Thursday, July 29, 2010

Poker in the 21st century

Much of poker is online.  US law essentially prohibits it, and a couple of years ago a law was passed to make it harder for players to deposit and cash money into offshore poker sites (like on First Nations reservations in Canada and on islands somewhere else).  And Americans (and Canadians) continue to win and lose billions of dollars playing poker. 

Much lobbying has ensued, with the regular (brick and mortar, as they are called) casinos not entirely sure where to stand, as online gaming has been seen as both boon and bane.  Giving folks an outlet other than Vegas and the other places to gamble but also directing people to the big casinos via satellite tourneys where winners gain seats online into bigger tourneys, including the World Series of Poker.  The NYT has a debate about whether gambling should be legalized

I have not read the entire exchange, as I am busy vacationing.  But given confirmation bias, I am sure I would be swayed by those folks who support legalization.  My basic view is that if states can run lotteries, then citizens should be able to gamble online.  They actually have a decent chance of winning in a poker tourney, whereas the lottery is mostly for people who do not understand math.  Which one is more or less moral?  Yes, poker online can give gambling addicts more opportunities to lose their money, but keeping it illegal is just going to move those folks deeper underground.  Yes, kids can play online but not in regular casinos and that is a problem.  But how about we give parents some responsibility on that.  There are all kinds of things online--we need to figure out how to handle that challenge besides all or nothing, one size fits all solutions. 

I am in the midst of a book on the history of poker: Cowboys Full.  Poker has a pretty deep tradition in the US, with multiple Presidents making money and using the game to build networks, including Obama.  The game involves some understanding of probability, risk, decision-making under uncertainty, patience and judgment.  Funny that the opponents seem to lack most of these qualities. 

Anyhow, it is not clear to me that gambling is inherently immoral, and it is probably not the job of government to put a blanket ban on online gaming.  Perhaps there is an interest in keeping sports betting illegal, since there is more overlap with organized crime there.  But I am not clear why adults cannot gamble online if states are actively promoting gambling in another form--lotteries--where the odds are much more against the player.  I do, however, understand the desire for politicians to play to certain blocs of voters to demonstrate that they are sufficiently religious/observant.  So, I am not sure the status quo will be changed, but there has been more progress than I would have expected.   I guess I shouldn't gamble on the outcome.

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