Monday, October 10, 2011

NY Times Online Poker Piece Misplays Hand

Fuzzy FactsSaw that piece in The New York Times over the weekend titled “Poker Inc. to Uncle Sam: Shut Up and Deal.” Appeared in the “Internet” part of the “Technology” section where one finds articles dealing with various web-centric issues.

Kind of been looking forward to this article, ever since the reporter, Janet Morrissey, first created an account over at Two Plus Two to ask posters for opinions regarding Black Friday. After some prompting, she let 2+2ers know she wrote for the NYT and how she wanted “to put a human face on the issue by talking to long-time poker players who can talk about their experiences -- especially if they were affected by the crackdown in April.”

While Morrissey did end up sharing a couple of insights from players in her piece, the article as a whole doesn’t offer most of us anything new to consider, especially if we’ve been following the several legal debates about online poker that have been going on since well before Black Friday, as well as all of the various fallout since then, including the Full Tilt Poker craziness of the last few weeks.

While going over familiar ground regarding online poker’s potential as a revenue source, moral objections to its legalization (such as have been voiced by Focus on the Family and others), and the whole skill-vs.-luck argument, Morrissey’s main purpose appears to be to suggest that we may be closer to some sort of movement on the legislative front thanks to the events of the last six months.

But really the article offers nothing concrete to indicate that possibility is at all imminent. Jim Ryan, co-CEO for the Bwin/Party group is quoted saying “it’s no longer a question of if... [but] when it will be passed.” But we’ve been hearing that same line for years, haven’t we? (And really, what exactly is such a statement saying if the “when” can’t be determined with any specificity?)

In fact, an article in today’s Las Vegas Sun -- “Timing, legal woes make legalizing online poker less attractive” -- pretty strongly suggests the opposite is the case. That is to say, we’re no closer, and probably even further, from seeing any sort of federal legislation now than we were before Black Friday.

So perhaps the overall slant of The New York Times piece is leaning the wrong way when it comes to the reality of the situation. That’s arguable. But within the piece there are quite a few specific items that gave me pause for being either off-base, misleading, or even inaccurate.

And I’m not just talking about the suggestion early on that we ever considered Howard Lederer “the strategic Kasparov of Texas Hold ’Em” in our “cultish world of online poker.”

Lots of potholesTo point out a few of the potholes that gave me trouble on my journey through the piece...

Morrissey calls the news contained in the Department of Justice’s amended civil complaint (from September 20) a “bigger bombshell” than Black Friday was. That’s a judgment call, of course, but was all that “Ponzi scheme” stuff from a few weeks back really a bigger surprise to you than what happened on April 15?

Speaking of Black Friday, there Morrissey says the DOJ accused the sites of “money laundering and fraud.” That’s not quite it. Specifically the charges in the indictment included money laundering, bank fraud (a distinction worth making), violating the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, and violating the Illegal Gambling Business Act.

Elsewhere Morrissey tries to summarize the skill-vs.-luck debate, but betrays a pretty serious misunderstanding of the game when she writes the following:

“In five-card poker, there are 2,598,960 possible hands. A four-of-a-kind is dealt once in about 4,000 hands, a royal flush once in 650,000. And yet aficionados say poker isn’t really a game of chance. Instead, they argue, it is a game of skill -- of mathematical probabilities and human psychology, played with artful direction and misdirection.”

Morrissey is only implying a position -- she doesn’t take a side -- but she’s not shaping the debate here very well here at all. What does the relative rarity of a royal flush have to do, really, with how much skill poker requires? (Holes-in-one are rare in golf, yet golfers insist on saying it is a game of skill....)

Furthermore, as a poster over on Two Plus Two noted in a thread about the article, Morrissey appears to have cribbed at least part of this bit from the Focus on the Family folks whom she talks to later in the piece, although there is no attribution given here. (Here’s a page from the FOF affiliate CitizenLink that contains the “Royal Flush” argument -- you have to scroll down to the section that begins “Sen. Menendez Joins Frank in Pushing Irresponsible Policy” to find it.)

Later in the piece there’s reference to online poker being legal in the District of Columbia currently, a statement that also oversimplifies the situation there considerably. While legislation has been passed, a cloud of uncertainty hangs over both the process by which it became law as well as the prospects of the online game ever going live in D.C.

Oliver Busquet is mentioned in the article reporting that “he had about $100,000 in his Full Tilt account and about $50,000 in PokerStars on Black Friday.” But in the 2+2 thread started by Morrissey he says he had $150,000 on FTP. (Perhaps when Morrissey spoke with Busquet later he told her a different amount, but that seems odd.)

Finally, there’s a line casually dropped early on stating that “Absolute Poker and PokerStars are reimbursing American players.” That statement actually appears in parentheses, indicating the author probably didn’t realize how newsworthy it really was to be saying that AP was paying back U.S. players.

As I imagine most of us know, this statement is false. PokerStars has allowed U.S. players to cash out. But AP and UB are not reimbursing American players. Not those who live in the U.S., anyway.

Apparently there was a longer version of the article in which Morrissey quoted an AP executive saying “they’re about to roll out a program ‘shortly’ to reimburse US players.” This Morrissey shared over in a post at 2+2, where she adds “the exec. emphasized this several times.” Yet, somehow, when the piece was edited down that rather important distinction got lost, thus making it sound as though AP was currently reimbursing U.S. players.

All of which is to say, while the piece does more or less collect many of the important issues in online poker over the last few months, it doesn’t offer us much that’s new. And, unfortunately, in its review of what many of us already know, I’m afraid it fuzzes over facts often enough to mislead a lot of the non-poker folks picking it up.

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1 Comments:

Blogger NBShuffler71 said...

Daft analargy using the rarity of 4 of a kind or royal flush as if that is all poker players do, wait for a good hand. Then it would be just luck.

It's the problem when non poker players write about it. They don't really understand the game and usually over simplify and misrepresent. This in turn reinforces false stereotypes among other non players and those who think it is all luck.

10/10/2011 8:32 PM  

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