The Poker Players Alliance is a Lobby - Not Online Poker’s Personal Savior

I’ve seen some bashing of the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) in the wake of DOJ indictments involving three online poker sites. I’m not a particular fan of the PPA. But I dislike lobbying organizations in general.

If online poker sites were engaged in bank fraud as alleged, I’m not sure how the PPA is to blame. Maybe my expectations of the lobbying group are different than the expectations of its members. But that difference could be costly for the PPA in the near future.

The PPA purports to be a grass roots organization defending players’ rights. In reality, it is an organization fostering an agenda consistent with businesses who want to operate in a lucrative, regulated, US online poker market.

But players do matter. Player membership is key to PPA’s goal. Lobbying is made so much easier when an organization can claim X million members across every voting district in the US. No one in Congress wants to fuck with the agendas of the AARP or the NRA — too many potential votes to lose.

The PPA worked hard to gain a membership base that it deemed critical to its agenda. But membership is a means not an end. And members only stay loyal to the extent that they perceive their interests are being served.

Membership satisfaction is a problem for the PPA. Some of this is due to the business interests in play. No matter what the name implies, it represents the industry. Unrealistic membership expectations, however, may be the elephant in the room.

Players claim they want poker to be under the auspices of a legal framework. Players want justice when a site violates “the rules.” For instance, the UB/Absolute cheating scandal still rankles the online player community. Complete justice was unattainable, hindered by online poker’s jurisdictional and legal gray zone, wrapped up in a rubber stamp, self-regulatory framework.

But players don’t particularly want what may come with enhanced legal protection. If regulated, online sites will pay taxes. Rakes will be much higher. And online poker companies won’t be the only ones paying more taxes.

How many online poker players currently comply with the Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts regulations? Got more than $10K in an offshore poker account? Have you filed that information with the IRS? How many online poker players pay taxes on all the money they earn online? I call dibs on the software application that will help you record your taxable income after each and every online session.

What? You don’t want to be restricted to play on certain sites? You don’t want the only game in town to be Harrahsonlinepoker.com or MGMonlinepoker.com? That’s too bad, because for a long time, that’s probably what you’re going to get.

Casinos have a track record of regulatory compliance. Casinos also have a much longer history of successfully lobbying Congress. And if there’s anything Congress loves to do it is to please two lobbying groups with one bill (akin to killing two birds with one stone).

And unfortunately, if the bank fraud charges in the DOJ’s indictment prove true, Full Tilt and PokerStars may have effectively taken themselves out of play in a regulated US online poker market. (UB/Absolute Poker probably never had a chance.)

Rake back deals? Kind of doubt it. Player sponsorships? Maybe.

The PPA can’t produce the online poker of our dreams. It’s not their fault. I can’t envision a lobby powerful enough to beam online poker back to 2005.

But if you feel cheated, imagine how Full Tilt and PokerStars feel. They have been big contributors to the PPA. That became a sticky issue when the Reid bill was being floated. The bill, which would have penalized companies like FT and PS — companies that continued to operate in the US market after the UIGEA passed, put the PPA in the hot seat.

Sure, the PPA’s mandate is to insure online poker is legal. But how could they support a bill that would do just that while fucking over their primary financial supporters? Eventually the PPA supported the Reid bill, but the process wasn’t pretty.

The PPA Rain Made Us - But That’s What Lobbies Do

In a 2+2 thread about the PPA, ItsRainingMen brought up a great scene from The Wire. It’s the one where Stringer learns he’s been “rain made” by Senator Clay Davis.

“He rain-made you. A guy says if you pay him, he can make it rain. You pay him. If and when it rains, he takes the credit. If and when it doesn’t, he finds reasons for you to pay him more. Clay Davis rain-made you!”

But that’s what lobbyists do. They take credit for any drop of moisture, even if it came from someone else’s sweat. Any setback is a call for action — read that as a plea for more money.

Nothing gets done in Congress without a lobby. The PPA is the online poker industry’s lobby. The PPA is no worse than any other lobbying group. You probably won’t get jack shit without them. You may not like everything you get with them.

If you don’t want to send your money to the PPA, there is nothing stopping you from directly contributing to the campaign funds of those in Congress who have supported online poker’s cause. Feel free to get off your couch and work to unseat those who have screwed online poker in the past.

But if you are expecting anyone — including the PPA — to deliver 2005-era online poker, you will probably be disappointed.

Once discovered, there is no going back to Hamsterdam.

10 Comments

  1. Luckbox
    Posted April 23, 2011 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    I think part of the problem is that the PPA hasn’t proven to be very effective at… well… anything. And while it claims its top priority is to achieve federal regulation of online poker, that’s really only true in the sense that it wants an online poker world where established companies, primarily FTP and PS (see its board of directors) find success.

    One need only look at its amateurish response to Black Friday to see why so many people think it’s a clueless organization.

  2. Quietjim
    Posted April 23, 2011 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    Spot on situation analysis. Omar and Brother Mouzon could make this right

  3. Posted April 24, 2011 at 1:03 am | Permalink

    You overlook the fact that PPA’s litigation strategy has been an unqualified disaster for poker. They’ve established several bad appellate case decisions that have set back poker’s agenda.

    At the very least, the PPA needs to obey the old physician’s maxim, “First, do no harm.”

  4. Posted April 24, 2011 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    I do agree that the PPA has a message problem, which was very apparent on Black Friday. I would have loved to have seen a message that said, “This is exactly why we need a regulated industry, to protect players in their legal pursuit of poker. The innocent players are the ones who suffer most when the industry is unregulated. The companies would also benefit, having a clearer set of legal standards with which to operate. And there would be benefits to all Americans as regulated companies would provide much needed tax revenues — up to $X billion each year.”

    Maybe they were afraid to imply that we need protection from sites that may be dodging the bank laws. And I suspect part of the PPA’s message problem on Black Friday was its inability to distance itself from its own financial interests.

    Instead, they pulled out the old skill vs. luck argument (a la D’Amato’s Op Ed piece), which appears to be the only tool in the toolkit they feel comfortable using — regardless of the task.

  5. Earl Burton
    Posted April 24, 2011 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    Amy, a very well reasoned article. I completely agree, we’re not going back to 2005 at anytime. Not just “in the near future,” online poker is never going to be the same again.

  6. Posted April 24, 2011 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    Hey Earl. Thanks. I think that there are probably folks who thought the PPA would be able to fix it all. And it only seems to get worse. Lord knows, I would love to see online poker flourish like it did in 2005. I’m just not holding out much hope.

  7. joe
    Posted April 25, 2011 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    Very good analogies, Online poker pre 2006 should definitely be referred to as Hamsterdam

  8. Posted April 25, 2011 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    Great article. The PPA needs to learn that using the same strategy will yield the same results.

    “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” - Einstein

    Is it even possible to start an organization that isn’t swayed by financial interests? If so, it would be great to have an organization with the players in mind.

    (Also, I think you meant “ensure,” not “insure.” :) )

  9. Posted April 26, 2011 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    Great article, Amy! You’re right; we’re not ever going back to 2005. And part of the problem is us–the entire poker community, players and sites alike.

    Most people never recognize the good old golden days until they’ve come and gone, and we’re viewing them in the rear view mirror. Had a lobbying group been established and funneling contributions to members of Congress prior to UIGEA, that law never would have been enacted.

    Squeezing toothpaste back into the tube is a lot tougher than never having squeezed it out in the first place.

  10. Haley
    Posted May 10, 2011 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

    My bad for not visiting sooner. As usual, Amy nailed it.

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