, while it would be two buy-ins at most 2/5 games.
  • Variance: Closely related to bankroll, the swings at 2/5 NLHE are proportionally bigger. The Iowa 2/5 games can play loose and wild at times, with several regulars at each poker room willing to gamble with marginal hands and draws for big stacks. About a year and a half ago, I was regularly playing 2/5 at all of the Iowa rooms, and went on a serious cold streak, losing numerous huge pots and buy-ins when I was run down by a series of suckouts, bad beats, and coolers, including a streak of six consecutive sessions where I flopped the nut straight, got it all in on the flop against two pair, and got run over by a boat. Seeing my then $12K roll cut in more than half in two months made me a little gun shy for a time.
  • Mental game:  2/5 NLHE plays at a higher level—or at least on a different level—than 1/2 NLHE. My playing time has been cut the past two years from two or three times a week to roughly once a week. It's simply tough to keep my game sharp enough to play 2/5 at a strong level without playing more often, which is compounded by the fact that 2/5 games aren't always running in Iowa rooms. 1/2 games, by contrast, play at a generally basic level, and I can jump into most 1/2 games and knock the rust off in short order.
The biggest reason why I play 1/2 as my standard game, however, is the most basic—1/2 NLHE is consistently a profitable game for me regardless of where I play. In the past month or so, I've played seven sessions, with six of those profitable, including five sessions with a profit over two buy-ins, and two sessions with a profit over three buy-ins. Now, I'm clearly enjoying a little positive variance recently, but multiple buy-in profits are fairly common at the 1/2 level. There are several reasons why:
  • Novices: For most players, 1/2 NLHE is the entry level no-limit game. It's easy to spot the newbies, and easier to take advantage of their particular weaknesses.
  • Bad players: Calling stations, bad bluffers, loose-passive players, scaredy cat nits, you name the leak, there's a player with it at most 1/2 tables. What's even better is that the lower stakes and buy-ins at 1/2 keep these folks coming back for more losses, without any real improvement in their games.
  • Gamblers: When folks who are at the casino to gamble decide to give poker a whirl, they often will treat poker like any pit game, and throw away buy-in after bad bluff after loose call. Often, they augment the gambling rush with a liquor buzz. These folks view the game as pure entertainment, and don't think twice about feeding the game as part of the fun. If you have ever sat in a late night 1/2 game at the Venetian when the drunk trust fund babies come down after enjoying bottle service at Tao nightclub, you'll know exactly what I mean.* Cha-ching!
Of course, the downside to playing mostly 1/2 NLHE is that there is a ceiling to the profit potential. Pots are generally smaller and there is less money in play. I play for fun and "fun money", so the stakes and the profits don't mean as much to me as to serious players who are playing as a primary or supplemental source of income. For those more serious players, 1/2 games are simply too small to provide steady income at a reasonable level of profitability. Frankly, the Poker Grump is the only poker player I know who is able to generate consistent profits primarily from 1/2 games sufficient for supporting a comfortable lifestyle (of course, he isn't exactly living a "balla" life).

So, while 2/5 NLHE is unquestionably more intellectually challenging, when it comes to consistently combining fun and profit, 1/2 NLHE is the nuts.

"Why did I rob banks? Because I enjoyed it. I loved it. I was more alive when I was inside a bank, robbing it, than at any other time in my life. I enjoyed everything about it so much that one or two weeks later I'd be out looking for the next job. But to me the money was the chips, that's all.

Go where the money is ... and go there often."

—Willie Sutton, Where the Money Was: The Memoirs of a Bank Robber (Viking Press 1976)

(Image source)

* Of course, a similar "drunkathon" phenomenon can be observed at many Vegas casinos. In addition to the Venetian, my personal favorite late night fishing holes include Bally's, Planet Hollywood, and TI. Other folks I know swear by the MGM poker room for drunkfest poker, though I have never run particularly well at that room. Frankly, though, if a casino serves alcohol at the poker table, you will likely find a steady stream of heavily lubricated, heavily bankrolled gamblers feeding the action in the 1/2 NLHE games. This phenomenon is notably less common at the higher stakes games.