I want to preface this article by saying that as one of the first people to join the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) when the group was founded back in 2005, I feel they have done a terrific job on a number of fronts for the poker community, perhaps the most important of which was the simple matter of getting poker talked about in the legislative arena. Other areas where the PPA deserves credit has been there involvement in many of the court cases around the country supplying expert witnesses, and in providing resources and information to their members.

Alright, with the pats on the back out of the way let me get down to business and list my grievances with the PPA, and why I feel they have let the poker community down when it comes to moving the conversation about legalizing and regulating online poker forward.

The Argument

One of my biggest complaints with the PPA is in the way they argue for the legalization of poker. The PPA continues to make the logical argument that poker is a game of skill, and therefore not gambling –more on par with Golf or Chess than Roulette or Keno—but we all know how well politicians do with logic.

Obviously any serious poker player will agree with the PPA’s chosen line, but the majority of US citizens are not poker players, and of the alleged 50 million US citizens that partake in the game the vast majority are far from serious players; which makes this argument fall on deaf ears.

First of all, there are the people that find poker morally wrong, and regardless of what you say or what evidence and mathematical computations they are presented with, they will never feel that a card game –where you can win or lose everything on the turn of a single card– is anything other than gambling.

Secondly, there are the people that comprehend the skill factor in poker, but since this only applies to the top 5-10% of players, the other 90-95% of poker players are considered gamblers! For these players, poker is no different than Roulette, Slots, or Blackjack, and depending on their disadvantage in the game they are probably right. If you don’t know the general concepts and theories of the game, or take the time to read books, study, and work on your poker game than you are in fact simply gambling when you play poker –I’ve played with many a person who would have held on to their money longer if they were at a Blackjack table or playing Caribbean Stud.

Instead, I would love for the PPA to move away from focusing on the skill involved in poker and move more towards the “prohibition is not working argument”, or even focusing on the tax revenue and job creation possible through a legalized and regulated online poker industry in the US: These are things that virtually every US citizen can understand, regardless of their skill level in poker, or their thoughts on the morality of gambling.

The PPA; Perpetually on Defense

Any good lobbying group in Washington DC does two things very well:

1. They have a ton of connections and influence

2. They do a good job of predicting and warning against upcoming legislation –and possibly averting the legislation if they are really good at 1

Unfortunately, the PPA is fairly inept at both of these tasks.

With only a handful of Congressmen, Congresswomen and Senators that can be counted on as poker advocates, the PPA’s sphere of influence is nowhere near that of its main opposition’s, The Religious Right. Think of it this way, there are plenty of people running for office who would lose if they were deemed pro-gambling, and I would be willing to bet there is not a single elected official in Washington DC who was sent there to legalize online poker! So we are dealing with a hot-button issue on only one side.

As for point 2, unlike good prognosticators, the PPA suffers from postdiction. Postdiction is just what you think it is, you look at what happened and then claim this is either a change you brought about, or could do nothing to stop –think Monday Morning Quarterbacking: “If I was coaching the Jets I would have gone for it on 4th down in the game last night”.

Even worse, the PPA is a completely reactionary organization; they push forward very little legislation, with absolutely no specifics as to what they want, and simply react to what is put on the table. When something bad happens –UIGEA, Black Friday—they call on their members to write letters and send E-Mails: When any –and I mean ANY—online poker legislation is proposed they do the same.

The best example of this is the dreadful online poker legislation proposed by Harry Reid (D-NV) last December. Despite an 18-month blackout period, and virtually every existing online poker room being blackballed, the PPA got right in line with this bill, and were willing to back it all the way –basically they have a “no bill is a bad bill” mentality, and are ready to take credit for legislation they had absolutely no hand in shaping.

Could you imagine the E-Mail that would have been sent had that legislation passed! The PPA board of directors would have been patting themselves on the back and claiming victory for their 1+ million members had the Reid bill passed; a bill they were completely blindsided by!

The Real Problem

The real problem I see with the PPA is that the group has no real direction, no specific goals and end-game they are looking to promote. The PPA is nothing but a mission statement: Instead of “we want X, Y, and Z” the PPA states its goal as:

“The PPA’s mission is to establish favorable laws that provide poker players with a secure, safe and regulated place to play. Through education and awareness the PPA will keep this game of skill, one of America’s oldest recreational activities, free from egregious government intervention and misguided laws.”

Wonderful, now what does that mean?

This article was written by Steve Ruddock, who is the main writer over at PokerNewsBoy.com. You can find much more information on Online Poker News on this site. Feel free to visit.

8 thoughts to “How the PPA has let down the poker community by Steve Ruddock

  • Stanley Sludikoff

    I have been publishing in this field since 1971.

  • Stanley Sludikoff

    Poker IS a game of skill. Read what I wrote about that on the front page of the May 9th issue of Poker Player newspaper. You will find it on my web site: http://www.pokerplayernewspaper.com, as well as a video I did on the same subject. Any argument about the percentage of people who possess the skill is nonsense. That same argument can be applied to any sport. Unlike many sports where genetics plays a role in acquired skills, almost anyone can learn the skills required to be a consistent winner at poker.

