Blurry lines: Poker or slots? Sexual harassment?

May 8, 2018 3:10 AM

Two vastly different topics caught my curiosity this past week, Blast Poker and the well intended efforts of the Nevada Gaming Control Board to try and come up with regulations related to sexual harassment, both of which caused me to pause and think that things are getting a bit blurry.

Blast Poker

Let’s start with the easy one. Since Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware are now all co-mingling players for online poker, things should start getting interesting again in the world of online poker. The larger player pooling assures more continual action, greater variety of games as well as denomination of games. While as a player I relish the enhanced activity, variety and increased ratio of “fish” (weak players) to “sharks” on the WSOP site and have enjoyed some early benefits, I was surprised to come across a game called Blast Poker.

While Blast Poker is not new to the online gaming world, with the opening of the common player pool between the three states it became legally available to Nevada online poker players. Blast Poker is a very fast poker variant where the players have a short period of time to play traditional sit-and-go style poker, then if there is not a table winner at the end of the play time, each ensuing hand is played with a mandatory “all in” of the player’s chips until there is a table winner. Once a table winner is determined, the table winner then gets to see how much they win via a random multiplier of their buy-in that can be as high as 10,000-to-one. In effect this has the players playing poker for four or five minutes to then see the table winner  have their buy-in treated in some ways like a slot machine bet to see if they will get a multiplier of two up to 10,000 times. For example, say you buy in for $15, win the table and get the big 10,000-to-1 multiplier; you can win $150,000.

Sounds interesting, but the odds of getting the big multiplier are 100,000-to-one and calculating out the math of the game, it works out that for every $60 million bet, the site pays back to players $54,600,000, keeping $5,400,000 for the house or a 9% hold on the game.

By the way, statewide in Nevada the average slot machine hold percentage in March was 6.5%.

But what is the game? Poker is generally deemed a game of skill where knowing math, having patience and time to play will generally reward the better players. Where as slots are simple stick-money-in-and-pray-to-lady-luck-for-a-big-win games. To be clear, I am not opposed to online gaming and if Nevada so permits, more power to the online operator. I am just confused as to when is a game a poker game or a slot game – lines seemed a bit blurred.

Interestingly, in watching the action on the game, the skill-based slot makers should be taking notes on Blast Poker as it was very clear a number of players were willing to play a skill game for a chance to win a big random event.

Sexual harassment regs

Not surprisingly, the opening round of public hearings on the Nevada Gaming Control Board’s efforts brought out extremes on both sides. A number of folks wanted more areas of inclusion in the proposed regs where as others argued the regs were redundant to federal law. It all seemed to avoid the question though of when is a person’s behavior their own responsibility vs. the responsibility of the gaming property.

I fully support the notion that if an employer uses their power to demand sex and the company is made aware and does nothing about it the company should pay the price. But when does a person’s personal conduct stop being their own responsibility, be they a manager or a customer when they transgress on the rights of another person?

Go a step further: Should the misconduct of a few people rise to the point where regulators can yank a gaming license, thus harming all employees and investors over the action(s) of the individual(s)?

To me the lines of responsibility and accountability are very blurry. Should a company pay a fine for the actions of a person breaking rules? Yes, if the company was aware and took no action. But should it be held accountable if they did not know? 

One question I was looking to see asked at the hearing was, where were regulators, what did they miss in their investigations of certain licensees or did they know and decide to ignore? Either way, what is their accountability?

At the end of the day, the board and commission may find existing regulations, which include a requirement to adhere to all laws, are adequate if they just enforce them and hold all licensees to equal accountable.