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2008 Nice List
On nearly every level, history will measure 2008 by its failures, and not its successes. Stock markets imploded, Main Street put up a gigantic "for sale" sign, and a whole new generation of people learned the hard way who Mr. Ponzi was.
In the midst of all of this bad news, online poker remained popular, but did suffer some slings and arrows of its own on the judicial and legal fronts.
Therefore, in acknowledging the people and organizations that did the most in 2008 to help the online poker industry, we must measure our successes more by intentions than by achievements. And when we toast the New Year, we should say "cheers" to the following people who made our "nice" list.
Poker Players Alliance
Whether their efforts have borne fruit this year may be up for debate, but there is no argument that the Poker Players Alliance has taken the role of the super heroes of poker players' rights, swooping in to fight bad laws wherever they find them.
In March, they helped defeat a bill in Massachusetts that offered to establish three licensed brick and mortar casinos in exchange for creating stiff criminal penalties for playing poker and other games on the Internet.
Rallying at the state house, carrying signs proclaiming "POKER IS NOT A CRIME," the PPA and its supporters were able make sure the bill did not make it out of Committee and into law.
PPA kept its members alert to threats to their right to play poker all around the country, and took special interest in the attack by the Commonwealth of Kentucky on online gambling sites, filing amicus briefs and sending their support to the court hearings.
The PPA fought to stop the Bush Administration from releasing its final rules implementing the UIGEA and is fighting to have the midnight rules overturned.
And after the 60 Minutes' story on the online poker cheating scandals threatened to let the air out of efforts to get Congress to license online poker in Congress, the PPA launched an ad campaign in Capitol Hill area newspapers supporting regulation of online poker.
PokerStars used its name and reputation to span the globe to bring poker tournaments to every corner of the world. This year it launched the Latin American Poker Tournament, the first foray of a major poker tournament into South America.
As stated in their announcement of the new tour, "The LAPT is going to put Latin America on the map as the newest hotspot to play high-stakes international poker."
The premier season of the LAPT included stops in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, San Jose, Costa Rica, and Punta del Este, Uruguay. PokerStars had expected approximately 250 players to attend and a prize pool of over $600,000, but they exceeded expectations with 314 entrants and a prize pool of $785,000.
The second leg drew almost 400 players and had a prize pool of almost $1 million. The third stop saw 351 players compete for over $850,000.
The initial launch of the LAPT was so successful that only three months later, Season 2 was underway with a return trip to Costa Rica. But the LAPT hit a snag in Nueva Vallarta, Mexico, where the tournament was shut down by Mexican authorities.
The remaining 89 players were compensated by PokerStars - they had their PokerStars accounts credited with $500, they each received $5,000 in cash (twice the tournament buy-in) and the rest of the prize money was divided among them based on chip counts.
PokerStars also scheduled an online freeroll for those players, which would be played down to a live final table held in conjunction with the upcoming LAPT Vina del Mar stop in Chile at the beginning of 2009
PokerStars was not done expanding poker around the world. In December, it announced the launch of the Russian Poker Tour in January 2009, bringing "elite poker tournaments to the country's most prestigious venues."
There is no bigger friend to online poker in the Congress than the 14-term Representative from the 4th District in Massachusetts. Barney Frank has said that his pro-gambling position is based on his views about personal freedom and the proper role of the government in the private lives of Americans.
"If it affects me, mind your own business," he said. "If affects others, let the government get involved."
Frank tried twice in 2008 to prevent the UIGEA, which he has called one of the stupidest laws ever passed, from being implemented. The first bill, H.R. 5767, cosponsored by Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), was introduced in April but failed to get enough votes to get out of Committee in June.
In September, Frank introduced a modified version of the earlier bill, now H.R. 6870, that would have prohibited the U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve from enacting any regulation of the UIGEA except for sports betting.
This bill passed out of Committee with a 30-19 vote, but failed to come up for vote before the end of the Congressional session. Frank has already indicated his intention to reintroduce the legislation in the 2009 congressional session.
The iMEGA is a not-for-profit trade association representing the online industry. Pushing for openness and freedom on the Internet, iMEGA's focus in 2008 has been on the direct attacks on online gambling at the state and national level.
Headed by Chairman Joe Brennan Jr. and General Counsel Edward Leyden, iMEGA has led the legal fight against efforts to ban Internet poker.
This year saw iMEGA granted "associational standing" to challenge the UIGEA on behalf of its members and the Internet gambling industry as a whole. This was a significant ruling that allowed iMEGA to continue its fight against the UIGEA in court. Now on appeal, iMEGA's lawsuit seeks to overturn the UIGEA as unconstitutional.
Whether or not it's successful, the lawsuit has already brought the absurdity of the UIGEA under spotlight: its vague language, its carve outs for certain online activities, its inconsistencies.
As Law Professor Joseph Kelly said, "I think iMEGA's case helps bring out the silliness of this U.S. law that can't possibly be enforced and only encourages people to break the law. They may not win the fight, but they bring out some great points. And the more that the absurdity of this law is brought out into the open, the better."
The iMEGA legal team has been active in the other significant attack on online gambling, such as Kentucky's effort to seize the domain names of 141 online gambling sites. While Kentucky was moving at break-neck speed to have the sites' domain names forfeited before the end of the year, iMEGA was successful in putting the brakes on by obtaining a stay of the forfeiture hearing pending appeal.
Michael DeDonno and Douglas Detterman
Part of the dispute over whether online poker should be restricted surrounds the luck-versus-skill argument. Those supporting online poker maintain that, unlike other forms of gambling - such as the lottery, slot machines and roulette - poker is a game of skill.
Michael DeDonno, a doctoral student, and Douglas Detterman, a psychologist, both from the Department of Psychology at Case Western Reserve University, released the findings of their two-part study into the issue earlier this year announcing "Poker is a Skill."
The researchers conducted two separate studies providing empirical evidence to answer the question. In the first stage, players with limited experience in poker were asked to play a simulated game.
Then they were split into two groups, one given some strategies and another given information on the history of poker but with no strategies. After playing two hundred hands, they evaluated the results and found that students given some strategies did better than those without.
"If it had been pure luck in winning, then the strategies would not have made a difference for the two groups," DeDonno said.
To validate the study, it was run again, but this time with 720 hands played. While all players improved to some extent the more they played, those given poker strategy did better than the untrained group.
2009 is certainly going to bring as many challenges as 2008. Protecting the right to play poker is going to take vigilance, determination, and perseverance. Show your support at either the local or national level by joining the PPA or another organization fighting for your right to play poker.
And maybe - just maybe - next year we will only need a "nice" list.
Related Article: 2008 Online Poker Scrooge Awards