The PPA is Pathetic

The PPA just sent me this email:

I don’t know what universe the PPA lives in but the DOJ’s decision had nothing to do with any grassroots pressure generated from PPA members. Sixty-five thousands emails and letters is a blip for government agencies. That’s about .02% of the US population. That’s only 5% of the stated PPA membership.

The PPA is having delusions of grander. If you read the actual agreement (not just the press release) between the DOJ and Stars and Tilt you will notice that Stars and Tilt had to agree to some pretty stiff terms. One of which was not to destroy any evidence against them. They can’t destroy emails, paper trails, or anything else that the DOJ may need to further their case against them. They also had to agree to having an auditor look through their records to make sure that they are no longer allowing US players to play on their site which further allows the DOJ insight into the businesses of Stars and Tilt.

The DOJ came out a winner in that agreement big time. I can’t see how anybody in their right head could claim that the PPA or any emails had any influence whatsoever in the DOJ’s decision. This deal between the DOJ and the poker sites was announced on Wednesday. That’s five days after throwing down the hammer. And two of those days were over the weekend. Figure in at least two days of negotiations between the rooms and the DOJ and there’s no way that the US DOJ caved to public pressure in just one or two days.

The truth of the matter is that the PPA is a completely ineffectual organization. They basically did the bidding of Stars and Tilt in exchange for funding and now those two rooms have no further reason to keep supporting them because it’s pretty obvious that Stars and Tilt are persona non grata in the US now and going forward.

Trying to take credit for the DOJ and poker rooms settlement is just pathetic.

7 thoughts on “The PPA is Pathetic”

  1. Skallagrim,

    I disagree that this means that they can’t destroy records from only the five last days. The thing is that if Stars or Tilt engaged in money laundering or bank fraud that will be in email records. This is the part I think you’re clouded about. The DOJ wants to make sure that Tilt and Stars don’t destroy any records that implicate them in bank fraud or money laundering charges. The US DOJ cannot can’t serve a subpoena against most of these people because they aren’t in the US, won’t accept mail from anybody they don’t know, etc.

    This is why it’s a win for the DOJ. Tilt and Stars cannot pretend that they haven’t been served (like they pretend that online poker is not illegal in Washington State or many of the other states where it is generally accepted to be illegal). Now they can get a court order making Tilt and Stars turn over these documents (though this agreement doesn’t force them to it at least keeps them from destroying the records). Before signing that document they could have ordered their IT departments to just delete all old emails.

    You say that you sat in on board meetings but why does Pappas call the brick and mortar casinos the PPA’s opponents? Like I said in a previous blog post, I think the brick and mortars would have been all over a bill that said “Poker Stars and Full Tilt will be forever excluded from the market and there is no blackout period.” But the PPA saw the brick and mortar casinos as opponents and even issued releases that they were opponents. How the hell are rank and file poker players supposed to read this?

    To be honest I gave up on the PPA a long time ago. Even under Michael I thought the PPA had begun to lose focus. I think it has only gotten worse. And no matter what you say the amount of money Stars and Tilt have filtered into the organization cannot be ignored. Stars and Tilt cannot legally lobby in the US as foreign entities so the PPA is a perfect vehicle for them to funnel their money to US lawmakers.

    And let’s just be blunt here. Ferguson and Lederer are two of the eight members of the PPA board. Throw in Raymer who used to be closely associated with Stars and that’s close to 40% of the board being members of the online gaming sites in question. How is an organization where 25% of the board of directors being major stakeholders in an online poker room a organization focused on players?

    Don’t get me wrong. I know both Lederer and Ferguson. I met with Howard almost daily when I worked at Tilt and Ferguson’s office was right next to mine in our office. I don’t think they’re bad guys (quite the contrary) but you can’t own a poker site and be an advocate for the players at the same time. Can you imagine a judge hearing a case refusing to recuse himself because only 25% of his net worth was invested in the defendant’s company? Of course not. It’s absurd. Which is what makes the PPA’s claim of being pro-player absurd.

