UPDATE — March 15th, 2018: Poker Players Alliance president Rich Muny granted an interview this week to Michael Gentile of Pokerfuse.
In the 10 Questions for Rich Muny writeup, the PPA executive stated that the poker lobbyist group is “far short” of its $25,000 grassroots fundraising goal, and urged United States poker enthusiasts to focus their attention on proposed legislation in Michigan and New York that would regulate online poker.
Noticeably absent from the interview was any finger-pointing at poker activists. The PPA president simply urged those interested in supporting poker to donate to the PPA, ending the interview with, “It has been an honor to serve and represent the poker community and it is my hope that we can find a way to continue an organized effort for our game.”
Analysis & Opinions (of March 13th PPA Interview with Pokerfuse)
* All analysis and opinions belong solely to the author.
Veteran player motivation to financially support and actively promote poker lobbying efforts appears to be at an all-time low.
New York Senate Bill 3898 would regulate online poker in the Empire State, yet as @OPReport informs via Twitter, the “real fight” is “in the Assembly,” where past NY online poker legislative proposals have failed to advance.
The real fight, as is often the case in NY with gambling issues, will come in the Assembly. https://t.co/2JFqiOipxc
— Chris Grove (@OPReport) March 14, 2018
Michigan is another key state that could formally legalize online poker games this year, but either way it’s difficult to see how organized poker player activism — in its current state — would have a meaningful influence on proposed online poker legislation in any U.S. jurisdiction.
Industry stakeholders on both sides of the debate possess superior resources when it comes to lobbying lawmakers, and are generally held responsible for legislative impasses that have stymied regulated online poker growth in the United States for years.
There is also new information from Washington state poker activist Curtis Woodward that anti-online poker interests would fight tooth and nail to retain laws that currently criminalize playing online poker in the Evergreen State. The legislative landscape relayed by Woodward (“curtinsea”) paints an extremely bleak picture for the possibility of effective poker player activism.
Still, Muny chose to forego placing further blame on poker player activists in his recent Pokerfuse interview — a helpful gesture considering the PPA president was the individual who personally shut down a pair of recent TwoPlusTwo discussion threads on the Poker Players Alliance’s potential move into sports betting lobbyist activities.
One final observation that poker enthusiasts may be wise to take into consideration… it can be argued that “volunteer” work is not the most optimal way to ensure true grassroots poker activism, or to provide incentives to qualified talent. Muny’s repeated reminders that he is currently an unpaid PPA executive call into question whether lobbying efforts can be successful in such a relationship when there are zero monetary provisions made in exchange for holding lead activists accountable.
UPDATE — February 27th, 2018: There has been brief communication between incoming Poker Players Alliance president Rich Muny and well known Washington State poker activist Curtis Woodward (“curtinsea”). The following communication took place from the ongoing discussion in this 2+2 Poker Legislation Thread (Posts #20-#25).
February 26th (Post #20): Incoming PPA President Rich Muny lamented how initiatives sought by Martin Shapiro (“PokerXanadu” – former PPA Florida State Chapter Director) were hindered by national PPA interests, stating those limitations were “caused by prior volunteers working under the PPA name.” Muny also communicates that he would not have been in favor of those restrictions placed on Shapiro, and that the grassroots-leaning PPA Daily Action Plan originally created by Muny remained under the then-Vice President’s control when Muny transitioned into that role following April 2011.
February 26th (Post #21): Rich Muny opines that exclusively player-based United States poker lobbying efforts are a possibility he “can’t see,” citing “astronomical” statewide costs. Despite Muny’s doubts, the incoming PPA president then states that “now” is the most appropriate time for such an attempt to be made by players.
February 26th (Post #22): Muny states that he, along with former PPA Executive Director John Pappas (resignation effective on March 1st), and the current PPA Information Technology Manager have labored as unpaid volunteers on behalf of the Poker Players Alliance since January 1st, 2018.
Muny’s reply to Woodward suggests that the PPA is now in a position where it could theoretically act as a true “grassroots” organization since it currently does not receive any “donation” funds from corporate entities (such as The Stars Group). Muny also implies that the PPA would not (and has not) hindered grassroots poker lobbying efforts that would be (or were) operating outside the official Poker Players Alliance banner.
February 26th (Post #23): Muny thanks those who have contributed in the 2+2 Poker Legislation Thread and urges those who have decided not to support the PPA in the future to organize poker lobbying efforts separately.
