Rant: Poker Needs More Defenders of the Cause

Nolan Dalla

Billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson recently told the world, via an editorial in on Forbes.com, that online poker is a ‘train wreck’ and a ‘cancer waiting to happen’.

When a college dropout who has made billions in the casino entertainment and gambling business says that, people sit up and take notice.

The Chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation has unsheathed his sword and made a lunge at online poker. So what about the defense? How is online poker going to defend itself from the blade that is heading at the heart of the industry?

There is no defense. The blade will pierce the heart and the damage will be done. Poker players cannot win a battle against Sheldon Adelson because there is no organization.

Poker players are conditioned to tread a lonely path. They stand and fight on their own. They don't always understand that there is strength in numbers.

But, for all of the blindness, there are a few people who can see. One of these men is World Series of Poker Media Director Nolan Dalla. The respected poker author didn’t just soak up the Adelson vitriol; he tried to do something about it.

He used his own platform to blow the bugle and see who would come running. He is a smart man and can see that strength in numbers is the only way online poker can even dare to put on the gloves in a fight against Adelson.

Adelson Says Poker Not a Game of Skill

Dalla asked poker players to boycott the Venetian Poker Room July 22-26 after he took umbrage to Adelson’s comments suggesting poker is not a game of skill.

Adelson was quoted as saying, “Skill based is, in my opinion, just a bunch of baloney. To get a card is not skill based. I know people say it is skill based, but it’s just so they can categorize it in a certain segment.”

Sheldon Adelson
Sheldon Adelson

Those dates have now passed and it was hard to see the effects of the boycott. The activity in the Venetian Poker Room was essentially business as usual. Does it mean that Dalla’s attempts to create a tidal wave of poker power fell on deaf ears?

Unfortunately, you cannot manage what you cannot measure and you cannot measure the success of Dalla’s retaliation, which is why this attempt to get Adelson to refute his comments is unmanageable.

There are two reasons why I don’t believe you will ever hear Adelson eat his words.

  • He really does believe that poker is a game of luck.
  • Poker players are too lazy to unite into the army needed to get what they want.

During the WSOP reporters interviewed bracelet winners directly after their wins and the majority of the interviews have one theme in common. I've read and watched most of them and that theme is ‘run good’. They won their bracelets because they got lucky.

Is Poker Just a Skill-Game that's Largely Decided by Luck?

Poker is a game of skill, of that there is no doubt. But is the element of luck the deciding factor when it comes to the success or failure of professional poker players?

I ask this question because if the most skillful player wins the money in the long run, why are so many of the so-called skillful players broke? Are they really all that bad?

I need to know because I keep writing about how great they are and yet when you take expenses into consideration a lot of them are eating Pot Noodles for supper.

Matt Affleck
One unlucky river can change everything. Just ask Matt Affleck.

My opinion on whether poker is a game of skill, or luck, is an indifferent one. Take, for example, that 41m pot Jonathan Duhamel won against Matt Affleck in the 2010 WSOP Main Event.

What would a jackless, eightless or kingless river card have meant to the life of Duhamel? What would it have meant to the life of Affleck?

The eight hit the river and while Affleck was left crying in his cap, Duhamel went on to win over $8m spondoolees and pick up a coveted PokerStars sponsorship; Duhamel’s life changes.

He becomes friends with some of the best poker players in the world and his poker education increases as a result. He creates a friendship with Guy Laliberte, Cirque du Soleil founder, and gains a sponsorship with the biggest poker site in the world - all because an eight hit that particular river.

From that point onwards how can you compare the professional playing careers of Jonathan Duhamel and Matt Affleck? You're never going to understand the true roles of skill and luck.

Affleck cannot play as many tournaments as Duhamel can play. This is a huge problem in poker. The rich just get more opportunities to get lucky. They see more flips and they win more flips. The rich get richer and the rest are just like fish flapping around in a sea that Moses has decided to stop by and take a piss in. So I can see where Adelson gets his opinion from and why he will never change it.

Poker Players Must Work Together for Real Change

My second point is one of unity. I have 20 years of experience on the railroads. I have learned first hand the power of unity.

Nolan Dalla
Nolan Dalla understands collective bargaining.

I was once given a one-year secondment to try and formulate a strategy so the company didn’t have to bow down to the power of the train driver. It was an impossible task. The train driver on his own was nothing more than an annoying bee, but as a group it was like dropping a beehive down your pants.

Train drivers stuck together. They understood the power that they held as a group. They always got what they wanted because as a group they had the power to make a difference. They could bring the company to its knees. Poker players have that same ability, but they are never going to do anything about it.

Dalla said in his blog that he wanted to acknowledge the support of the many poker players who had told him privately that they are with the boycott in spirit, but cannot make a public statement in support because of various conflicts of interest. That encapsulates the problem for me.

During an interview with Greg Raymer at the WSOP we talked about the power that millions of poker players have when it comes to lobbying politicians for movement on a federal bill for online poker players.

He laid it on the line. The Poker Players Alliance (PPA) had made the process idiot-proof and quick. Poker players only have to type a few keys to increase the strength of the debate. But very few press those keys. That encapsulates the problem for me.

I applaud Nolan Dalla for making an effort and trying to protect what he loves. I also applaud everyone who has taken the decision to boycott every piece of brick and mortar associated with Sheldon Adelson.

But it will be for naught if somebody doesn’t find a way of uniting the strength of the poker community, so the true power of the players can not only finally create a sturdy defense, but also create one hell of an attack.

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