Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Tuning In (Poker in the Media)

Shamus watches poker on TVWatched a lot of poker yesterday. On the teevee. On the intertubes. People playin’ poker. People gabbin’ about it. I must really be into poker or somethin’.

First came “This Week in Poker,” the online show hosted by the Entities over at Wicked Chops. I’ve ended up watching that one live the last couple of weeks, as it comes on at a convenient hour for me (7 p.m. here on the east coast). This week they interviewed Kimberly Lansing of the newly-revamped World Poker Tour and Phil Laak who chronicled in detail his harrowing ATV accident. I wrote a little something about TWIP a couple of weeks ago. You can view archived episodes here.

Then I switched off the computer and turned on the TV to see ESPN’s coverage of Day 2a of the 2010 World Series of Poker Main Event. Was looking forward to this, as I remembered a few different hands from that day’s play I thought might make it into the broadcast.

In fact, two of those hands I had remembered from Day 2a did make it into the show -- the Chris Moneymaker-Bryan Pellegrino hand in which both thought the other was in the tank, and a hand involving Annie Duke in which she made a straight flush. (I mentioned both in a post back in July.)

I remained pretty much out of shot during both hands, having hung out near the cameraman when they were happening. I did have fun last night, though, recognizing many colleagues wandering around the tables. And seeing one -- Garry Gates -- at the tables, too! I worked with Gates in both 2008 and 2009 at PokerNews, and last night ESPN showed Scotty Nguyen busting him out of the ME.

Next week there will be two more hours devoted to Day 2b of the 2010 WSOP Main Event. See the full schedule here.

When the ESPN show went off the air at 11 p.m., I considered staying up to watch still more poker, namely a scheduled segment about online poker on the ABC News program “Nightline.” Ended up packing it in before then, though, although it appears the segment was bumped until tonight.

ABC Nightline reporting on online pokerThere’s a brief article over on the ABC News site previewing the segment which I suppose gives us some indication of what its angle will be.

The first thing one notices when clicking on the link is that the article includes a brief clip of the robbery at EPT Berlin from back in March. No context is provided for the clip, nor is there any reference to it in the article. No idea why that is even there, other than to suggest in a vague way that poker is dangerous.

The second thing one notices is one of the more banal leads I can imagine someone coming up with for such an article: “What happens in Vegas often happens at the poker table, but many of the winners raking in huge jackpots aren't even old enough to enter a casino.” Phew.

Tough to get past that, but once you do, you see the “news” being reported in the article -- or central theme, anyway -- appears to be that young people (mostly men) are playing a lot of online poker. The article is thus letting its mostly non-poker playing audience know that “online poker games have allowed teenagers to become expert card players long before they turn 21.”

2009 WSOP Main Event champion Joe Cada is interviewed as an exemplary figure here, someone who honed his game prior to turning 21, then went and won the big one just prior to turning 22 last November.

While there is reference later in the article to the fact that online sites generally require players to be at least 18 years old, there appears to be a desire to point out that some teenagers get onto the sites and start playing before reaching 18. There is reference to a recent study conducted by the Institute for Research on Gambling Disorders that “estimated over 70% of Americans, ages 14 to 19, have gambled in the past year.” There’s another study, conducted by a group at the University of California-Berkeley, that is mentioned as well, in which it is reported “that 19.6% of young men gamble online regularly.”

The second half of the article then presents a 19-year-old college student named Blaine Brount who plays online poker, and who has won enough to think of poker as “a real job.”

Brount’s story appears on the surface to present poker in a positive way -- he’s serious about studying the game and improving, he’s winning, his mother approves, etc. It’s possible, though, to view Brount’s story less favorably, especially when presented in the context of studies highlighting young people gambling in large numbers.

It will be interesting to see how it all gets edited and presented in the “Nightline” piece. Not really going out on a limb here, but I have a feeling in the end it probably ain’t gonna add up to an unequivocal endorsement of online poker.

The fact is, while poker might seem like a perfectly “normal” or acceptable activity to those of us who regularly seek out shows like “This Week in Poker” or the WSOP on ESPN, for the “Nightline” crowd -- a more “mainstream” bunch -- there’s always going to be something sensationalistic, or even scandalous, about poker and/or gambling. Especially when young people are involved.

(EDIT [added 8/26/10): The segment did not air on Wednesday night, having been postponed yet again. Will add a note here if/when it does finally air.)

(EDIT [added 9/1/10]: The segment finally aired last night [8/31/10]. It didn’t add too much to the written piece, although I’ll say it did strike me as a fair enough look at the world of online poker -- if anything, even more balanced-seeming than was the article. You can view it here.)

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