By Wendeen H. Eolis
Poker Player Newspaper

March 5, 2007

After weeks of protestations that Alfonse D’Amato was only a maybe, today the Poker Players Alliance crows about its catch.

As first reported by Poker Player (February 16th), Senator D’Amato is on board as the Chairman of the PPA, an organization that has set itself up to be the voice of online poker gaming interests. Today, the PPA has been graced with a story in the New York Times that confirms Mr. D’Amato’s presence on the scene. The paper of record is even handed, but not Mr. D’Amato’s best friend in its article. He will undoubtedly soon receive a puffier welcome from another publication the PPA handpicked for an exclusive interview with him.

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going!”

Undeterred by the PPA’s continuing coyness, and the exclusive interview it has reportedly given to a poker journalist who is a member of the PPA Board, I called the organization’s President, Michael Bolcerek last week. I was looking for an update for the same poker community that the PPA wants in its membership ranks. What might be the organization’s battle plans to free online poker from the potential shackles of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Act of 2006? UIGEA attempts to end online betting by American-based players. Mr. Bolcerek was inexplicably tight-lipped about the PPA’s anticipated savior and mum as to its next major steps.

I took my leave from the PPA president’s politely played game of dodge ball, before hopping on an airplane to Washington. While in the Capitol for business matters and a variety of political events on both sides of the aisle, I began to probe the poker industry’s odds of getting relief from the perils of UIGEA.

Multi-tasking in the Capitol

During the course of my visit, I donned many different hats; as business executive, politico, chairman of the government affairs committee of the World Poker Association, part-time poker journalist, and moonlighting poker pro. I saw opportunities to press the flesh as obligations to dig for information on the state of poker, while looking forward to Mr. Bolcerek and his PPA group getting their ducks in a row.

Shelley Berkley: Power Poker Player

All counted, I had more than a dozen meetings with elected officials and political operatives while I was there, but none was more instructive than the one with Congresswoman Shelley Berkley. Congresswoman Berkley welcomed my queries, completely unfazed by my switching hats from one moment to the next. She never grumbled over the fact that I am not a Nevadan. She did point out however, that members of Congress have an overriding duty to pay attention to the voices of constituents. She also stunned me with a simple fact of life in politics: the strength of an association’s voice rests with the number of members that are registered to vote.

In my half hour meeting with the senior member of Nevada’s congressional delegation in the House of Representatives, Shelley Berkley proved to be one smart cookie. She has a thoughtful, no nonsense approach as she considers the issues of her less than synchronized flock of gaming and gambling businesses. She is forthright in her support of her “poker guys.” But not for a minute does she lead me to think she will waver in her substantial commitment to the brick and mortar operators in her district. They were there long before online gaming heated up.

Is a Poker Carve-Out in the cards?

The commercial casino interests are represented by the formidably funded American Gaming Association. Frank Fahrenkopf, a highly regarded and powerfully connected lawyer, is the longtime president of the AGA. He was close to President Ronald Reagan and has represented Wayne (“Mr. Las Vegas”) Newton. He knows the gaming business inside out. Suffice to say Mr. Fahrenkopf’s group has not rushed to the aid of the poker lobby. The gaming industry is behind a study bill for its own purposes. It will soon be introduced in the House of Representatives. Capitol insiders are consistent in saying that poker interests have no real prospect of changing the present course,which is to let a poker carve-out bill fall by the wayside in favor of the commercial gaming industry’s interests in a bill to study the bigger picture of online gaming.

Implied Odds of PPA/AGA Cooperation

It would now seem timely for the PPA to make nice with the AGA, even if it elongates the timetable for relief from the very present strains of UIGEA. Congresswoman Berkley is bent on building cooperation, wherever she can. Will she bring these groups to the table? Can she facilitate a better game plan for both, as the reality of an uphill battle looms for the whole gaming industry? She has not discussed any specifics, but don’t be surprised if Congresswoman Berkley soon makes the effort to promote a meeting of the minds.

Poker Lessons in the Halls of Congress

I left Washington with clear advice for the poker industry; do the homework before skating too fast through the Halls of Congress. And as everyone who was anyone in Washington intoned: count the ways you can support your representatives in the nation’s capitol.

Watch for more bulletins

Stay tuned for more news from my recent Washington travels, and follow up to check out Alfonse D’Amato’s recent visit to the Isle of Man with online poker folks. Poker Stars, which has operations there, is is the most successful online poker site still working the United States market. It is rumored to be moving forward with a scholarly report that will prove poker is a game of skill rather than chance. Now, there’s a plan for the PPA!

Please note this article is substantively the same as the one that wil appear in the next print edition of Poker Player (March 19, 2007).