Thursday, February 7, 2013

Q and a with John Pappas, Executive Director of The Poker Players Alliance

A phone interview I did a few months ago (almost two years ago now!) with John Pappas of the PPA.

Q and A with John Pappas, Executive Director of The Poker Players Alliance

This link too has expired so the report on the interview is below:

(Some of this actually came true!!)

The Poker Players Alliance, John Pappas, and You

To say that John Pappas is passionate about poker, particularly online poker, is an understatement. To suggest that Mr. Pappas is not the ideal individual to represent the rights of all American poker players is not to know the man at all.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) or its mission, the important things you need to know are that John is the Executive Director of this advocacy group and that the PPA is dedicated to, in his own words, “. . . establishing favorable laws that provide for a safe and regulated environment for Americans to play poker.”

While the PPA is concerned primarily with former and future online poker players, they do not shy away from supporting the interests of brick and mortar poker initiatives when necessary as is evidenced by the PPA’s recent support of legislation in Maryland that would allow the establishment of poker rooms within the state.

The existence of the PPA precedes the most pivotal event in the lives of all American online players, Black Friday (4/15/2011) as it is not so affectionately known. Yet in Mr. Pappas’ memory, that day was the “worst day of my professional career.” On that day the United States Department of Justice seized the assets of the world’s two largest online poker sites, PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, and closed down their websites to American players. The affect was immediate and devastating for individual poker players. Recreational online poker players, and John Pappas readily admits to being one of them, lost access to their small stakes and bigger fish, many considered to be professionals, were out five figure sums. Only recently have deals been struck that would begin the process of returning embargoed accounts to former players. Nevertheless, the action of the DOJ essentially branded every American online poker player as a criminal by association and, for the most part, their days of leisurely competing with others in online poker games and tournaments were over.

At that point in time the work of the PPA changed abruptly from a mission into a crusade and their full time presence in Washington, D.C. seemed like the right place to be.

One of the PPAs biggest challenges is changing the minds of non-poker players since the card playing public already shares their mind set. Among the lessons to be learned is that poker, online or face-to-face, is unlike other games found in a casino environment. Poker is predominantly a game of skill, not “predominated by chance,” a common legal definition of gambling. John Pappas knows this to be true; former United States Senator Alphonse D’Amato, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the PPA, knows this to be true; and U.S. Federal District Judge Jack Weinstein knows this to be true since that was his ruling in the recent United States of America against Lawrence DiCristina. 

Academics and long-time hard nosed poker players also know this to be true. Fully 75% of all Texas Hold’em poker hands never make it to the point where players “show down” their cards. The skill is in developing strategy, betting, knowing the odds, reading your opponents and making correct timely decisions. Chance, although present, plays a minor role in this game of wits.

Another characteristic that sets poker apart from other casino games, a characteristic that Mr. Pappas feels is essential for the public to understand, is that poker players compete among themselves not against casino odds. Casinos or other establishments that sponsor poker games are reimbursed through raking pots or through taxes on seats. Essentially a poker player pays the room, or the online venue, to play. This unique characteristic tends to lessen the “David vs. Goliath” feeling that many people experience standing before a slot machine that is eating up their social security check. Everyone around the poker table is on equal footing. They all have the same opportunity to win money. If you play better, more skillfully, you usually win, especially over the long haul.

Mr. Pappas is no stranger to poker games. Growing up in Arizona in a politically active and government savvy family, John always thought he would pursue a life in politics. As a teenager, he and his friends regularly trooped over to the house of the only guy whose parent’s would tolerate their noisy competitions and played poker until someone had to go home. Like most young poker devotees, they had never heard of Texas Hold’em and instead played endless games of dealer’s choice like Night Baseball, Cincinnati, and Five-Card Draw. After college, John moved to Washington D.C. and took a job with his home town Congressman, who was then the sub-chair of the newly formed 9/11 Homeland Security Committee. After honing his skills with the D.C. in crowd for six years he turned to the private sector where one of his first clients was the fledgling PPA. He was slowly but inevitable drawn into the cause and has been with the PPA ever since.

These days John doesn’t play online anymore for the same reasons most other Americans avoid online poker play but he can be found on occasion at a small Las Vegas poker tournament or looking to double his stake at a cash table.

At this point in time John sees the plight of online poker players in America as “not great!” For those who choose to wait for the federal government to make a move toward legalizing online poker play in the U.S. there currently is only a very dim light at the end of a very long tunnel - and the PPA is holding the lantern. For those whose patience has run thin and who feel impelled to make the choice to get involved with an online casino/poker operation based outside the country, the waters are deep and shark infested.

For John Pappas both of these unfortunate scenarios are why the PPA is working so hard toward their goal. Horror stories of players trying to deposit money in foreign poker accounts, or equally terrifying stories from those who have succeeded in getting their money in but cannot now get it out, are easy to come by. Players who have had their credit or debit card numbers stolen only to turn up in China will gladly share their experiences with you. Safe, legal, regulated online poker play in the United States will end these kinds of abuses immediately. Looking at the legitimization of online poker play as a crime deterrent isn’t so far from the truth.

The recent pre-election online survey run by the PPA among its 1.2 million strong membership revealed little that John Pappas and his staff did not already know. Fully 90% of the respondents categorized themselves as politically aware, registered to vote and likely to cast a ballot in November. Their political affiliations are remarkably evened out across party lines with approximately 31% registered as Democrats, another 31% registered Republicans, and 36% identifying themselves as independent or at least undeclared at the time of the survey. In response to the question about willingness to stray from a party’s line over a poker related issue, the vast majority responded in the affirmative. Poker issues in and of themselves can win or lose votes.

John’s position is clear. “Politicians should be catering to them (poker players).” If you want the vote of a poker player then you will need to come down on the side of legalizing and legitimizing online poker play for Americans. It’s that simple.

No one has a crystal ball to look into and see the future of online poker playing in the United States but the outcomes are limited among a few - some obviously much better than others. In the near future, unless Congress acts very soon, the online poker landscape will look pretty much as it does today - a few states jockeying for the lead in bringing online poker to their local areas, most Americans continuing to be wary of online venues seeking their funds, and a few special interest groups, like John Pappas and the PPA, out there beating the bushes for support and making their mark. Within the next four or five years, again if Congress does not act, the number of states and localities offering online poker opportunities will increase and in all likelihood a number of sets of rules and procedures will develop independently. This kind of experimentation can be good - proving that online poker can exist outside of criminal activity, cheating, and money laundering. It can also be bad if the state run games end up with some kind of “hobbled uniformity,” as outgoing Nevada Gaming Control Chairman, Mark Lipparelli, predicts.

The simple fact of the matter is, and John Pappas is eminently aware of this, that a good online poker experience needs numbers. In order to justify a good business plan and in order to provide the best from a consumer stand point, online poker sites need to offer adequate opportunities for card players to get involved. Signing on to a site and finding only a few tables available and having to wait long periods of time for competitors will not cut it. The audience needs to be vast and unless an online poker site can be opened up to the entire country and by extension to the entire world success may be hard to come by.

That’s part of John Pappas’ vision. It’s part of the PPA’s vision. And it’s the ultimate goal for every poker player in the United States of America.

Robert Cancellaro
October 2012


No comments:

Post a Comment