February 26th (Post #24): Curtis Woodward states that Muny’s suggestion (that poker players who will not support the PPA should organize on their own if they desire an exclusively player-mandated lobbying arm), is “assuring the PPA doesn’t get one thin dime from me.”
“YOU ASKED US FOR MONEY,” Woodward exclaims in all-caps text. Woodward then asks Muny, “You aren’t accountable to the players at all, why should anyone support you?” before declaring, “Rest in Peace PPA.”
February 26th (Post #25): Muny reminds forum readers that the PPA’s “continued viability is anything but guaranteed,” and urges activists who wish to concentrate on player-interest lobbying focus particularly on the states of New York and Michigan, where pending legislation that would regulate online poker currently exists. Muny concludes that “there’s no reason to have a gap in activism,” which suggests Muny believes players should consider latching onto a poker lobbying effort that receives at least part of its proceeds from corporate entities.
Analysis & Opinions (of February 26th Communications)
* All analysis and opinions belong solely to the author.
With the iGaming industry’s main lobbying arm already in place (the iDevelopment and Economic Association), it is easy to see why corporate entities such as The Stars Group would de-prioritize funding to poker lobbying — as that iGaming gambling vertical now falls under the iDEA umbrella.
The current rhetoric between the PPA and high profile poker activists leads one to conclude that a future in which grassroots player activists solicit donation funds from poker players and fans is untenable.
The iGaming lobbying agenda put forth by iDEA and related interests, as well as by internet gambling opponents, focuses partially on antagonistic debate between the iGaming industry and land-based casinos — particularly in the realm of player protections and game integrity. (Watch Video #4, 7:40 to 9:08, and Video #6, 12:24 to 12:55 of this Michigan Regulated iGaming Study Guide for more info).
While a large number of online poker players vehemently argue that the vertical should be available for real money, competitive play on the internet, poker players also frequently patronize brick & mortar establishments — and therefore do not have a general prejudice against land-based poker games that take place within traditional casinos. Grassroots poker player activists are overwhelmingly adamant that the game should be offered on all platforms where a market for traditional real money poker exists, and believe player protection and game integrity issues are topics that both land-based and online interests should be keenly aware of while seeking out solutions for such issues.
Poker player interests could perceive recent communication by the PPA (as it pertains to the possibility of organized lobbying that includes both corporate and grassroots funding) as a shakedown by corporate iGaming lobbying interests. They could also perceive that true “grassroots” customer-related issues, such as regulatory arbitration for disputed payouts between operators and players, would not progress or be effectively communicated on a legislative level in such a shared funding scenario.
While high profile poker players and activists who have maintained relative independence from corporate iGaming influences could undoubtedly provide at least a modest boost to grassroots fundraising, there is no indication at this time that such individuals would desire to remove monies from the poker playing community to allocate towards lobbying efforts that would result in questionable effectiveness and overall direction.
Finally, there is enough evidence to conclude that legitimate grassroots poker activists are strongly in favor of statewide regulation for online poker, regardless of whether such future laws would include or exclude “bad actor” and/or “suitability” language. Correspondingly, there is also evidence that said activists would be strongly opposed to efforts that would delay or block formal online poker regulation in the United States.
Original Article: Published February 24th, 2018
The Poker Players Alliance advocacy group has communicated its need for $25,000 in donations by April to continue its lobbying efforts throughout the United States.
— PokerPlayersAlliance (@ppapoker) February 16, 2018
Incoming PPA president Rich Muny took to the TwoPlusTwo Poker Legislation board recently to inform poker activists that the iGaming industry has significantly decreased its funding to the group, and that “options seem very limited.”
“I don’t see future corporate donations from poker-only entities and, without that, I don’t know that we have a path to continued viability,” Muny informed the 2+2 community on February 8th.
Can the Poker Players Alliance Achieve its Goal?
During the heyday of the online poker boom — and UIGEA federal government pushback — $25,000 in combined player-based and corporate proceeds may have been an easily achievable goal.
But the 2011 “Black Friday” US Department of Justice seizure of high profile poker domains, slowly progressing regulation efforts, increased lobbying costs, corporate takeover of PPA rhetoric, along with a gradual realization that formal legalization is much more dependent on stakeholder bartering than grassroots negotiations has dissuaded some activists from drumming-up support for the cause.
And even if the Poker Players Alliance manages to raise $25,000 by the end of March, there is no indication that funding needs would cease — or that the PPA’s desired movement into sports betting lobbying wouldn’t meander into a corporate structure if successful.
