World Series of Poker around the corner

It’s become almost an annual religion for some people. Not so long ago, you might have to explain to friends what is
. Everyone knew about poker, but many fewer people knew about this variation that dominated the poker tournaments.

As poker has exploded into the mainstream over the past 15 years, all of that has changed as tons of Americans and people worldwide descend upon Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker, and million more watch the action on ESPN. It’s a great time to be in Vegas if you’re a poker fan, as many of the big-name players will show up in poker rooms around the city to get as much action as they can.

If you’re one of the millions of people honing your skills by playing online poker, you can realistically have a shot at this prestigious tournament, as many of the recent winners learned by playing online versus the smoke-filled poker rooms in Vegas or Atlantic City.

That said, the poker room hasn’t died. Rather, it’s also growing in popularity as cities like Cleveland look to add gambling in order to compete with the surrounding states that added it years ago. In Vegas, every casino has learned to love poker. It doesn’t generate as much revenue as the other casino games, but it’s a critical part now of the Vegas culture and adds to the vibe of the casino. Wives can shop for hours while their husbands burn hours at the poker tables, and that generates revenues as well.

So if you’ve been practicing, this might have to be the year where you get to Vegas and join the fun!


Online poker to your state?

The Obama Justice Department has upended the entire online poker debate with a recent opinion that basically limited the scope of federal laws. Now the question is whether Congress will get involved, or whether it will let the states move forward.

The gambling lobby has a message for Congress as states line up to cash in on a White House ruling that in-state online lotteries and poker won’t violate a federal Internet betting ban: Deal now or get stuck with a bad hand.

A Justice Department opinion issued before Christmas has created a now-or-never dynamic on the Hill for lawmakers and lobbyists pushing for a federal Internet poker law as state and regional officials move ahead with online gambling plans.

Come April, D.C. plans to offer online poker and blackjack. Illinois intends to be selling lottery tickets on the Web by then, too.
“The writing is on the wall. The states are going to do this,” John Pappas, executive director of the Poker Players Alliance, told POLITICO. “The first three or four months of the year is going to be pretty important for Congress to act.”
All bets are on some key lawmakers — some backed by Las Vegas casinos — trying to do an end-run around the DOJ opinion by pre-empting it with a federal law. That could set up a showdown pitting states vs. the feds.

Supporters of a federal bill say states aren’t equipped to handle the complexities of Internet gambling, and Congress needs to step in.

State officials say that’s hogwash, and the Obama administration has already taken the wind out of the sails of a federal Internet poker bill by clearing the way for states to start setting up their own systems.

The DOJ opinion dealt states already pushing in the direction of legalization — like California and New Jersey — a couple of aces by saying a ban on intrastate Internet gambling only applies to sports betting.

That frees up those states and several others — including Iowa and Connecticut — to follow Illinois and D.C. in the coming months by passing online gambling laws during state legislative sessions. Passage in each Legislature will be complex, but state lawmakers are extra motivated in tight budget times to find new revenue streams.

Regardless of what happens, it looks like momentum is heading in the right direction. Poker is clearly a game of skill, so policy makers need to concede that point and come up with a logical system.


“Rounders” is the ultimate poker movie

Before the poker craze took root in the past 10 years, “Rounders” came out in 1998 and provided a window to the world of high stakes poker. included the new Blu-ray of the movie in its Holiday Gift Guide for movies.

Before the poker craze swept the nation, Matt Damon and Edward Norton gave us a fascinating look at the life of Mike McDermott (Damon), a reformed gambler who hits the tables again to help his friend, Lester ‘Worm’ Murphy (Norton), pay off his own gambling debts. Damon and Norton are both fantastic in these early career roles as we watch Worm drag Mike, a promising law student, back into the life he had left behind, with the duo looking for a game wherever they can find one and reviving some of their old tricks with very mixed results. “Rounders,” the second of three modern classics released to Blu-ray by Lionsgate this past August, also features memorable performances from John Turturro and John Malkovich, and includes some great extras, including a behind-the-scenes special, champion poker tips, and commentary from the cast, crew and even professional poker players.

This Blu-ray definitely makes a perfect gift for any poker fan.


Poker is a game of skill

Regardless of the idiotic arguments advanced by the US Justice Department, everyone knows that poker is a game of skill, not a game of chance. Nevertheless, the government is pursuing their ridiculous crackdown on online poker:

For years a massive Internet poker industry operated in the U.S., arguing that facilitating for-money online poker play did not violate any U.S. law. The U.S. Justice Department, however, did not agree with that position and on Friday federal prosecutors in Manhattan filed the most detailed defense of their view that Internet poker is just plain illegal, invoking country music and suggesting that La Cosa Nostra had infiltrated the online poker business.

The 51-page document was filed by the government in response to the pre-trial motions of an indicted banker and payment processor, who both became unlikely warriors in the long legal battle over online poker in America when they filed legal papers in October arguing that online poker companies like PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker were not gambling businesses. John Campos, a former vice-chairman of a Utah bank, and Chad Elie, who ran a payment processing business, are the only two individuals who have directly stood up to U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s April crackdown on the online poker industry in the U.S., which included the indictment of 11 individuals. It is because of Campos and Elie that the government is being forced to litigate its case against online poker for the first time.

In asking a federal judge not to grant motions to dismiss filed by Campos and Elie, federal prosecutors claim “the conduct alleged in the Indictment – a scheme through which the charged defendants abused the U.S. financial system in order to fund their illegal operations – amounts to clear violations of the statutes charged.” The federal prosecutors also claim that Campos, Elie and the rest of the U.S. online poker industry, are wrong to argue that poker is a game of skill and not chance–and thus cannot be treated as illegal gambling.

It’s going to be fascinating to see how the courts decide here. I want to see the testimony of professional poker players and their powerful argument that this is a game of skill. With that, the online poker bans might actually go away.


New poker league for pros

You knew this was coming, as many poker pros are tired of dealing with the swell of amateurs showing up at poker tournaments.

When he ran the World Series of Poker, Jeffrey Pollack welcomed entries by the thousands with the mantra, “Anybody can enter, anybody can win.” He is now launching a pro league aimed at showcasing poker’s proven somebodies.

USA TODAY has obtained eligibility criteria and a list of 218 players approved to compete, if they choose, when play begins Aug. 9-12 at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas.

Eligibility combines poker earnings and titles with a heavy dose of what-have-you-done-lately?

The list of players eligible is topped by such stars as Daniel Negreanu, Phil Ivey and Phil Hellmuth. But they are far outnumbered by pros who’ve built consistent winnings without celebrity.Those absent include a $12-million winner at the 2006 World Series.

Qualifier Annie Duke has decided not to play and instead become the commissioner. Meanwhile, some like Chris Moneymaker are not on the eligibility list. Duke explained that he’s “on the bubble.”


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