At the very beginning of the 45-minute conversation, F-Train noted how yesterday’s action by the DOJ was “not good for anybody” -- including (he explained) Full Tilt Poker, its shareholders, its former players hoping for the return of their funds, and those hoping for the return of online poker to the U.S.
It is that latter point that seems most clear today. Poker -- especially online poker -- has taken another severe hit in America. That screenshot from CNN that I added to yesterday’s post might as well serve as a kind of emblem for what “poker or “online poker” means to the average American today.
“Poker site accused of skimming $440M?” Why on earth would anyone put money on a poker site? You get what you deserve. As a commenter to the CNN story says (echoing others), “HAHA!! anybody that throws their hard earned cash to On-Line gamble site, deserves their fate.”
A poker site. Go ahead, pronounce the word like Joan Rivers did. Like she’s about to say “poison.” Remember? When she talked about poker players’ money having “blood on it.”
As I mentioned yesterday, the fact that Full Tilt Poker managed to pull off looking as though it were a “legitimate poker site” -- when it appears clear it was anything but -- will be cited by proponents of licensed and regulated poker in the U.S. But such proponents now find themselves arguing for something with which even fewer sympathize. Especially legislators.
“Terrible Tuesday” might’ve helped highlight the need. But it didn’t do much for the cause.
No, it’s not good.
“Full Tilt Poker was an online poker card room” begins the newly-updated Wikipedia entry. Past tense. That change was actually made a few days ago, I believe. Although the first paragraph -- noting the allegations that owners skimmed hundreds of millions from players -- that was added yesterday afternoon. The site’s new legacy.
Near the end of their conversation, F-Train and Chops marveled a little at how Full Tilt’s handling of things since Black Friday -- and these latest allegations -- have eclipsed the once-ultimate-seeming failures of UltimateBet. Whereas UB had long occupied that place in our thinking as the site where things couldn’t have gotten worse, Full Tilt Poker has now claimed the honor.
“Whatever the actual facts are,” F-Train carefully added, “the perception of the facts, is that Full Tilt Poker is the scummiest scum of poker companies.”
And that’s really the point right now -- that whatever really is the case, the perception is so thoroughly damaging that poker in general and online poker in particular have an enormous obstacle to overcome, image-wise, in order to recover anything close to the level of acceptance in American culture the game enjoyed just a few short years ago.
I think about a line in John Lukacs’ “Poker and American Character,” an essay I have written about before (here and here) and which I now have my Poker in American Film and Culture class read.
Lukacs speaks of poker as “the game closest to the Western conception of life” insofar as it is a game in which “free will prevails over philosophies of fate or of chance, where men are considered free moral agents, and where -- at least in the short run -- the important thing is not what happens but what people think happens.”
The line comes early in the essay and helps set up a larger observation about “American” values (such as freedom, independence, entrepreneurial urges, our readiness to take risks, the importance of money, etc.) and how they are reinforced or at least given a context in which to be furthered by poker.
I like the existentialist notion present in the observation, that poker is a game in which we are constantly afforded the freedom to make what we will of it. Lukacs (who is from Hungary) later points out how even the way Americans play poker -- with thousands of variants and other agreed-upon rules -- could be said to reflect a similar idea.
We make our own meaning of the game. So do our opponents. And so do those who have never been dealt a hand.
So what does “poker” mean to you today? Hard to say? I know the feeling. Let’s have a look at some rainbows and think about it.