Waning Grassroots Poker Advocacy
Grassroots advocacy for the game we all love is near an all-time low, as efforts to regulate online poker have only resulted in four U.S. states passing legislation to formally legalize on the internet.
Meanwhile, both the land-based casino and iGaming industries have shifted their focus to traditional house-edge formats while taking a keen interest in sports betting, which could soon be available to gamblers across the country if the United States Supreme Court reverses prohibitions put in place by the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.
Should Grassroots Advocacy be Funded by Players or the Industry?
Unfortunately for player interests, gambling industry lobbying focuses almost exclusively on operator initiatives, and mandates that legitimate grassroots player activism be directly funded and communicated.
This presents a particularly daunting task for poker players who wish to gain independent influence on an industry that can be alarmingly unresponsive to quality of service issues and contested payouts of player prizes ranging from “bad beat” jackpots to “volume-based” cashback rewards.
While there are a number of dedicated, qualified poker activists spread out across the country — such as TwoPlusTwo forum contributors “curtinsea” (Curtis Woodward, Washington State) and “PokerXanadu” (Martin Shapiro, Florida) — their efforts along with those of other poker enthusiasts do require funding in order to be effective… regardless of whether that is under the Poker Players Alliance banner or future organization.
Does Competitive Peer-to-Peer Gaming Belong in a Casino or League?
The reality of industry pursuits — combined with staunch opposition to statewide gambling expansions and decreased consumer interest in poker — have left some wondering if peer-to-peer competitive gaming can attract investment in a real money wagering environment. However, efforts to move competitive poker away from the casino industry and into “league” formats have been notoriously unsuccessful.
The now-defunct Epic Poker League declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2012. This left casino conglomerate Pinnacle Entertainment (which recently authorized a corporate merger with iGaming opponent Penn National) holding the bag with an unpaid bill of $2 million that was only partially recovered in a subsequent bankruptcy auction.
In 2016, the Global Poker League debuted with a slew of big name personalities and worldwide media distribution, yet failed to gain mainstream support while burning its own bridges with high profile players and then-business partners such as the World Series of Poker.
For the time being, poker appears destined to remain as a controversial product under the casino industry umbrella, which places immense pressure on the vertical due to increasingly competitive gambling markets, saturation, brick & mortar gaming space square footage profit margins, and a multitude of real money wagering options currently available to customers.
READ: PA Live Poker Revenue Numbers Are Cause For Concern (Part Time Poker – Jan 28, 2018)
URGENT: Poker Activist Communication & Solutions Needed
If player-friendly poker lobbying efforts are to become meaningful in the United States, the Poker Players Alliance and longtime supporters would likely turn to high profile players who have retained relative independence from the industry’s corporate infrastructure while growing their own platforms.
Trophy winners and nominees of the 4th Annual GPI American Poker Awards Andrew Neeme, Matt Berkey, Joe Ingram, and Doug Polk along with other personalities would be logical starting points for poker supporters to reach out to.
However, almost every candidate who might find him/herself on such an outreach list already dedicates an enormous amount of resources and time to other projects and/or playing poker for a living. Future poker player advocacy and fundraising efforts would likely consume multiple years and at least low seven-figures USD in lobbying costs in order to have any meaningful legislative impact.
Not to mention that while the aforementioned player-personalities are all extremely capable individuals, they may be woefully unequipped to assist player advocacy movements beyond short-term, low-commitment communication to their respective audiences. Plus, the history of the PPA’s cozy relationship with the iGaming industry has resulted in a certain element of distrust between grassroots supporters and organized lobbying efforts.
Legitimate player-based initiatives would require big names to focus an unknown amount of time becoming as informed as possible on legislative issues that possess a steep learning curve with different variables in play for each state — even if that information and those concepts would eventually be easier to grasp than the skills necessary to be a professional poker player in 2018.
Still, the Poker Players Alliance has provided an undetermined amount of value to poker players in the United States since its 2005 inception, and does possess valuable experience testifying before regulatory bodies.
We encourage those interested in poker player activism to visit the official PPA Accomplishments page and to actively seek out related material on regulated iGaming legislation throughout the United States before making a decision on what course of action to take.
Author’s Note: The views expressed in this article are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Poker Players Alliance, this website, the people I collaborate with, poker players, the poker industry, or my colleagues in poker media.
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