    Or let me put it to you more directly, can you provide me with any board meeting transcripts where Howard Lederer, Chris Ferguson, or Greg Raymer stated that they would back a bill that would be detrimental to their companies’ interests even if it benefitted players? Of course you can’t.

    Like you say, the one example you can pull out is the Frank/Campbell bill which doesn’t necessarily lock them out of the market. It just loosely defines illegal wager to a point that Stars and Tilt (until last Friday) thought they could slip by.

    The bottom line is that I think, despite the time and effort you, personally, have put in, the online poker playing community would have been better served by an organization that did not derive much of its funding from people so closely associated with the online poker industry.

  2. Bill,

    Thanks for taking the time to reply. In a small comment it is often difficult to cover all the details. So I would like to follow up on few points.

    You have accurately posted the terms of the agreement. I could have made 2 things clearer. The agreement calls for retention of records relating only to “real money poker playing in the United States.” The sites have not had any real money poker play for 7 days now, 5 at the time of the agreement. So the only new records that will be created are those relating to cash outs. And those need to be presented to the monitor anyway.

    Old records still in existence are presumably not in the US, and to the extent the agreement requires the retention of any not destroyed so far, the agreement does not require the sites to produce them or to actually turn them over. Had the sites agreed to that, that would be a big deal, but that is not what the DOJ got. The DOJ still has to go through a fight in foreign court to get the records and that will take much more than just a subpoena.

    As to the relationship between the sites and the PPA, no one ever denied it was “cozy.” But I always have and still do deny that we ever compromised players interest. I have personally been party to Board discussions where we took positions that we knew were not in the sites interest but were better for players. A good example of this can be found in the Reid bill debate: The PPA let its displeasure with the blackout be known (though we still supported the bill despite it) precisely because a blackout stopped players from playing. The PPA never took a position against the further licensing restriction that mandated 2 extra years before the current sites could actually get a US license. I was there when we all agreed that such a provision was bad for the sites, but that such a provision was the site’s problem, not the PPA’s.

    A similar distinction is found in the PPA’s support of the Frank/Campbell bill in the House. It expressly provides that no license will issue to anyone who took an illegal US wager. Of course it can be argued whether the sites actually did that, but fighting over that was, again, a site issue not a PPA issue. The PPA never took a position that a bill had to guarantee the sites a license.

    Lastly on this issue, I have never seen the indirect site funding of the PPA by the sites as more of a conflict than a gun manufacturing company donating to the NRA or a porn producer sending money to the ACLU. It would be stupid to deny that we never considered the interests of our funding sources, but it would be wrong to say we let those funding sources call the shots. All of us on the PPA Board and staff recognized that if the PPA were to favor the sites over the players, there would be no reason to have a PPA. The sites could just as easily fund an open US trade organization and lobby through that rather than try and manipulate the PPA into taking positions it otherwise wouldn’t. And to their credit, at least in my experience, the sites always understood this and never asked us to do anything that would have undermined our credibility as a players organization.

    Again, thanks for engaging in dialogue. I am glad to hear that you are among the lucky ones and have not suffered from these recent events. I did not know that, so I guess the whole trauma reaction thing is not applicable to you. But it is to many others who have called the PPA “pathetic.” The PPA has not won our fight, we may never win our fight, and we certainly still have areas in which improvement is needed. But I have always believed that it is never pathetic to put up a fight even when all odds are against you. Pathetic to me is to just sit around and complain without fighting back.


  3. @Skallagrim: First off, I have no problems cashing out or playing on Stars and Tilt. I live in Bangkok and have European bank accounts. I have no psychological trama from what happened last Friday. It hasn’t impacted me much other than as an affiliate. So please don’t try to psychoanalyze me.

    And as far as the agreement, it says (for FTP, Stars is similar in nature):

    FTP hereby agrees to retain in relation to its business in the United States and its facilitation of “real money” poker playing (or for anything else of value) in the United States: (1) all records relating to all of its financial transactions; (2) all records relating to FTP website databases; (3) all internal FTP email correspondence; and (4) all FTP business records generally.

