February 21, 2007
“Signed or unsigned, the deal is sealed,” insists my confidential source, a key player in the global gaming industry. The die has been cast; former New York Senator Alfonse D’Amato has been tapped to sit as the Chairman of the Poker Players Alliance.
Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act of 2006
The three-term senator from New York has been courted by the PPA to represent the interests of the deep-pocketed online poker businesses in the aftermath of the enactment of the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act of 2006. I’ll leave it to the legal journalists and law professors to opine on the complexities and debatable interpretations of its provisions. Suffice to say the new law attempts to end online betting by American-based players. Lawyers around the country say online gaming entrepreneurs who now take bets from American-based players are operating with significant peril of prosecution by an increasingly combative Department of Justice. Law firms will likely become the biggest beneficiaries of UIGEA, unless the law is repealed or a carve-out for poker is obtained post haste. I have yet to find a single CEO of a public gaming company who believes relief is in the cards anytime soon.
Enter Alfonse D’Amato on behalf of the PPA. Before proceeding further, I should say here, there was a time when Mr. D’Amato and I had a strained nodding acquaintanceship over my dual friendship with Rudy Giuliani (who I strongly support for the presidential nomination) and George Pataki (for whom I continue to have great respect). It was during a period where I took leave from my business, to do a short stint in Mr. Pataki’s first administration as the Governor’s first assistant and senior advisor.
I operated as an independent thinker. I never kissed any Republican’s ring, and I was on a different page from many of the Senator’s close friends. With that said, and a reputation for calling issues as I see them, I offer fair warning to my friends who are D’Amato skeptics, you will not be happy here.
The Poker Industry Has Flopped The Nuts With Alfonse D’Amato
More than two weeks ago, I came to learn that Mr. D’Amato’s role as Chairman of the PPA had been ratified at a meeting of its Board of Directors.
A genius move-the right blend of street smarts, charm, and chutzpah to go with his experience in Congress and every other corridor of political power.
I decided to hold up a report of this news as result of a discussion with Michael Bolcerek, president of the PPA. He explained there were sensitive issues to be worked through in the proposed transaction. I also learned that no contract had yet been signed. In the past days, however, well-founded rumors of a deal were rampant. I was holding a disintegrated secret. Then there were logistics issues: I was obliged to share the facts as I knew them with the publisher of Poker Player.
Based on my conversation with Mr. Bolcerek, I planned to break the story when the official news was rolled out to certain mainstream press. I expected to do a story for the same day with the PPA’s cooperation and in front of any other poker publication.
The Decision to Report the Deal
Several developments sent me to my word processor, last Friday, making Poker Player the first to report that the PPA had tapped Mr. D’Amato as its chairman prior to “official confirmations.”
On February 12th, an online site raised the curtain on the rumors of a planned relationship between Mr. D’Amato and the PPA.
The next day, Mr. Bolcerek responded to a query from New York Newsday, making formal acknowledgement of the talks. I had not expected this to happen prior to publishing my story. Then I learned that Mr. D’Amato was slated to give an exclusive interview to a poker media executive/journalist, before Poker Player would have an opportunity to interview him. Lastly, the unsigned contract was beginning to look like a facade, once I heard it was a done deal from a major gaming company CEO who was familiar with the negotiations.
There was no longer any way to convince Poker Player’s publisher that a further delay was responsible journalism. The business of online poker is on a straight path to headline news.
PPA Takes to the Stage.
Now, let me step back to last spring, and set the stage for the pending arrival of Alphonse D’Amato on the scene. With well-founded fears of anti-gaming legislation on the near-horizon, the nascent PPA united the leaders of several major online poker sites. The purpose was single-minded; a bid to convince Congress to separate poker from variously proposed legislation that had labored in both Houses for years, without resolution.
The San Francisco based and Washington savvy Mr. Bolcerek got moving quickly. In addition to gaining the services of lobbying counsel, the PPA President chaperoned high profile poker players Howard Lederer, Chris Ferguson, and Greg Raymer to the Capitol to learn the ropes of schmoozing with movers and shakers on the Hill.
During the festivities of the 2006 World Series of Poker, the PPA hosted a reception. The Washington-traveled poker pros sounded promising notes, as they told an SRO crowd of the positive reception they had received in the nation’s august legislative chambers. They also cautioned that the PPA was dependent upon grass roots support to make the industry’s voice loudly heard in Congress. Mr. Bolcerek called the assembled guests to arms, pleading for checks in support of the looming battle.
Dirty Tricks in Congress
The collective efforts of PPA lobbyists and poker pros Lederer, Ferguson, and Raymer proved no match for the wily, hi-stakes smooth calls of Bill Frist. The UIGEA of 2006 was tacked on to a popular Safe Port security bill, which, after passage in the House, Mr. Frist successfully rammed through the Senate in the very last moments of the Congressional session-without an iota of debate.
The UIGEA legislation was signed into law by the President, October 13, 2006. To be sure this could not enhance the birthday celebrations that day for tournament player extraordinaire T. J. Cloutier, or Henry Orenstein, creator of the popular High Stakes poker show on GSN, not to mention Yours Truly, who spent the day fielding calls from international gaming clients far beyond the world of poker.
Numerous online gaming businesses, particularly public companies, determined with their counsels that they were on the ropes in America. The remaining active players were put into a tailspin, scrambling for the most prompt and savvy advice to help them through the maze of the new legislation. There has been a domino effect. Related businesses are evaluating the economic fallout, as pressures mount for online gaming companies to abandon the American market.
Senator D’Amato Knows his Stuff
Enter Alfonse D’Amato. The PPA is putting big chips in the pot, looking to Senator D’Amato as the best advocate for the poker industry. If he and the Federalist Group with whom he will collaborate are able to succeed in their efforts, the benefits will be felt far beyond the interests of big online gaming companies. Senator D’Amato is well known for his commitment to the little people among his constituents as well as big business, and his interest in poker is sincere. He has been an avid player in home games for years.
The Senator will bring to the table his credentials as a mover and shaker about town and on the Hill, and likewise, his passion for winning. He will also bring sincerity to the more global cause of the estimated 140,000 members of the PPA. Indeed, with Alfonse D’Amato on board, PPA President, Michael Bolcerek’s chances of attracting the million-plus members he seeks, may be exponentially increased. Who could be a better pick to advocate for the right to play poker in your pajamas, if you may be so inclined, in the privacy of your own home?
D’Amato Can Be Charming
Alfonso, as he has introduced himself to more than a few ladies during his dating days, following separation and then divorce from his first wife, remarried the youthful Katuria Smith, in 2004. A lawyer, she has been described as the front and center cheerleader of his new career, while bringing him the wisdom one might expect from someone far beyond her years.
A Proven Lobbyist
A review of his company’s lobbying income shows that since marrying Katuria Smith, lobbying revenues have more than tripled. There may be many explanations for Mr. D’Amato’s post-Congress success, but no one describes his formidable talent as an advocate better than the Senator, himself.
In a penetrating interview with New York Magazine, Mr. D’Amato summed up his value as a consultant and lobbyist. He said, “In the Senate, I loved the battles. I loved winning things that everyone thought were impossible to win. Now I do the same thing for clients. I’m the best. I am. If you want an advocate, and you’re bein’ wronged, you want me, because I’ll find where to go, how to go, and what to do.” The PPA is banking on Senator D’Amato.