In Defense of Poker and a Free Internet
Here they go again. This time, we've got New York State Senate bill 66 which aims to step up the restrictions on internet gaming (including of course, poker). Now we're not just going for the sites, but also the internet service providers for providing the access, which is a bold political move with clear implications well beyond the world of online poker.
A person "profits from gambling activity" when, other than as a player, he accepts or receives money or other property pursuant to an agreement or understanding with any person whereby he participates or is to participate in the proceeds of gambling activity, including but not limited to an agreement or understanding to act as an internet service provider. "Internet service provider" means any information service, system, or access software provider that provides or enables computer access by multiple users to a computer server, including specifically a service or system that provides access to the Internet.
The three sponsors of this legislation are Senator Frank Padavan (R) of Queens and Senators Mary Lou Rath (R) and Dale Volker (R) of eastern NY state. You can read it in its entirety here, or go straight to the Senate website and search for [Bill] [S66]  with all of the boxes checked. (As an aside, how about giving us the ability to search and link directly to your work, Senators, instead of hiding from Google and the rest of us behind a clumsy CGI interface?)
If you read this blog with any regularity, it shouldn't be news that I'm a big advocate of the game of poker. I support it both as a player and as an unwavering advocate of the freedom and independence of American citizens.
Poker's been very good to me. Not because I've won a fortune playing it (although I am some thousands of dollars financially better off for the game), but more because of the things it has taught (and continues to teach) me. Learning firsthand about how people (most of all me) react under pressure and learning to deal more gracefully with that pressure has made me more effective in business and in life. Likewise, sharpening skills of observation and attention toward the end of understanding the true motivations of other people and evaluating the truthfulness of their statements and actions is of clear value across all aspects of everyday life. And finally, I happen to enjoy it. I don't have time these days to play as much as I'd like but it ranks high on a shrinking list of leisure activities in an ever more time-crunched life as a (judging by the Senators' standards crossed with my love of poker, apparently degenerate, albeit well-employed) technologist. So, Senators Padavan, Rath, and Volker, you intend to tell me that after working a 12 hour day that I can't open up the Full Tilt client and play a $10 poker tournament? You've all got to be out of your f**king minds.
You've got to be out of your minds to belong to a political party that campaigns on freedom and patriotism and smaller government, while bristling at the opportunity to get more involved in my personal and private life. See, I think I might actually be something of a conservative at heart. I like my freedom. I definitely like less government intervention in my personal life, and I'm not so crazy about the government getting overly involved in the business world either. When I hear people talk about conservatism or look at a definition of the term, those things seem to be at the core, but when I see the government trying to waste my tax dollars to prevent me from taking part in one of my favorite pastimes, led by people who call themselves 'conservatives', I have a lot of trouble figuring out how those three little brains of yours and the fellow members of your party reconcile that discrepancy.
You've got to be out of your minds to think that blocking access to pieces of the internet that a few people in Washington or Albany find offensive, dangerous, immoral, or (most importantly as you will see) unprofitable to your district, is a good idea. I know of a few other places that have formed a habit of this sort of policy. China, Iran, and Pakistan come to mind. I don't think that many of us here care to start down that road. A lot of the people reading this probably don't care too much about poker, but there's an above average chance that they do care a lot about the Internet. I, for one, certainly do, and I intend that it remain free (as in freedom) and open. Free and open doesn't mean free and open as the U.S. and NY state governments see fit. It means free and open.
So most of all, you've got to be out of your minds to think that this will work. In a world where corporations who specialize in developing technology spend millions of dollars to secure products, only to have them, almost without exception, cracked open by individuals and loosely banded groups of high school and college kids within days of their release, do you really think the government is going to be able to do a better job at putting the genie back in the bottle? So, Senators, ever hear of a proxy? Ever hear of Tor? Didn't think so.
In every case posted above, hackers have found ways to circumvent the government imposed censorship. Don't you think we crazy, free-spirited Americans will do the same? Want to make that illegal too? Then you'd better start lobbying for some new taxes to build some new prisons, because they'll be bursting at the seams. Incidentally, there is reason to believe that this is one of Sen. Volker's political goals, since as the April 26, 2007 op-ed in the Times Union, Spitzer must lead drug law reform points out, he has a disproportionately large number of the state's prisoners in his district, making him an economic proponent of an active correctional system. Beyond that, a Prison Policy Initiative article places Volker high on the list of NY politicians who are benefiting from gerrymandering which is pushed across the boundary of legality only by counting the population of their districts' packed prisons.
Does Senator Volker plan to fill more prisons with thousands of online poker players? I doubt it, or at least I hope not. In fact, the text of the bill continues to absolve the players of our sins. But he does like keeping his districts stuffed full of non-violent minor drug offenders, and it's tough to promote the cruel hand of justice to one politically marginalized group and tolerance to another. So when his district's financial well-being depends on full prisons, tolerance becomes a dirty word.
But, all of that is really a secondary concern, and now it's time for the payoff—the Ace on the River if you will. The real reason the government is, both at the state and federal level, against online gaming is (big surprise) that they want their hand in the rake bucket. This press release from Senator Volker's own website describes another new piece of legislation that he has just introduced that would provide an equal share of casino profits to his rural constituents. Gone is the ruse of the moral high ground, and we're left with the truth. The senator wants a thriving casino pumping money into his district's budget. Some coincidence that in the process, he wishes he could just get rid of that pesky little computer network that happens to be providing stiff competition.
The Senators should not be blamed for this. Their job is to stand up for their constituents, but their methods and judgment are horribly wrong. Devise a plan to tax online gaming, fine. Start a successful online casino of your own, fine. Find a way to use online gaming to promote your district's casino (which for anyone who's waited for a table at a brick and mortar cardroom since the online and TV poker boom is not a difficult thing to imagine), fine. But don't tamper with the freedom of the Internet and the freedom of your state's citizens in an effort to funnel a few extra dollars into your district's coffers. That's just wrong. And so yes, for shamelessly sponsoring that idea in the NY state legislature, all of you, Senator Volker, Senator Padavan, and Senator Roth, are out of your f**king minds.
So what are we to do? If you support the fight for the freedom of poker, consider joining the Poker Players Alliance, an organization chaired by retired NY State Senator Alfonse D'Amato that lobbies for the rights of poker players and keeps us informed of current affairs like New York State Senate bill S66, through email alerts like this:
Poker needs your help! On Tuesday, March 11th your state Senator will vote on legislation (S.66) which will force Internet Service Providers like AOL, Google and MSN to block their customers from accessing lawful Internet poker Web sites and other gaming on the Internet.
This is a direct assault by the New York State Senate to censure your rights to access the Internet to play poker or similar games in the comfort and security of your own home.
Before Tuesday, please call Sen. Martin Connor at (518) 455-2625.
- I am voter in your district and a poker player
- I strongly oppose S.66 because it restricts the free flow of information and services over the Internet
- New York should not follow the example of repressive countries that censor the activities of their citizens on the Internet.
- Please vote NO on S.66
With your help we can stop this outrageous bill. Please call your Senator TODAY!
After your call, tell us how it went by clicking here.
Proud to Play Poker,
Alfonse D'Amato, Chairman
Poker Players Alliance
Whether or not you specifically support the game of poker, if you dislike the idea of the flow of Internet traffic being restricted by the government, find your Senator and call and tell them so. The vote is on Tuesday, March 11.
My sincere thanks go out to Al D'Amato and the rest of the members of PPA for taking a stand for the rights of poker players and ultimately, all Americans.