Greenstein speaks out on Rousso hearing

Barry Greenstein

The Poker Players Alliance's Washington state director, Lee Rousso, had his day in court Thursday challenging the state's anti-online poker law.

To liven things up, the PPA held a rally outside the hearing venue at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent, Wash.

Two men appeared and spoke at the rally who are both world-class players and articulate voices defending the game: Andy Bloch and Barry Greenstein. I asked Greenstein in a phone interview Wednesday why he decided to make his voice heard in Seattle.

"What I'm afraid of is if I don't do anything, we'll have other people who probably won't articulate things as well as I can. And I think a lot of people in the poker community look up to me as someone who can speak well about these concepts.

"The main people I want to talk to are not the people who play poker, because let's face it, most of them will have a knee-jerk reaction because they like to play and won't listen that closely," said Greenstein.

"The people I want to talk to are the people who do have a problem with gambling and poker. I want to impress upon them that… we have to all be very careful when people are attacking our freedoms and our rights to do something in the privacy of our home.

"Maybe it's against their moral code, or they've heard stories about kids in college playing too much online poker like some of us have heard. And maybe in this case it's not something that some of those people would do themselves, but maybe next time they'll be coming to take away their freedom."

Kick the bums out

Greenstein hopes that by lending his support to the efforts against the Washington state law that made playing online poker a Class C felony and other measures such as the UIGEA, he can convince more to vote against the politicians who have supported those laws.

He cites the examples of politicians like Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa), who supported UIGEA in 2006 and then lost his seat in Congress in the subsequent election.

"Poker players are very hard to get together as a group - we compare it sometimes to herding cats," Greenstein said. "But in the last election… a very big silent voting bloc… saw very quickly that people are trying to come into our houses and take away our freedom, and they voted them out of office."

In particular he says he's concerned about those who put forth "ridiculous stories" that online poker is used by organized crime or terrorists to launder money.

"I think that in a time when the economy is bad and the war in Iraq is troubling people, [poker's enemies] can say, 'These people playing poker, it's not what you think, it's much bigger than that. We're doing something against organized crime.'

"I'm concerned that some people who are naive about this will say, 'Well, at least they're doing something. We heard that there are kids playing too much poker.' But in truth all they've done is invade people's privacy."

"I don't know if it's more important to us as poker players or just as Americans that we have our rights protected here," said Greenstein. "This thing needs to be shot down as soon as we can."

Down the road

"I expect the UIGEA to be overturned after the next election," Greenstein said, echoing a sentiment that seems common among the most active voices in the poker community.

So if that comes to pass, might it be that the UIGEA actually served a purpose? Could the law poker players despise so much have been a good thing?

"I don't see that it's a good thing," said Greenstein. "But you can make the case that when this whole thing is over we'll have collectively learned a lesson that one of the main founding points of America is the protection of personal freedom."

And in the end, once that lesson has been learned, Greenstein hopes that the economics of the poker industry will shift as a result.

"I would want the online companies to have their bases in the United States instead of in small countries in Europe and South and Central America," he said. "The majority of the players come from the United States, so I think the companies should be based [here] and be taxed so some of the money will go back into the economy."

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