A few months ago I was asked to testify along with several others, including Roy Cook (a published authority on poker and a former professional player), on behalf of a gentleman seeking an injunction to open a poker room in North Carolina. It seems that in North Carolina the criteria for determining whether a particular game constitutes illegal gambling or not, is skill. After a few postponements, the hearing finally took place. Without going into much detail, I thought that we indeed presented a good case for poker being the highly skilled game that it is. Unfortunately, we may have presented too good a case, as the judge did not allow the room to open as essentially he thought professional players would fleece local people.

I, of course, was quite disappointed and one can only imagine how crushed the would be owner of the poker room was. I also have given a lot of thought to this particular issue and have come to the conclusion that the public has been greatly misinformed by a few groups of various prejudices; and also victimized by lawmakers who, among other things, allow certain forms of gambling but not others. I have spent over 35 years in the gaming industry at many positions up to and including general manager. I have also played poker for approximately 48 years-successfully; I might add-not to mention poker credits as a dealer, manager, consultant, and tournament director. In all this time I have come to regard poker as a phenomenally enriching game to learn to play properly. While most other forms of gaming are and should be considered purely entertainment, poker teaches discipline, patience, observation, money management, creativeness, and other skills that constitute the bottom line to a successful life. This alone is a good case for seeing to it that the game is allowed to grow unimpeded.

I would not just advocate that poker should be allowed to proliferate; it also needs to be regulated. A simple fact is that poker is played illegally and legally in millions of places all over this world. This would not be a fact if indeed millions of people were disposed to play the game legal or not. I know that here in the United States if one was determined to play the game I have no doubts that it would be fairly easy to find a game. Unfortunately, it does no good to turn a blind eye to “home” games or allow legal games of varying limits, not to mention tournaments, without having at least a state regulatory body governing the various matters such as a standardized basic set of rules, the maximum amount allowed to be either charged players for playing or the maximum amount allowed to be raked from each pot, the maximum percentage of the buy-in the house is allowed to charge as a fee for all tournaments.

Right now, in my own state (of Florida) the powers that be have allowed legal low limit poker games only at dog tracks. It seems to me that if it is permissible to have poker at a dog track that it should be permissible for poker rooms to be allowed to be opened anywhere in the state with county support and as long as these poker rooms conformed to regulations authored by a state regulatory body. As it stands right now, I don’t believe there are many regulations in place. For example, I still see places making way more money from tournaments (upwards of 40% or more) than should be allowed. Also, being that there are very few dog tracks, there is a very small tax base. I believe if poker rooms were allowed to flourish there would be more than enough money available to fund a Gaming Commission to over-see all matters and still add to the city, county, and state tax base.

Finally, I would like to address the social issue and the so-called gambling issue. First and foremost poker is an extremely social game. It is essentially easy to learn the basics, and with games today being played with 9 to 10 players and most games being at home among friends, poker presents itself as an excellent form of clean adult entertainment. Secondly, it is necessary to realize that while poker – played properly – is a highly skilled game and a good player is expected to win in the long run; even the best players in the world can have a bad day and lose. This is because in the short run – one particular hand or session – luck can play a big part. Since there is wagering or betting in poker and a player takes a risk in the hope of gaining benefit, poker is considered gambling – no more so than playing the stock market or going into business for yourself. Your potential for success is directly related to your knowledge of the game.

I would like to conclude by saying something about problem gambling: if gambling were prohibited, would problem gambling stop? Probably not, according to Jean Falzon, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, “Problem gambling is going to exist despite the availability of legalized gambling or lack of thereof. Many problem and compulsive gamblers have problems with sports betting which is predominately illegal in this country”. In a study by Roger Dunston (Jan. 1997 CRB 97-003) on gambling in California for the Calif. Research Bureau surveys shows, a state with casinos showed that the majority of problem gamblers were having problems with non-casino gambling, including the state lottery. The study also looked at the reasons that people called a help-line. Among these, significant numbers said that their problem was lotteries or race and sports betting. I rest my case.

steve@pokerconsultants.com frank@pokerconsultants.com

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