    Where in there does it say anything about this being limited to cashouts? It says specifically that FTP has to keep all records associated with “real money” poker playing in the United States.

    This is to keep Stars and Tilt from destroying records that implicate them in bank fraud and money laundering. I think that’s a pretty significant event considering the fact that serving them subpoenas is going to be next to impossible.

    For someone on the PPA board I’m actually somewhat surprised at how narrowly you see this topic. The aim here was to get Stars, Tilt, and Cereus out of the US market. The DOJ is never going to come after the players so there is no losing of a “smug” attitude. They aren’t trying to punish players. They’re going after the poker rooms and nothing in that agreement provides even a single benefit to the poker rooms. In fact, it forces them to open their kimono a bit and prevents them from destroying evidence that the DOJ may use against them in the future.

    And as far as my feelings on the PPA, you should do some background check before you make accusations. I worked with Michael Bolcerek when I was at Tilt long before the UIGEA was passed. I also kept in contact with Michael after I left Tilt and went to Party and shared many of my misgivings about the direction the PPA was headed. Even then, I felt that the PPA was becoming less about the players’ rights and more about supporting the poker rooms.

    So while you may have spent countless hours of your personal time over the last 3 years thinking you were helping poker players what you were in fact doing was advancing the agenda of PokerStars and Full Tilt which, at times, was in direct conflict with the best interests of poker players.

    Just take a look at the Harry Reid bill. Pappas called the brick and mortar casinos the PPA’s opponents because they wanted a black out period to get rid of Stars and Tilt. Wouldn’t a completely legalized online poker solution, even with a blackout period, have been in the best interests of poker players? Obviously it would have been nice to not have any blackout but the PPA also opposed wording that kept Tilt and Stars out of the market with no blackout period.

    I appreciate your efforts on behalf of the PPA. However, I think the PPA itself has lost itself in terms of whether they represent poker players or they represent the poker rooms. Considering the fact that it has been proven that the lobbying arm of the PPA receives significant funding from Stars and Tilt it’s hard to claim that the PPA continues to support players.

  4. There is a psychological term for the situation where people who have suffered trauma lash out first at the people trying to help them rather than the people who caused the trauma. you should do that research as you may find it helpful.

    But my real point is that you are wrong about the sites giving up a lot. The sites gave up almost nothing. They had already blocked US play, and continuing US play while under indictment was never a realistic possibility. Non-US players were already continuing to play and so getting the “right” to let them to continue also mattered nothing. The sites did agree to an auditor to watch the cash out process. You will have to tell me how this is a big concession. The sites further agreed to keep the records OF THE CASH OUT PROCESS and not destroy them. Again, unless you believe the sites were going to use the cash out process to somehow fill their own coffers, you will have to explain how this is a concession.

    What did the DOJ give up? It gave up the smug attitude regarding “illegal gambling” that was all over their first press release. It gave up implying that poker players were criminals (as was on the DOJ notice over the domain names). And, more importantly, it gave up any claim it may have had towards taking player money.

    In my experience the DOJ rarely gives up anything without a reason. I suppose you will tell me that the reason is that the DOJ actually cares about poker players. I think the reason was that the DOJ got some political pressure from Capitol Hill to the tune of “why are all these people calling me saying you wont let them have their money?” And while that is poker players as a whole, the PPA did have a little to do with it.

    I have no proof which is the case. But I think I can make an educated guess.

    And by the way, I am on the PPA Board. So of course everything I say is BS and need not be considered further. But I am beginning to enjoy, in a masochistic sort of way, the abuse I am taking from so many people for whom I have spent countless hours of personal time over the last 3 years trying to fight for their political rights. I have no doubt you will continue that for me.

    Patrick ‘Skallagrim” Fleming

  5. “The truth of the matter is that the PPA is a completely ineffectual organization. They basically did the bidding of Stars and Tilt in exchange for funding and now those two rooms have no further reason to keep supporting them because it’s pretty obvious that Stars and Tilt are persona non grata in the US now and going forward.”

    You hit the nail on the head, as usual. I couldn’t agree more (

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