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T-LiciousBy: T-Licious

Continuing our discussion of the public’s attitude towards poker, and how the tide overall appears to be turning from traditionally strong opposition to broad acceptance, we focus on one American-born institution that cannot seem to face its fear of poker: baseball.

As a sociology major in college I remember learning the concept of a ‘social fact’ as originally defined by Emile Durkheim, the father of sociology.  There may be perceptions about a social group or community, but the way you know if they really exist…if they are indeed social facts…is if you cross that invisible boundary causing a reaction.  For example, Don Imus learned a social fact of American racial boundaries when advertisers pulled the plug on his show after he called Rutgers female basketball players, all African American, nappy headed ho’s.

A-Rod from Radar Online

A-Rod – Radar Online

Major league baseball appears to have a strong social fact related to gambling which extends to poker.  We all know that people bet on sports.  We also know that there have always been big heavyweight betters with ties to organized crime whose wagering can have an influence on the outcome of the game itself.  The 1919 “Black Sox Scandal” involving the fixing of the World Series led to the creation of the first commissioner of baseball. And then we have Pete Rose’s betting on baseball scandal of the late 80s where he broke baseball’s rule 21 whereby anyone associated with on-field play (players, coaches, umpires, etc.) is prohibited from betting on baseball games.  These events and their backlashes are understandable.  However, in 2011 we heard stories reported in the tabloids about Yankee’s franchise player Alex Rodriguez being involved in a home poker game held by a record producer.  The Commissioner’s office said that A-Rod could face a suspension if it was proven he had been at the games.

To me this is way different than betting on baseball where he has a chance to affect the outcome of the game.  He was playing in a high stakes game with poker pros, Hollywood stars, and big money executives.  I wouldn’t expect him to play in a local $20 buy-in game…what would be the point?  Why is baseball putting all gambling off limits?  The way the stories read in ESPN, New York papers and magazines, etc., was as if playing high stakes was the alleged violation…as if A-Rod would feel the sting of a $10,000 bet on his 10-year contract worth $275 million.  The story also mentioned that drugs were used by a few people hanging out (not A-Rod).  Welcome to Hollywood my friends.  It’s not Disneyland.  Finally someone attempted to explain that where there is poker there are people who are likely to bet on sports.  Again, no surprise here.  You will also find people who bet on sports may also smoke, drink, and stay out past ten on weeknights.

Does Major League Baseball have the right to restrict its players from anything a sports better might be involved in?  The sad thing is I did not see anyone jump to A-Rod’s defense.  So the end result is baseball is not helping poker’s image even though poker seems to have gained widespread public acceptance over the past 10 years.  Perhaps baseball’s top brass should sit back, relax in a comfy chair at a nice poker table, and take in a friendly poker game the next time one of their friends hosts at their baseball-themed man cave.  Maybe they will see that players deserve to do the same without fear of a lifetime suspension hanging over their heads.

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T-LiciousBy T-Licious

In our continuing analysis of the legality of poker and what plays into it, we continue to break down how public opinion has been shaped over the past few decades.

Today I want to focus on why public perception is different for poker in America versus around the rest of the globe.  It’s pretty simple, actually.  The “American Experiment,” as Tocqueville coined it in his book Democracy in America, was a two-fold experiment based on freedom: economic freedom to pursue a more prosperous life, and freedom to follow the religion of your choice.

Many immigrants have come to America since the initial New England colonists, sometimes in sweeping waves due to famine, war, or religious persecution.  However, it was the colonists that broke away from England who framed the founding documents that established the government, the free market system, and the moral base that shaped the core of the new country.  These people were not entrepreneurs who occasionally attended church; they were extremely pious pilgrims and puritans who would fight to the death to defend their right to worship as they believed.  The first colleges were established by religious denominations in order to train ministers, and the first life insurance policies in the United States served to provide for the families and replacements of church leaders.  Three periods of religious revival known as “The Great Awakening”,”The 2nd Great Awakening”, and “The 3rd Great Awakening” have occurred in America’s history leading to cultural and political changes including the push for abolition of slavery, establishment of new denominations, and the Y.M.C.A.Las Vegas Strip

Let’s face it – gambling has not been given center stage in America.  It took the great depression to establish legal gambling in Las Vegas in 1931.  82 years later Vegas and Atlantic City still have only limited competition showing reluctance of most states to fly the gambling banner.  However, the tide seems to be changing. The gradual secularization of Western society coupled with states facing increasing economic pressures are leading them to find new revenue streams in lotteries and casinos.  Sometimes freedom to pursue a more prosperous life trumps the freedom of those wanting to restrict gambling out of fear that it will lead to moral decay.  And not all religions look down on gambling.  The Vatican takes a neutral stance on gambling stating that as long as the game is fair and one wagers within their limits without giving in to excess, then gambling is no different than drinking or other indulgences that can be good or bad.  The rest of the world seems to support gambling as a revenue driver from locals and tourists alike.  Then again, the rest of the world is far more secular in nature as well.  For many countries, opulent casinos such as those in Dubai are a sign of prosperity and national wealth.  In order to attract big spenders to their poker tables, the casinos must keep the riffraff away and be very inviting.

