Editorial: The PPA Has the Right Idea, But Are They Getting the Job Done?

26 September 2006

About a month ago, I was assigned to cover the Poker Players Alliance, specifically its campaign to inculcate new members with the onus of protecting and preserving what is termed their game.

About 48 hours before that, I was hired to write for IGN.

Let me be the first to invite any and all criticism this editorial incites. With regard to reading the industry and its historically mercurial temperament, I'm a novice. Perhaps, though, this affords me a unique perspective, the naiveté to ask what I consider an obvious question:

Charged with the responsibility of raising awareness amid a gaming climate characterized by intensifying legislative inconstancy, is the PPA effectively doing so?

Before I continue, I want to be clear regarding my thoughts on the PPA. In light of the campaign currently spearheaded by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, some organization--any organization--with a nose for hyperbolic language must mount a sound defense by disseminating information that balances, curbs or even subverts the specious discourse Frist, R-Tenn., and other lawmakers are busy dispersing.

The PPA was cast for this task.

One example: The organization commissioned a study that fingers (among other issues) a problematic dilemma currently gnawing at the U.S. I-gaming industry: On the one hand, online gambling operations are effectively discouraged from operating on U.S. soil; on the other, the industry continues to grow significantly, spurred in large part by action from U.S. bettors. In sum, the study suggests the U.S. government, by prohibiting all forms of Internet gambling, denies itself access to an enormous source of revenue, an estimated $3.3 billion annually.

Another example: PPA President Michael Bolcerek brought poker pros to Capitol Hill to square off with Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa, a cheeky publicity stunt used to demonstrate that poker requires far more than good luck, better odds and a strong tailwind to boot.

Yes, the PPA is just the organization to combat the regulatory noise in the cacophonous U.S. Congress. I've only been aware of the PPA for a short time, but I've yet to see them organize anything hard hitting, and certainly nothing that would constitute a constructive offensive on an obviously assailable situation. If the rally held at the World Series in August drummed up support and led to a 30,000-person bump in the organization's membership, how did only 3 percent of the organization's constituents participate in the phone march on Sept. 12?

The more appropriate question is: Why?

I also question whether the PPA's lack of success has become obscured by its status as a grassroots organization, i.e. people don't expect as much from them because they are a rank-and-file non-profit organization. Fair enough; but historically, other grassroots movements with stacked odds and unprecedented ambitions have over time prosecuted their missions through to their ongoing conclusions (Cf. the NAACP).

Maybe what the PPA needs is more time. (Wikipedia.org doesn't even list "Poker Players Alliance" as an entrant yet.) Right now, though, the organization's voice--especially when juxtaposed with the recent (and admittedly lackluster) phone march--is hoarse, as it seems to be losing a very one-sided shouting match with legislators already hard of hearing.

As I've observed, the association's tactics at this point lack the requisite finesse to combat such a protean situation.

I wonder if players shouldn't be asking more of their most visible interest group. Moreover, I wonder whether the lack of concern evidenced by the majority of America's 23 million players isn't somehow a result of the PPA not striking while the iron is hot.

To overlook the pervasive complacency among online poker players with regard to the legislation that threatens their "favorite pastime" would be a mistake, however. This is perhaps the PPA's biggest challenge: to somehow worm its way into players' heads; to change the collective psychology; to convince them to care.

One I-gaming executive I spoke with remarked that online players cared little about the politics of the game they play so obsessively.

As if on cue, one World Series of Poker Main Event Finalist I spoke with remarked that a satellite tournament funded his trip to the Series and later evinced a detached concern with the topsy-turvy political conditions threatening the online game.

"I haven't given much thought to (the PPA and its mission to preserve an individual's right to play poker)," he said. "I think we all have the right to do what we want really. Like I said, I don't know what the bill is or how it's worded, but it'd be a shame if I can't make a conscious decision to play poker. Everyone does it. Just because it's online and not based in the United States doesn't mean I shouldn't be able to do something."

The PPA has jabbed at the psyches of lawmakers and players alike, dealing the occasional, ephemeral dent.

I eagerly await the knockout blow.

Chris Krafcik is the editor of IGamingNews. He lives in St. Louis, Mo.