By Wendeen H. Eolis
Poker Player Newspaper
January 1, 2009

As the new leader of the online poker industry, Alfonse D’Amato has taken command in forming the battle plans to free poker from the constraints of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006.

As Chairman of the Poker Players Alliance, and its chief lobbyist, he is charging forward on behalf of the largest single poker association, representing the particular interests of the online poker community. Senator D’Amato comes to his new role on behalf of the PPA as an experienced politician, savvy in the ways of Washington, though he is a New Yorker through and through.

Born in Brooklyn in 1937, and raised on Long Island, he earned his college and law school degrees from Syracuse University. He worked his way up through the ranks of Republican politics of Nassau County, and then made his play for the Senate against an ailing Senator Jacob Javits in the 1980 Republican primary. He went on to serve three terms in the United States Senate where he held the prestigious posts of chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, and as a member of the Finance Committee.

D’Amato switches gears easily

These days, when not in Washington whooping it up with cronies from his eighteen years in the Senate or carrying messages to legislators high on the Hill, Alfonse D’A’mato travels far and wide in search of strategies for his clients and is seen all around town in New York. He moves easily from power breakfasts to dinners with compatriots. A few months back he met with Hillary Clinton and former Mayor Koch; he reportedly stirred the pot with mumblings of a McCain/Rudy presidential ticket. At night he shows up in places where it is important to be seen. (think Rao’s). And he is loyal to his friends like heavyweight Republican fundraiser Charlie Gargano and political consultant Arthur Finkelstein.

The peripatetic former senator has a full plate as the managing director of Park Strategies, LLC. He founded the company, a lobbying and business consultancy, with partner Wayne Berman, shortly after he was delivered his electoral comeuppance by the more intellectually polished Charles Schumer.

The “Pothole “Senator turned politically incorrect in 1998, for the use of an offensive slang Jewish term. According to close friends, Senator D’Amato realized the errors of his ways – even before the election returns were in. Mr. D’Amato is still better known in many Jewish communities for his rambunctious support of Holocaust survivors in claims against Swiss banks. His verbal misstep and resulting ouster from office was seen in many quarters as a worse penalty for Jewish interests than it was for the former senator.

Mr. D’Amato proved almost instantly resilient after his fall from elective office. In addition to his new role as an entrepreneur, he held down a short-term stint as a practicing lawyer with a well established New York firm. His only problem with the bifurcated new career was that the company’s bulging rolodex of contacts and the law firm’s significant client base collided into too many potential conflicts. Senator D’Amato stuck with his new born baby, Park Strategies.

Beyond the world of legislators in Washington, Mr. D’Amato has become a fixture on cable news with a weekly show on New York 1 and regular contributions on Fox News. And his longstanding sphere of political influence continues in New York, virtually unabated from his days as Senator and supporter-in-chief of George Pataki’s first gubernatorial election campaign.

D’Amato for Governor

In 1994, Mr. D’Amato went head to head with Rudy Giuliani over the Republican former mayor’s decision to endorse and campaign for the Democratic incumbent, Mario Cuomo in the Governor’s race. In the end it was Alfonse D’ Amato who prevailed (as much as Mr. Pataki). Attacks by Cuomo supporters that suggested a vote for Mr. Pataki was a vote for a mere puppet of the Senator, fell on deaf ears.

The evening of the primary election, weeks before Rudy Giuliani announced publicly that he would throw his support to Cuomo, Senator D’Amato expressed his unhappiness with my friend, Rudy, in no uncertain terms.

The Senator and I were part of a small group of friends that sat with Governor Pataki in a hotel suite, early in the evening on primary night. We congratulated the next governor in advance of his nailing down the Republican nomination. But Mr. D’Amato wasted no time with niceties toward me. He demanded that I call Rudy and persuade him to leave another political gathering in Brooklyn to revel in George Pataki’s suite instead.

The unrelenting senator insisted that my failure to deliver the Mayor (for whom I was a special advisor at the time), would be proof positive of Mr. Giuliani’s plans to betray the Republican Party. Mr. D’Amato’s nose proved right, as to the Mayor’s decision to back Mr. Pataki’s opponent. His presumption that my advice or friendship (or anyone else’s for that matter) might have persuaded the independent Mayor to change his mind was totally nuts,as anyone who knew Rudy Giuliani then or now could attest! I demurred that evening. Mr. D’Amato and I have never chatted up a storm since.

On election night, Governor Pataki took to the podium of a jam-packed ballroom for a victory speech to the crowd. With uncharacteristic flair, almost immediately, he tipped his hat to D’Amato. In a not so veiled reference to the Mayor’s claims that he would be a puppet of D’Amato, the new Governor smiled wryly at the Senator and told the crowd, “You can call me, Al.”

D’Amato is Assembling Ammunition for Battle

Nearly a decade since he left elective office, Senator D’Amato walks the streets of New York more recognized than when he served in the Senate. His commentating positions serve as perfect bully pulpits for his pet projects and pet peeves. And this past week he chose to begin his march for the rights of online poker in the media,scoring a profile in the New York Times.

In addition, he has already crossed the pond to meet with government regulators on the Isle of Man together with online operators, including a few select members and associates of the Poker Players Alliance and a poker magazine publisher. The American-based contingent,especially including Mr. D’Amato,is trying to get a handle on management principles of legal online poker operations in Europe. This education is critical to making the case back in Washington for a possible poker carve-out from the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act.

Senator D’Amato has bought into the PPA’s high stakes poker game with a good -sized bankroll in hand, but he’ll be pounding the pavement for the support of more than a million online poker players. He is not likely to take “no” as an answer from anyone, if he can help it.

The anti gambling activists will have their hands full with the Pothole Senator from New York. Alfonse D’Amato is more street wise than wise guy. And lately, he has become positively statesman-like as he opines in interviews about the virtues of online poker for Americans with disabilities. Mr. D’Amato talks of the plight of the handicapped poker aficionados who would be deprived of the joy of a little cyberspace poker to brighten their day, if the Big Brother effort of UIGEA were to take hold. Mr. D’Amato is gearing up to fight for the right of adults to play poker in pajamas, if they please, from the comfort of their homes.