Hundreds of poker players including top professionals, Annie Duke, Howard Lederer and Chris "Jesus" Ferguson descended on Washington, D.C., last week to lobby lawmakers into ending federal restrictions against playing poker for money online.
The players and the organization they represent — the Poker Players Alliance — contend that poker is a game of skill, not chance.
A federal law adopted last year, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, prohibits banks and credit card companies from processing online gambling transactions, including poker. The statute makes no distinction for games of skill.
The players spoke in support of three Internet gambling bills, pending in House committees, that would ease restrictions:
”¡ The Skill Game Protection Act (H.R. 2610), sponsored by Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), would distinguish "games where success is predominantly determined by the skill of the players involved" — including poker, backgammon, bridge, chess and mahjong — from games of chance. Games of skill would not violate federal restrictions against "bets or wagers" online. The bill also would prohibit anyone under the age of 18 from playing any games for money online.
”¡ The Internet Gambling Regulation and Enforcement Act of 2007 (H.R. 2046), proposed by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), would allow federal licensed online companies to accept wagers. The bill also would prohibit Internet gambling on professional sports.
”¡ The Internet Gambling Regulation and Tax Enforcement Act of 2007 (H.R. 2607), proposed by Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), would amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to regulate Internet gambling.
Also, the IRS will require casinos and poker tournament sponsors to report winnings and winners starting next year.
"The individual skill of the player determines the outcome, unlike betting on the horses or betting on the lottery," said John Pappas, executive director of the Poker Players Alliance. "It’s not an individual competing against the house, and that’s an important distinction."
But not everyone considers poker a game of skill.
"It certainly has elements of skill," said Keith Whyte, executive director of The National Council on Problem Gambling, "but the predominant element has to be chance. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be gambling."
Whyte also said his organization focuses on the social implications of gambling and has remained neutral since 1972 on whether gambling should be legalized or not.
"Poker is the great American game," said poker professional Howard Lederer, a two-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner. "It will suffer from over-blocking. ... Not everyone can get to a casino and play."
Lederer, nicknamed "The Poker Professor," said chance is part of poker, including the "all-in" hands made popular by the proliferation of poker coverage on TV.
"But what you’re missing are the 10 hands that led to the all-in hand," he said, adding that’s where skill comes into play.
"Most people talk about skill and I think they confuse skill and edge," Lederer said. "All the skills — reading, psychology, bluffing, calculating the odds — are distilled into one thing: the betting. In poker, you don’t have to play a hand. You can fold, and that’ s a wonderful part of the game."