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Marcin Horecki: "You Shouldn’t Ask Voters About Gambling Laws"
Marcin Horecki was a ski jumper, a member of the Polish Alpine Skiing team and a financial adviser before he became a poker player.
He's also been known to dabble in Go-Karting and high-end Rally Car simulators.
Needless to say, he knows a bit about risk. And things that are best left to experts.
Now a long-time member of Team PokerStars Pro, these days Horecki spends a lot of his time trying to convince Polish politicans poker's not exactly the evil influence they make it out to be.
Dropping in on EPT Prague after a November visit to the Battle of Malta Horecki sat down with PokerListings to talk sports, politics, and why he doesn’t feel shortchanged at all from poker.
PokerListings: You play as "Goral" online. What does that actually mean?
Marcin Horecki: It means “man from the mountains." I come from the city of Zakopane, which is in the mountains. When I moved to a different area people started calling me “Goral” because of where I come from.
That nickname just stuck with me, so I used it for my online nickname. Zakopane is famous for its ski jumping hill. I used to do ski jumping myself, before I switched to downhill.
PL: Don’t you need a bit of a death wish to be a ski jumper?
MH: Actually, downhill is far more dangerous than jumping. Alpine skiers incur a lot more injuries.
Adam Malysz, the ski jumping superstar, is from the same area as me and we probably started in the same competitions as children.
PL: What was your furthest jump?
MH: About 40-50 meters.
PL: Do you think that’s good?
MH: I was ten.
PL: Carry on, please.
MH: My home is a region where many sports stars come from. Another one is the former Formula 1 driver Robert Kubica, who is also a poker player and who I used to play with.
He later resorted to rally driving but then he got injured badly. He’s still driving though, because he loves sports. I am a big fan of Go-Karting and rally, too.
PL: So you drive a rally car?
MH: I’ve done it on an amateur level but at home I have a rally simulator complete with the full equipment of three monitors and a proper cockpit, wheel, pedals and seat.
PL: Are there online competitions in this?
MH: Yes, of course. Adam Malysz and Robert Kubica play it, too. It’s called Richard Burns Rally and it’s the best rally simulation in the world.
By the way, Robert Kubica is the Polish online champion.
PL: Where do you live and play today?
MH: I still live in Poland but our legislation is very strict and you are not allowed to play online.
However, it is still possible to play in Poland. The sites are not blocked. You can play but the law says it’s illegal.
PL: So you go abroad if you want to play?
MH: … Yes. Poland’s legislation is terrible. Poker is illegal but other gambling games are not. Same with brick-and-mortar casinos.
And taxation is insane. We are the only country that has a gambling tax of 25% on every tournament prize pool in addition to the fee.
If you min-cash, you still get less money than your buy-in. So you can imagine that almost nobody plays.
And cash games are not allowed at all, which is absurd. Even home games are illegal. This ridiculous regulation goes back to a political scandal.
PL: What happened?
MH: Three members of the governing party were discussing changes of the gambling legislation with casino representatives.
The conversation was recorded and handed to the media. When it went public the party decided to turn around and cut down on everything that’s related to gambling.
Within literally two weeks Poland became the most restricted place in Europe. The 25% tax is just a totally random number.
PL: What’s your function as a poker representative in Poland?
MH: I am the president of the Polish players association called Freepoker. As the association is legally confirmed we are allowed to speak to politicians on an official level.
It is one of my main tasks to speak to politicians to convince them that poker is a game of skill and not a random lottery or a gambling game like Roulette. I think we are moving in the right direction but there is still a lot to do.
You can learn a lot from poker, for example about statistics and mathematics. You don’t learn from Roulette but somehow Roulette is legal in Poland and poker isn’t.
It’s a pity because Polish players are very good at games like bridge and chess which have many similarities with poker. On top of that the government should not be entitled to tell people what they do in their spare time.
PL: Then you are talking to the media, too?
MH: Yes, of course. I am connected to 50 to 100 different media – newspapers, TV stations, weekly magazines, full time bloggers, everything.
We are regularly taking 6-10 of them to EPT events to show them what’s happening. We play a couple of Sit-and-Gos with them and introduce them to the poker world.
Most of them come back and say, 'wow, this is how it should be in Poland, too.' In fact I've never had a single person speak negatively about poker after that kind of experience.
PL: So if you take politicians with you, would that change things?
MH: Not on the official side. Of course, one problem is that the people who are responsible often don’t know anything about the game.
But even if they did, they would be reluctant to change the policy. The reason is a mixture of political, social and religious issues.
Poland is a very religious country. 80% of the population knows nothing about poker, but they think that gambling is bad for religious reasons.
So even if politicians would change their minds and become more tolerant they would probably not admit it because they would be afraid to lose votes of the conservatives in the society.
But you shouldn’t ask the voters about gambling laws, you should ask experts. I see a weakness of democracy here, because people who have no idea about certain subjects have the same number of votes as experts.
PL: Should we have something else than democracy then?
MH: Democracy has weaknesses, but it’s still the best political system. But it would be better if pundits had more to say than other people.
But then it would be dangerous if we would give more votes and political power to the smarter people.
PL: Wouldn’t it be good if the smart people have the power?
MH: Theoretically, yes. But even the smart individuals tend to become greedy and want too much power.
PL: In recent history several high-stakes players have complained about missing sense in their lives. You never have.
MH: The difference is I’m not playing the high buy-in tournaments. If you play at the top of the top levels with incredible amounts of money all the time, it can wear you out.
For me, it’s different. I have a life outside of poker. I have family. I have hobbies. I balance my life much more than them.
So, I am very happy with the life I lead. I was lucky enough to make money before I was getting too old to spend it. I can do many things that make me happy and I’m enjoying my life.
PL: One of these things is the “Noble Package” charity.
MH: Yes. It’s the second biggest charity in Poland. If you have money, you go to a mall and buy food, clothes and other things for a family in need and send it to the organization in a package. They forward it.
About 150 players in Poland were involved in it last year and when I asked PokerStars they added some extra money for it, too.
The senders remain anonymous if the poor family receiving the goods wants it so. Many people are so ashamed of being poor, they don’t want any names named.
It is a nice way to help people on a local level. Also, if names go public, there would always be a meeting where people express their gratitude and it would all end in a lot of tears on all sides.
PL: The Polish people are supposedly very emotional.
MH: Yes, we are very intense. That’s how we roll. (laughs)