Poker Players Alliance tells Congress: ‘Shuffle up and Deal’

October 30, 2007 3:45 AM
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With Condoleezza Rice playing her hand on Iran one floor below, soldiers of the Poker Players Alliance invaded a House of Representatives hearing last week, intent on convincing the Congressmen that it was un-American to outlaw poker on the internet.

The troops were out in force, leaders and members of the organization that claims 800,000 members nationwide, and they argued, for openers, that the game is not a vice, but a healthy activity that is good for you, that it has tremendous educational utility, that it’s a game helping students, that it is not gambling, that it is a national pastime.

Annie Duke, winner of $2 million three years ago in the World Series of Poker, was in the frontlines. She called the game "an incredible intellectual experience" in which each hand demands considerable knowledge of mathematics, psychology and money management, and she said it was hypocritical to permit online bets on lotteries and horseracing and not provide the same for a more skill-based game like poker.

It was then that Annie met Robert, the moralist Congressman Robert Goodlatte of Virginia, who opposes all things gambling.

Horseracing people knew him from previous encounters, and he is a crusty, tough fighter in the old Confederate mold. "There’s no comparison," Goodlatte told Ms. Duke and her fellow petitioners.

"Card games are games of chance, with some skill at bluffing. But each hand you are dealt is total luck." He said allowing poker betting on the internet "would be like having a casino not in every neighborhood, but in every living room."

The Alliance was well organized. I opened my computer Monday morning to find a big black message titled, "Calling All US Citizens Concerned About Freedom."

I thought it was another Cheney move, but it was a request for me to sign a petition "as an American who loves poker or casinos and the freedom to play when and where I like." "Almost ALL major gaming sites are set to close," the notice said, "when President Bush signs the bill sometime next week." And it called for me to contact my Congressmen and vote against any who supported the ban.

I frankly had not been aware of this threat to mankind, or at least the American segment of it. I have been scared so many times recently, by killer lettuce and broken heart defibrillator leads and global warming and a dozen other challenges to life as we know it, that I have become impervious to more. I am not a member of the Poker Players Alliance, but having fought the battle for horseracing for years, I understood their fears and frustrations.

Then another surprise.

The Isle Casino and Racing at Pompano Park, a beautiful harness racetrack in Pompano Beach, Florida, with a very successful card room, held a Texas Hold’em tournament. Nothing too surprising about that, except that it was called the High Heels Tour, with no men allowed.

What surprised me was that 103 ladies, not all in high heels, showed up for the inaugural event.

One of the 103 was Mindy Crown of Davie, Florida, who said she plays once a week at casinos in her area. She told Nick Sortal of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, who covered the event that "Some men can be arrogant and abusive playing with women, you know, set in their ways." Mindy said she sometimes uses "the playing-dumb thing" while at a predominantly men’s table.

Unfortunately, Congressman Goodlatte’s theory prevailed in the High Heels, and the luck of the draw did not fall her way.

One High Heeler, Rita Riddle, has been playing online poker for only four months, and the visit to Pompano was only the third time she ever sat at an actual table. She said there was "no way" she would have sat in on a game with men. "Too intimidating," Rita said.

At the high end of things was Janee Steinberg, a cosmetic surgeon and dermatologist in ritzy Boca Raton and a Pompano regular. She said she met clients in the Pompano card room, and once made the final two in a tournament by agreeing to give a man a discount on a procedure if they stopped playing immediately and split the pot.

The Alliance should have had these gals on hand in Washington. They were tough and convincing.