This is the image many supporters of American casinos have for Las Vegas and what their state could offer in the near future.  Could this be the year that states ignore the powerful anti-gambling lobby efforts and vote to keep tax dollars local?  We are getting close, but there are still a few institutions that need to take a serious look at their attitudes towards gambling and if current policies are doing more harm than good.  We will examine a couple of these next.

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T-LiciousBy T-Licious

As we continue breaking down poker’s public image, we have to look at why that image is better today than it was 20, 30, or more years ago.  The reason is largely credited to the fact that poker has joined the ranks of the sporting world covered by ESPN.  This four-letter acronym might as well be a four-letter word followed by an exclamation point for the vital role it has played.  The cable giant that began as a quirky basketball satellite channel in the late 70s before most people knew what cable was, let alone satellite dish technology, now holds the Midas touch for legitimizing any activity that can be considered under the broadest sense of the word ‘sport’.  

ESPN Set of 500 poker chipsESPN’s coverage of the 2003 World Series of Poker showed the world that poker was not just something to do in smoky casino card rooms.  ‘Lipstick’ cameras were used to show the hole cards which piqued the interest of viewers who now watched, with inside information, as each hand with all its strategy played out.  The game itself, Texas Hold ‘Em, was new to most viewers and further engaged the new audience who took on the challenge of learning about blinds, flops, turns, and rivers with less concern of negative social stigmas now that this game was on prime time TV.  Viewers could also associate with amateur winners like online gamer Chris Moneymaker who showed us, as he raked in a massive amount of poker chips,  that you could strike it rich with a relatively small investment.  ESPN expanded poker’s popularity beyond the casino into home game rooms and drew in couples as well, which broke through the traditional guys card night for couples now seeking to host tournaments and cash games with friends, neighbors, coworkers, and charitable foundations.  Commercials for online poker sites aired during WSOP broadcasts further fueled the budding online poker phenomenon.  

Admittedly poker, and in particular Texas Hold ‘Em, was becoming more popular before ESPN made its big splash, as evidenced on the big screen with the 1998 hit Rounders.  However, ESPN changed poker in a very fundamental way. Just as Harley Davidson expanded its market beyond Hell’s Angels biker gangs to working stiffs who wanted to pretend to be bad boys and girls on the weekends, ESPN made poker cool and accessible to everyone.  At the height of the ESPN-sparked poker renaissance was the 2006 update of the James Bond classic Casino Royale which supplanted the original game of baccarat with Texas Hold ‘Em in what has become the consummate positive poker image still referenced today.

So with these recent positive events in poker’s history, why do some still seek to vilify it?  Find out next as we explore what makes America different from the rest of the poker world.

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T-LiciousBy T-Licious

It’s funny how the game of poker is portrayed in America and around the world.  My last blog entry reported on gambling law changes in New York and how it was viewed by advocates as a positive revenue and job creation engine that kept dollars in state, but was viewed by opponents as an invitation to chronic gambling addiction and impending moral ruin.  At the heart of any debate over state gambling laws, whether it be allowing home games or establishing casinos, is the role of politics which feeds directly off public opinion.  So is poker’s image mostly good or bad?  From what I’ve seen, poker has two distinct faces.

Make no mistake about it, gambling overall has a bad reputation which, in turn, has sullied poker’s good name. Wild west card cheaters, the 1919 Chicago White Sox World series fix, underground sports bookies, pool hall hustlers and organized crime are just some of the examples of negative gambling hiding out in our sub-conscience.  Gambling has few if any boundaries and can take many forms, from throwing dice to betting on elections.  Indeed, gambling’s promise of instant fortune has created bad stereotypes which have placed a heavy burden on poker.

Contrast this image with James Bond matching wits against the best poker players in the world.  Set inside a gilded casino where luxury drapes every premium detail.  His breathtaking companion holds as much mystery in her eyes as the next hand.  This is not black jack vs. the house…it’s a cerebral test of player vs. player.  It is the spirit of this scene that many a man cave and home game aim to recreate.

So where does poker stand in the court of public opinion today?  Better than ever, but still getting a bad rap in many ways which I will explain next time.

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