Thursday, March 20, 2008

One (Ex-)Member Inspires PPA to Alter Its Mission Statement

Frank Frisina of 'Life's a Bluff'Still in S.F. Vera and I ended up at Fisherman’s Wharf last night for a wind-blown walk up and down the bay. Stopped off for some seafood and a glass of Anchor Steam (supersized), then took a rowdy bus back to our hotel. Along with my Oaks Card Club excursion earlier in the day, I probably walked at least six miles altogether yesterday, and so I was fairly zapped when we made it back last night.

Wanted to weigh in briefly on Frank Frisina’s interesting interview with John Pappas, the Executive Director of the Poker Players Alliance. Frisina posted the interview on Life’s a Bluff yesterday, along with his own comments regarding some of Pappas’ answers. There have also been a number of comments by others added there as well, including some from Rich “The Engineer” Muny, a PPA Board Member and frequent (& helpful) contributor to the 2+2 Legislation forum.

If yr interested, you should check out the interview and subsequent discussion. I just wanted to touch on a couple of items I found intriguing.

One point of interest concerns the issue of PPA’s funding. I had not previously realized the PPA wasn’t solely maintained by those dues some of us have sent to the organization. (By the way, I sent ’em my twenty bucks back in October 2006, shortly after the UIGEA was signed into law. My member number is 16,290, although I think there were actually over 100,000 members when I signed up.) According to Pappas, “the PPA receives its funding from member dues, merchandise sales, individual contributions, and financial support from the Interactive Gaming Council.”

The Interactive Gaming Council is a not-for-profit outfit located in Vancouver whose interests cover not just online poker, but all forms of “interactive” or online gaming. According to their website, the IGC’s purpose is essentially twofold -- (1) to establish fair trading guidelines and practices so players can be sure the sites they play on are legit ; and (2) to be a public policy advocate (e.g., fight things like the UIGEA).

Like a lot of us, Frisina was interested in having Pappas explain why the PPA hasn’t bothered to speak publicly about the various scandals that have plagued online poker over the last year or so, including the Absolute Poker insider “super-user” scam from last year. From an outsider’s perspective, it seems that the PPA would be very interested in talking about such scandals as they could be used to further their case for the passage of bills like Barney Frank’s H.R. 2046 -- a bill that would invite governmentally-run, industry-wide regulation.

Frisina suspects the IGC’s support of the PPA may have something to do with the PPA’s reluctance to weigh in on the matter. He points to the presence of Mohawk Internet Technologies on the IGC’s member list as potentially significant here. Mohawk Internet Technologies is that server farm where something like 60% of the world’s online gambling sites are hosted, and it is owned by the Kahnawake Mohawk territory (located just outside of Montreal). That’s where you’ll also find the Kahnawake Gaming Commission, the group that adminsters licenses to 400-plus online gambling sites.

You remember the KGC. They’re the ones who made public that report back in January telling how Absolute Poker had violated four of their regulations, and so the Commission put AP on a kind of probation (the site is subject to random audits for two years, and if they fail any they’re no longer a KGC permit holder), made the site get rid of the guilty guy(s), forced them to pay a fine, etc. (Here’s the full report.)

Of course, Absolute Poker is owned by Tokwiro Enterprises ENRG, which is located there in the Mohawk territory and is owned and run by the tribe. Tokwiro is presently headed by Joe Norton, former Grand Chief of the Mohawk Territory of Kahnawake. Norton has also served as the CEO of Mohawk Internet Technologies, though I don’t believe he presently holds that position. All of which means it isn’t obvious how separate Absolute and the KGC really are, thus making the Commission’s $500,000 fine of AP more than a little suspect-seeming. (Who was paying whom?)

So what we have here is a lengthy, possibly-curious chain linking the PPA to the IGC to Mohawk Internet Techologies to the KGC to Absolute Poker, all of which makes it reasonable to wonder (as Frisina does) whether there might be something in the way the PPA is funded that prevents them from weighing in on the AP scandal. I can’t really say one way or the other here -- the web of obligation and influence is too tangled for me to see through clearly. However, something else came up in the interview that perhaps explains even more directly why the PPA isn’t interested in being involved when online poker cheating scandals erupt.

In the context of asking Pappas about the AP scandal, Frisina asked the PPA’s Executive Director to comment on the organization’s mission statement, specificially its reference to wanting to “ensure the integrity” of the game. Pappas responded by saying “Admittedly, our mission statement overstates the PPA’s interest in serving as the ‘integrity police’ for the poker industry.” Rather, said Pappas, the organization is more directly focused on “providing the legal/legislative framework for licensed and regulated poker to prosper,” thereby establishing “a secure and safe place for poker players to enjoy the game they love.”

Sort of a weird, unexpected response here, I thought, to say the PPA isn’t going to act as the “integrity police” while also saying the PPA wants to make poker not just legal, but “safe and secure” for everyone.

Even more eyebrow-raising, the PPA has apparently altered its mission statement in the wake of the Life’s a Bluff interview. Up until this week, the PPA described itself as a group “who have joined together to speak with one voice to promote the game, ensure its integrity and protect the right to play poker” (emphasis added). If you go to the PPA website today, you’ll find the organization now consists of people “who have joined together to speak with one voice to promote the game and protect the right to play poker in all its forms.” The reference to “integrity” has now been removed.

Perhaps it makes sense, on a practical level, to get rid of the “integrity” stuff. Hell, I don’t know of any group, now matter how big, who can do that for online poker at present. Even so, doesn’t it strike you as just a little bit disingenuous to alter your mission statement after nearly a million people have joined your group?

The PPA definitely should have made it clear from the outset it was simply a lobbying organization looking to keep poker legal (“in all forms”), and not anything more than that. Easy for me to say that now, of course. Then again, it isn’t clear to me that supporting bills like H.R. 2046 really is going to result in accomplishing that goal, either, as discussed here previously (“Do We Want Online Poker Regulated? (1 of 2)” & “Do We Want Online Poker Regulated? (2 of 2)”).

Anyhow, lots of stuff to ponder. Gonna meet up with Tim Peters (of “The Literature of Poker” and CardPlayer) later today -- looking forward to that. There is a possibility I might get over to Lucky Chances tomorrow; I’d say the odds are about 70-30 against at the moment . . . .

Looks like another windy day out there. Better take my hat.

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Blogger Waldo's Wild Kingdom said...

Its the bay. Its always windy, wet and strangely cold. The best scam in the world is California Tourism meets the cold, hard facts of NorCal weather meets the guys selling $20 tourist fleeces on the bay.

3/20/2008 2:41 PM  

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