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.
“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.