Saturday, April 07, 2007

Speaking of Poker: What You Can and Cannot Say

Fox Network doesn't want poker announcers suggesting the players are gambling for moneyI had not seen the “Talking Heads” tournament on Poker After Dark when it first aired back in February. PAD reaired those episodes this week -- if you haven’t seen ’em yet, you can check ’em out over on the NBC site where they stream the show. As you might expect with a table full of announcers, the banter is definitely above average. All six of the players -- Howard Lederer, Chad Brown, Gabe Kaplan, Mike Sexton, Michael Konik, and Phil Gordon -- are funny and engaging, and their non-stop anecdotes and jokes make for some worthwhile viewing.

Early on Thursday’s show (at the beginning of segment 2), there occurs an interesting discussion in which a couple of the players revealed restrictions they face when commentating on their respective shows.

The exchange was precipitated by a relatively non-eventful hand. With the blinds $400/$800, Gordon is dealt Ad8h UTG and raises to $2,400. The table folds around to Konik in the big blind who prior to looking at his cards makes a comment about how Gordon had similarly raised his big blind the previous round. He then looks down at KsQc and begins to chuckle. Clearly Konik would like to see a flop, but doesn’t have the courage to call. (By now, he’s already well established himself as the least daring of the six.) As Konik pretends to contemplate his move, Gordon tells him that if he folds he’d gladly plug his book for him (again). Konik says that’s sounds good to him, and as he mucks his hand a smiling Gordon quickly says “Get Michael’s new book. It’s called The Smart Money. All about sports gambling . . . .”

As the next hand is dealt and everyone is laughing about the humorous transaction that just took place, Konik speaks up.

“You know . . . there’s actually a show that I do on another network where we are not allowed to say that particular word,” says Konik.

“Gambling?” asks Sexton.


“What’s the world coming to?” bemoans Gordon. Lederer then speaks up.

“Actually, yeah, when I do Poker Superstars . . . my number one . . . the number one thing I do -- although I catch myself now, I actually stop them and say we have to go back -- is the word ‘money.’ If I say ‘he got his money in good’ we gotta go back and say ‘he got his chips in . . . .’”

“Wow,” says Gordon.

Konik has actually provided commentary on a number of poker shows, so it isn’t clear to which he’s referring. Poker Superstars is, of course, the show that airs on Fox Sports Net. In fact, Konik provided commentary for Poker Superstars for its first two seasons before Lederer came on board last spring.

Seems odd -- on the surface, anyway -- that commentators on some poker shows would be instructed not to use the words “gambling” or “money.” Such guidelines obviously do not apply to other game shows (are poker shows “game shows,” per se?), nor do they even apply to all poker shows. In fact, Chad Brown’s show is called Cash Poker (on which Beyond the Table co-host Tom Schneider is appearing this week -- check it out, if you’re able). And shows like High Stakes Poker -- where players frequently toss around large bricks of bills -- obviously don’t shy away from reminding viewers what those chips represent.

Why, do you suppose, some poker shows wish to avoid references to gambling and/or reminders that the players are playing for real money? Without speaking to those involved in the making of the shows, I cannot give a definitive answer. A few thoughts do occur to me, though.

First of all, I think it is safe to presume that such guidelines certainly are self-imposed. (The fact that only some poker shows appear mindful of them indicates as much.) That is to say, while the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act that was signed into law last summer can -- and probably should -- inspire paranoid visions of Big Brother, it is clear that references to gambling and/or money in the context of discussing a game of poker aren’t the sort of “obscene, indecent, or profane” matter covered by the Act. So it isn’t fear of the BDEA’s stiff fines that motivates such self-censorship, but something else.

Secondly, when I say “self-imposed” I refer not to the announcers (who clearly would use such terms if they could), nor to the individual shows’ production teams, but to the decision-making that occurs at the network level -- i.e., for the Poker Superstars, the Fox Network. I say that because the creative team behind Poker Superstars, where one apparently cannot say the word “money,” is the same one responsible for High Stakes Poker, Poker After Dark, and several other poker shows where announcers appear to be able to speak more freely. That leads me to believe that it isn’t Mori Eskandani and Eric Drache (executive producers for these shows) who make such decisions, but rather the network censors.

So why do some networks prevent announcers on poker shows from making explicit reference to the fact that the actions they describe are examples of people gambling for real money? What’s your answer?

The only answer I can think of is that certain networks simply do not want to risk provoking the ire of the still-politically-powerful Christian right.

Many have observed how the UIGEA’s sponsors and chief proponents aligned themselves politically with Christian conservatives, thereby making their arguments against online gambling sound like arguments for Christian values. In his CardPlayer interview, Poker Players Alliance Chairman of the Board Alphonse D’Amato reiterates that charge, saying that then-majority leader Bill Frist attached the UIGEA to the Safe Port Act “not so much that he thought online gaming is horrendous, but to carry favor with the Christian right.” Indeed, only days after the UIGEA was passed through the Senate, Frist wrote a column for the Southern Baptist Press in which he claimed “The new law passed because members of the pro-family movement -- including a great many Southern Baptists -- brought the issue to the attention of both Democrats and Republicans.”

D’Amato’s suggestion that Frist didn’t really believe online gaming (or gambling) is wrong is probably disingeneous. We have to acknowledge that some people really do think gambling is wrong, and I don’t see the point in denying our opponents’ their position. It’s clear, though, that Frist was certainly desirous to please those who consider it immoral to gamble for money. I think the networks who censor their poker announcers are similarly fearful of being perceived as promoting sinful behavior by this influential segment of their audience.

Whatever the true causes, the fact that people describing a poker game on television sometimes cannot use the words “gambling” or “money” clearly indicates at least one truth about American culture -- that some of us (perhaps most of us) have a lot of difficulty recognizing the relationship between words and things.



Blogger gadzooks64 said...

Indeed, they often refer to OBSCENE amounts of money in these poker shows.


I sometimes think it is PROFANE that these players are blithely donking off the equivalent of the value of the average person's house.


Most of the hostesses on these show dress OBSCENELY.


None of this is any worse than the local bar having a March Madness Bracket or the local church hosting Bingo Night.

IMO it is very hypocritical of people to condemn gambling. We all do it on one manner or another: unprotected sex, smoking, floating a check, driving recklessly, etc.; there are many examples in daily living where people take calculated risks - which is merely another name for gambling.

4/07/2007 3:26 PM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Well said, Zooks.

Noticed you were signed up for the PokerWire tourney today -- good luck!

4/07/2007 3:30 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Just found your blog from a link on LittleAcornMan's blog. Good to read another fine poker blog!

4/08/2007 5:51 PM  

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