Should Poker Put the Skill-Game Issue Aside?
Ever since the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act was passed by Congress three years ago, poker advocates have been trying to distinguish poker from other forms of gambling as a skill game.
This only makes sense. As pokers players, we have a sense of pride that our success on the felt — virtual or otherwise — is based upon our analytical minds. It is insulting to us for poker to be grouped with other casino games that, at best, offer only the opportunity to maximize one's chances.
But, as much as it would stroke our egos to have poker declared a skill game, it might be time to put this argument to rest and focus on the whole picture. Politically, it's the smart move.
Most politicians don't care what factors go into whether you decide to bet, flat-call or check-raise. They don't take into consideration anything that happens after the flop. They stop paying attention as soon as money is put into the pot. That's when it becomes gambling, no matter how much skill is involved.
"To have it on the official record that poker is a game of skill only has meaning to us poker players," said Joe Brennan Jr., chairman of the Interactive Media Entertainment and Gaming Association. "It has no meaning to Congress. They say, 'Game of skill or game of chance, whatever, it's gambling.'"
Politically, it could make more sense to accept bingo, casino games and other forms of gambling as partners in the pursuit of legalization and regulation.
There are two bills in Congress to legalize and regulate the industry: Sen. Robert Menendez's (D-N.J.) Internet Poker and Games of Skill Regulation, Consumer Protection, and Enforcement Act in the Senate; and Rep. Barney Frank's (D-Mass.) Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection, and Enforcement Act in the House.
As is easy to see by the names, the Senate bill distinguishes poker as a skill game while the House bill does not. If poker advocacy groups could choose a bill, it would be the one from Menendez. But Frank is poker's only Congressional ally powerful enough to push controversial legislation through, and Frank doesn't care if poker is a skill game.
"I don't make that distinction," Frank told me in January. "I don't care if it's a skill game or pure luck. If people want to play poker or gin rummy or pinochle, it's none of my business."
To Frank, gambling is a matter of personal freedom.
If the online poker industry lets go of the skill argument, it can partner with other games to create a uniformed front.
The Poker Players Alliance recently partnered with horse racing via the National Thoroughbred Racing Association in attempting to delay the compliance date for the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act.
Further partnerships could help Internet poker's cause more than separating itself from games that don't require as much skill. If Congressmen, including Frank, are going to group poker with all other forms of gambling anyway, the industry might as well take advantage by uniting with the supporters of those games.
Signing up for an online poker account is still easy and legal for players in most states. Check out our full list of online poker rooms and sign up today.