Something has awakened the forces of the red and the blue in this country, the Democrats, and the Republicans, the political right and the also politically right, but kinda left. A mighty beast that has been lurking in the back rooms of bars and the basements of homes for years has finally come forth from the shadows and is breathing down the necks of nicely structured suburban families everywhere. It has moved into the front room in pubs and taverns. It has set up shop in the living rooms of suburbia. It is a beautiful revelation for some, and a repulsive rising for others. Alright, enough of the metaphors, right?
Poker has awakened the legislature of many states, some for bad, and some for good. States from east to west are taking a look at poker and related laws, but not all are clamping down. In fact, some are taking advantage of the soaring popularity, figuring to take a piece of the pie for their home state to improve the life (and ease the pressure on the wallets) of their constituents.
A Senate committee in the state of Minnesota recently gave the go-ahead nod to a bill that would put poker in the same class as gin, cribbage, and bridge. If the bill passes the two chambers, poker can be played in bars and businesses as long as the business does not directly benefit, prizes totaled less than $200, and actual money is not involved. Senator Dave Kleis, a Republican from St. Cloud, Minnesota, introduced the bill to committee after a local bowling alley was raided for holding poker tournaments. Kleis thinks that poker tournaments with no buy-in should be regarded similarly to other games, going as far as to compare poker to softball. No one testified against the bill, although it was amended to allow local governments to charge businesses a fee to hold the tournaments. Using "The Poker Craze" to make money? That is a no-brainer.
Oregon's House of Representatives recently passed House Bill 231l. The bill's purpose is to make charity poker tournaments legal. Currently, the only types of casino games allowed to benefit charities are games where players bet against the house, such as Black Jack or Craps. Although this may seem near-meaningless for many of us poker players, as the tournaments would still only be legal if benefiting charity, it is at least a step in the right direction. Annie Duke was recently denied holding a tournament to benefit the public schools of Oregon, partly due to the law, and also due to the schools refusing to accept the money since it involved a game of chance. Many charities will likely benefit greatly from this, as not only do many people like attending charity nights that involve casino games, but many poker players will be looking for a live game to play.
Connecticut State Representative Brian O'Connor (a Democrat) introduced a bill making it legal to hold poker tournaments in bars and restaurants, as long as no direct profit is derived from the tournaments. The move would boost revenue for those establishments that have complained of declining business as of late. Unfortunately, the Mohegan tribe that owns casinos in Connecticut, is not happy with the bill. The tribe currently hold an agreement with that state that makes the state about $400 million from slots at the Mohegan Sun and the Foxwoods casinos. The Mohegans will pull away from that agreement should that bill pass, claiming it will hurt their business, although the Mohegan Sun closed its poker room years ago. In fact, there are currently games going on at many restaurants in Connecticut. Police are currently conferring with prosecutors and holding back, trying to get official word on whether the games should be stopped. The Mohegans plan to pull their funding, regardless of the bill's life, if police stand back and take a hands-off approach to those games. They are basically forcing Connecticut to crack down on poker games, or else lose $400 million per year.
Then of course there is North Dakota and House Bill 1509, which could legalize online poker play there, and allow online rooms to set up camp in the good ol' U S of A.
However, many states are taking the opposite stance, a hard stand against poker and its evil chips and cards. Games are being raided across the country, including, ironically, Texas, where only 9 out of 78 people ticketed for gambling are fighting the charges in court. North Carolina is hammering down on tournaments. Michigan has sent a message to all establishments that poker tournaments involve too much luck to be legal.
Hopefully those legislators that see no harm in poker tournaments will step forward in more and more states in the coming year. The states currently attempting to blaze a trail are setting a great example for the rest of union. Those of us still forced to lurk in the shadows and shiver in the basements are quickly ushered into living room on a cushy leather chair, and encouraged to play our hands!
Mostly to Connecticut, I wish good luck and good odds.