  • Bill Rini

    @Steve: I spoke a lot with Michael Bolcerek when he first started the PPA and I believe back in the early days that representing the players was the main objective. However once it became obvious that they needed the kind of money that wasn’t going to come from poker players and the PPA started taking money from the poker sites things started to change.

    What do you think Stars and Tilt wanted? It’s obvious they never wanted to answer for offering illegal gaming and the AGA was never going to support any legislation that allowed Tilt and Stars a free pass. So the status quo was exactly what the PPA and the poker rooms wanted unless some sort of miracle bill passed that kept Stars and Tilt in the US.

  • Steve Ruddock

    Thanks for the comments all.

    @Bill: So, do you think the PPA’s goal all along was to simply maintain the status quo for their two biggest donors, PokerStars and Full Tilt?

  • Bill Rini

    @Alan: Very well put.

  • Alan C. Lawhon

    I suspect part of the collateral damage from “Black Friday” is that the PPA is effectively finished as a lobbying organization. With their primary financial backers, (i.e. Poker Stars and Full Tilt), most likely banished forever from the U.S. market, what incentive do the “Big Three” have to continue funding the PPA? They’re so busy right now terminating contracts with their sponsored pros and cutting off affiliates that it is probably only a matter of time until they discontinue funding the PPA. With the vast majority of their one million “members” donating no money to the cause, the PPA will soon run out of gas.

    Al D’Amato was hired (and promised a very hefty bonus) by the offshore sites in exchange for doing a job. Al D’Amato’s “job” was to use his access and contacts, (gained during eighteen years as a United States senator), to get internet poker legalized here in the United States – preferably on terms favorable to the offshore sites. This goal put the PPA in direct opposition to the AGA and the land based U.S. brick and mortar operators. Black Friday and the unsealing of the DoJ indictment made it abundantly clear that Al D’Amato and the PPA failed to do their job. Now, with very little prospect of any of the “Big Three” ever returning to the U.S. market, what incentive do Poker Stars and Full Tilt have to continue funding the PPA? Very little I would say …

    I noticed yesterday that Frank Fahrenkopf, one of Washington’s smoothest lobbyists as well as President of the AGA, held a press confernce backed up by at least three CEOs of major land based B&Ms here in the United States. Mr. Fahrenkopf announced that his clients believe now is the time for Congress to move on legislation legalizing, regulating (and taxing) internet gambling – starting with internet poker. Mr. Fahrenkopf was direct and to the point in emphasizing job creation (and other benefits) which would result from legalization. It was noteworthy that Mr. Fahrenkopf didn’t waste his breath muttering anything about poker being a game of skill.

    I’ve always believed (firmly) that this whole debate was never about “poker players” and what was in the best interest of poker players. That argument is a red herring. Poker players are mere pawns in this epic battle. This has always been a struggle between behemoths, (i.e. the U.S. based brick and mortar operators versus the offshore sites), over control and domination of a multi-billion dollar market. The land based operators wanted the right to compete (legally) while the overseas operators wanted a form of legalization that basically insured their continued market domination. That is a formula that guaranteed one winner – and one loser – since they both couldn’t have it their way.

    The “mistake” that Stars and Tilt made was that they got greedy. They got into an all-in showdown with the AGA – and lost. The PPA should have realized that they needed to resolve their differences with the AGA and work with the major U.S. based B&M operators toward a common goal. Instead, they got greedy and tried to hit a grand slam. They pushed all their chips to the center of the table gambling on good old Al D’Amato. Senator D’Amato lost – and so did his clients.

    Frank Fahrenkopf and his clients have a lot more experience dealing with regulators, lawmakers, and the Government. Mr. Fahrenkopf is a very polished Washington lawyer with years of experience dealing with the Government. (Frank Fahrenkopf served in the Reagan administration during the 1980’s.) Mr. Fahrenkopf knows how the game is played – he is not an amateur. I suppose we’ll see if the AGA can succeed where the PPA failed.

  • Grange95

    Frankly, as an attorney, the PPA’s litigation strategy is easily the most inept part of their program. They have created terrible case law by pursuing cases they literally have no hope of winning. I understand their intent is probably good, but in their litigation strategy, they are tilting at windmills and in the process setting back the cause of legalizing poker.

  • Bill Rini

    I’ll disagree with you on part of this Steve. The PPA board of directors is heavily made up of people representing the interests of the online poker rooms. Howard Lederer, Chris Ferguson, and (until recently) Greg Raymer.

    The PPA did oppose the Harry Reid bill initially. And they called those who wanted the blackout period and such, their “opponents.” They finally came around when it was basically get on board or get left behind time.

    But if they were really for poker players they would have pushed for something else that excluded Stars and Tilt (which was the main objective of the blackout period) in exchange for getting poker rolled out more rapidly in the US.

    It’s that rigid sort of thinking, lack of any real popular backing, and outside influence from people representing the people most standing in the way of legalized poker (PokerStars and Full Tilt) that makes them irrelevant as a lobbying group going forward.

    I’ve said it since the first bill was even hinted at that the big casinos would block anything that allowed Tilt and Stars to enter the market without penalty. This is just Business (and common sense) 101. You can’t have these guys operating illegally for nearly a decade and then expect them to benefit from legalization by being allowed to operate on a level playing field as everyone else who obeyed the law.

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