A gust of wind whipped snow against my back as I opened the door of the small casino and stepped inside. There were several "little people" arranged around the room, playing different games. "Wow, they really go all-out with the Christmas decorations around here," I thought, surveying the garlands, evergreen boughs and twinkling lights.
"It's about time you got here," a bearded big man at a poker table said as he tossed a bet into the pot. "Take your coat off and get in the game… we saved you a seat!"
I sat at the table and stared at the host, his cheeks aglow and a pipe clenched between his teeth. "S-Santa Claus?" I stammered.
The bearded man chuckled and replied, "Yes, you're right. I knew you couldn't resist coming to a game here at the North Pole, so me and the elves decided to get together outside of our normal game."
I was dealt in the next hand and my tablemates and I became engrossed in the Limit Hold'em game in progress. The eggnog flowed. After we'd played a bunch of hands - some of which I took - I looked over at Santa and said, "Shouldn't you be getting ready for Christmas?
Santa let out a hearty "Ho! Ho! Ho!" as he stood up from the table. "I am always working. In fact, that's one of the reasons I invited you to the game this evening," he said. "I need a little help with my list of who's been naughty and who's been nice. Let's go to my office."
We left the table and headed to a large oaken door with a simple gold plate on it that said Santa Claus - CEO. As we sat down at a huge desk, Santa popped out a gigantic book and opened it up. I glanced at the cover and noticed that it read "Naughty/Nice." Intrigued, I listened attentively to St. Nicholas as he spoke.
"This year it's been very difficult to determine who falls into the two categories," he admitted with a wave of his large hand. "I started by having the founders of NETeller in the 'naughty' category until I thought about their situation. Both John Lefebrve and Steve Lawrence weren't even involved in ownership of the company, yet the American government arrested them. This pushed NETeller into their decision to not allow Americans to use their e-wallet services for funding their poker accounts. After a good while, they finally did allow their American customers to get their money. Makes for a tough call.
"I also put Harrah's into the naughty category at first…," he started.
"You played at the World Series this year?" I asked, incredulous.
"Of course! It's a little warm in Las Vegas for me, but I couldn't miss the biggest poker tournament in the world! Now if my set of kings would only have stood up to that flush draw, I would have cashed in the Main Event…"
"Anyway," Kris Kringle continued, "I wanted to have Harrah's on the naughty list for that darned Poker Tent they erected for the Jerry Yang. Then they went and had the first ever World Series event outside of Las Vegas in London. The management at Harrah's made it clear that there's more to the poker world than just the United States and, for that, I decided to switch them to the 'nice' list.
"Then there are the guys at Absolute Poker," sighed Santa. "At first I wanted to put them on the naughty list because they didn't clarify the super-user issue when first questioned by online players - especially since it appears that a former employee and owner were involved in taking players for their money. But I'm waiting to see the final report of the investigation that's coming out. I have an elf on the inside who's supposed to get it to me soon. As you can see this is a very difficult job.
"So who do you have on the nice list?" I asked.
"Oh, that's the easy part," Santa laughed. "Annette_15 was always a good girl growing up. While I was a bit concerned when she started playing freerolls at such a young age, it's obvious she has a great deal of skill at the game. She made history as the youngest bracelet winner in the history of poker by winning the World Series Europe, then turned around and almost won a European Poker Tour event. And to top it all off, she's modest. Problem is, what do you give someone who's won $2.5 million dollars this last year?
"The folks at the Poker Players Alliance, the Safe and Secure Internet Gaming Initiative and iMEGA are all on the nice list too," he continued. "They're fighting an uphill battle against the UIGEA in the United States and it seems they're making some headway.
"The lawsuit that iMEGA has in the courts, the continued efforts of the PPA in lobbying Washington and the SSIGI's vigilance on all online gaming issues… it warms my heart that there are people out there fighting for my right to play poker. I even have some politicians on the list: Barney Frank, Shelley Berkley… and trust me, normally politicians don't make the nice list," Father Christmas laughed.
Finally I couldn't restrain myself any longer and blurted, "Which list am I on?"
With a hearty "Ho! Ho! Ho!", Santa Claus looked at me, suddenly bearing a strange resemblance to a long-deceased aunt of mine. "For the answer to that, you'll have to wait until Christmas Day."
As I slowly rubbed my eyes and shook the sleep from my head, I wondered what I had eaten the night before that would have caused such a crazy dream. Pulling on my jeans, I felt something in my pocket.
It was a poker chip wrapped in a scrap of candy cane-border paper. I looked at the $10k chip from the North Pole Casino and uncrumpled the piece of paper so I could make out the writing on it. Black ink in a calligraphic hand read, "You're staked for the next trip you make here. See you again soon and Happy Holidays. - Santa Claus."