I have been defending poker my whole career. I was once an executive host for MGM. I booked a well-known poker player who got drunk and knocked a female security guard across a gaming table. I was called because he was escorted off the property, and they asked me what to do about him.
He had a high-end sports car in valet, his things still in the room, and they wanted to know how to move forward. I have always been an advocate for my players. In a board meeting, I was able to convince them to give him a second chance.
Now that I reflect back on that, I think it was the wrong decision.
This customer was an elite poker player, and instead of being an ambassador for the game, he was the exact opposite. Rather than promote the game he made millions playing, he gave it a black eye.
But I wasn’t blameless either. Because he was also a table games player, it was in my best interest to keep him as a customer. At the time, I earned my living off players that I would bring into the MGM.
Knowing what I know now, I probably should have allowed the lifetime ban to stand. The message I was sending was that money was more important than doing the right the thing.
Speaking of bad ambassadors of poker, this next player takes the cake.
I was playing at a card room in Los Angeles in a major tournament when a young player with a Team PokerStars patch walked in late with a small entourage. I didn’t know who he was, but the floor staff was shaking his hand.
He sat down at my table and immediately started criticizing people’s play. He knocked the tournament and the structure and was just a complete jerk. I went over to the tournament director, and said, “Surely, this guy can’t represent PokerStars.” He said, yes he does.
This was the exact opposite of what an ambassador for poker should be. Instead of shaking hands with the players, he berated them. He acted like this tournament was below him. Watching that was a disgrace. It’s time for the pros to be the protectors of the game.
Of course there are many icons of the game who are outstanding individuals. Mike Sexton is a perfect example of a poker ambassador.
He is someone who has helped grow and protect the game. He is also a gentleman; when he sits at the table, you know you’re dealing with a class act.
Linda Johnson is another poker personality who has spent her career protecting the game. Matt Savage, along with Jan Fisher and David Lamb, co-founded the Tournament Directors Association.
They have done a great job of standardizing poker tournament rules worldwide. It’s now time for that same body to come up with a code of conduct and set of disciplinary standards to stop abuse at the poker table.
Some tournaments have done such things as penalize players for using bad language. But we need to take it further.
It won’t be easy, but it is necessary to grow the poker industry by bringing in more recreational players. It may not be obvious to most, but I believe a contributing factor to closing some poker rooms is the problems at the tables.
Too many professional players have taken a lot from the game without giving anything back. If you are going to call yourself a professional poker player, you also need to be a protector of the game.
Poker is out of the back room now and on the world stage on television and digital platforms. People watch poker all over the world. What they see, they emulate.
The world is watching. It’s time to change the game.