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America’s split personality January 19, 2007

Posted by pcorcoran in Link, News, Poker, Politics.

America’s split personality, case study #314:

Poker. It’s now a multi-billion dollar industry, what with the round-the-clock ESPN coverage, the online poker rooms, the “Indian” casinos popping up in every other county, and the beers-and-cards-with-the-guys nights all over America. And it’s also illegal almost everywhere, in a hunted-aggressively-by-the-federal-government way reminiscent only of the War On DrugsTM.

It’s been a big news week in the world of online poker. First, two Canadian executives of the British online funds transfer company NETeller were arrested because their business sometimes facilitated cash movements from American citizens to onlnie poker rooms. Then, in today’s news Derek Kelly, the owner of the private British poker club Gutshot was convicted of violating the British Gaming Act.

I play on pokerstars.com, an online poker room based in San Jose, Costa Rica. Until yesterday it was trivial to move money in and out of my account there. (Yes, I do move money out — do you think I’d still be playing if I were losing?) Now it’s slow, complicated, and no longer free. I’ll have to pay legal money-launderers disguised as Visa payment services, businesses which remain open because they too are housed in countries currently outside the influence of the U.S. black-boots.

Derek Kelly’s defense was based upon the position that poker is a game of skill, not one of luck, and is therefore not subject to the same restrictions as other forms of wagering. I think he should have won on this point. Even the state of California supports this position.

Everyone knows that luck plays some part in poker. But anyone who has ever played more than a smidgin of poker understands that luck takes a distant back-seat to skill. From a mathematical perspective, as the number of hands played approaches infinity, the hands dealt to each player approach absolute parity. The difference after that is skill — skill in understanding and reading human psychology, and skill in being able to instantly assess the relationship between the probable outcomes and the implied rewards of any given hand.

The thing that irritates me is that even though playing poker is legal in California, as a California resident I’m still not allowed to play poker online. Why? My guess is that it’s because the government doesn’t get their share of the pie. Pay to play.