Monday, September 06, 2010

Online Gambling in the Mainstream Media; or, Getting Frank with Leno

Barney Frank appears on 'The Tonight Show with Jay Leno'A late night for your humble scribbler. Was up following the first day of action over at PokerStars’ World Championship of Online Poker, in particular Event No. 2, that $10,300 buy-in “High Roller” event. (See full schedule here.) Sucker didn’t end until daybreak here on the east coast, actually, with CrabMaki (a U.K. player named Dave Shallow) taking the $605,655 prize for winning. Here’s the full recap of Event No. 2 over on the PokerStars blog.

Speaking of late nights and poker, you probably heard there were a couple of occasions last week when online poker made it onto late night television, popping up in the “mainstream” -- i.e., on major network shows -- as a subject of discussion.

One was that “Nightline” segment about online poker that after several delays finally aired on ABC. (I wrote a little something here in anticipation of that report a couple of weeks ago.) While there was a kind of “cautionary tale”-like atmosphere attached to the report that folks under the age of 21 are playing poker online, I thought the piece ended up being about as balanced as one could hope for, and even perhaps shed a positive light (overall) on online poker as not necessarily a hopelessly degenerate activity.

If you missed it, you can view the “Nightline” piece here.

That segment aired on Tuesday night. Coincidentally, Rep. Barney Frank was a guest on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” on NBC that same evening, and they, too, talked some about online gambling.

It was amid a discussion of individual liberty that Frank chose to allude in a general way to the legislative fight currently underway involving his H.R. 2267, the Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection, and Enforcement Act. At the end of July, Frank’s bill was passed by his House Financial Services Committee, and now awaits consideration by the entire House and/or Senate.

Referring to his proposed bill, Frank noted how licensing and regulating online gambling in the U.S. would lead to “billions of dollars” in tax revenue, and the studio audience cheered in response. But rather than agree with Frank (and the crowd), Leno then raised an objection to online gambling -- a very familiar one, actually.

If you didn’t catch Frank on Leno’s show last week, here it is (the talk of online gambling starts right around the 3:50-mark):

Here is what Leno said by way of objecting to online gambling:

“To me, Vegas works because you have to go to the desert to get there. You have to make an effort. You go to the desert, you lose your money and you come home. You can’t go to the desert again unless you get more money. If you’re sitting at home and you’re up late at night and you got your little credit card, next thing you know... it’s like a mini bar. You’re not going to eat the potato chips unless they are in the mini-bar.”

We’ve heard this line before. So has Frank -- many times -- and he had a ready response. Frank pointed out to Leno that gambling is available in other places than Vegas. Frank also explained that his H.R. 2267 wouldn’t allow for the use of credit cards to gamble online.

The discussion then moved on to lotteries and other issues, but did circle back to Frank’s position that adults shouldn’t be treated like children as Leno’s whole “you have to go to the desert” argument implies -- as though when it comes to gambling we all need artificial restrictions in place to prevent us from constantly doing harm to ourselves. You know, sort of like putting the cookie jar up on the refrigerator where we can’t reach it easily and thus spoil our dinners.

Leno’s line about the mini-bars made me think back briefly to my summer in Las Vegas. I lived for nearly two months in a hotel room while there helping cover the WSOP for PokerNews.

There was a mini-bar in my room, of course, full of overpriced snack items and beverages for the taking. Somehow I managed to resist taking a single item from the mini-bar during my entire stay there, knowing I could purchase all of those things at a quarter of the price if I just figured out a way to leave the room.

Actually, it wasn’t that hard for me. As Muddy Waters once sang, I’m a man. Way past twenty-one. Truth be told, I have been able to decide for myself about such things for a long time now.

I guess Leno is in part going for the laugh there. It’s funny to think of adults as being childish, immature, etc. But I think he also genuinely objects to online gambling in the U.S. And the fact is, as Leno’s continued popularity shows, a lot of people in America tend to like Leno’s lines.

Why do they like Leno? I have no idea. Maybe it’s because, well, he’s just there. Like the mini-bar.

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