By Tommy Gagliano
Oh nice, you made a straight! Too bad your opponent has a flush. Oh that river card completed your ace-high flush? It also gave your opponent a full house. Holy crap you just flopped quads! Too bad your opponent has six-high and will fold immediately to any bet. Situations like these happen all too often in the world of online poker. If you’ve ever played you know exactly what I’m talking about. However, I’ll assume most of you haven’t played, since online poker is actually illegal in 47 of the 50 states, including New York.
Online gambling exists in some form in most states. The most notable form of online gambling that has become popular in recent years are daily fantasy sports (DFS) websites, such as DraftKings and FanDuel. Daily fantasy sites are now legal in 40 of the 50 states. If gambling on which athletes are going to perform well on a given day is acceptable, why is gambling on a game of poker unacceptable? The answer, of course, has nothing to do with morality. The lobbying pressure for daily fantasy sports to be legal was immense, and therefore changes occurred. No one thinks that online poker is any better or worse for society than daily fantasy sports, there just aren’t enough people that care about it to pressure politicians into action.
The initial ban on online poker goes back to the dated idea that gambling, and more specifically poker, are associated with criminal activity. Historically, there may have been some truth to this. Doyle Brunson, two-time World Series of Poker Main Event champion and author of Super System (also known as the Bible of Poker) used to tell people he worked at a factory in Fort Worth back in 1956, because “pro poker players were looked at like they were gangsters, thieves, and worse.” When asked how many pro poker players in the 50s and 60s actually were “gangsters, thieves, and worse” he responded “90%”. Although the stigma still lingers, a lot has changed since then. Poker has become a lot more mainstream, and many have been able to make a career out of it (without also being a gangster or a thief). According to their website, The World Series of Poker reached 123,865 entries in 2018. Tournaments are broadcast on TV channels such as ESPN. Although the legality of it is still questionable, you don’t need to associate with gangsters and such to get into a poker game anymore. I would even go as far as to argue that poker is actually beneficial for society. It is a very complicated game that requires a lot of skill. You need to think deeply about hands. You need to be able to interpret what your opponent is trying to tell you based on his or her actions (bets, checks, raises, etc) as well as his or her verbal and body language. You need to understand the mathematics of the game, such as how likely your flush draw is to hit on the turn or river or the odds you are getting if you call a bet. People that learn to play poker develop critical thinking skills that can be applied to other aspects of life.
But what if I’m wrong? What if poker is evil and detrimental to those that play it and all it does it suck money out of people’s wallets? What if everyone that plays a single hand instantly gets sucked into an unrelenting addiction? Ok fine, let’s assume that’s all true… so what? Why does it matter? It is still your money, and the outcomes only affect you. So you should be free to make that choice. The government has no right to tell you what you can and can’t do with your money. By the way, we already have something that fits those hyperbolic “what ifs” pretty well, and it’s legal. They’re called cigarettes.
If the logical appeal didn’t tickle your fancy, I guess I’ll try the emotional appeal. I just want to play some poker, man. Just let me play! Trying to find 5 to 8 friends to play with is a pain in the ass (*cough* unless you’re in the BU Poker Club *cough*). I just want to be able to play whenever I want, from the comfort of my own home. Sure there are sites where you can play with fake money, but those aren’t nearly as fun. When you don’t actually have anything at risk, there is much less of an incentive to fold. You can read that your opponent is weak, make a really strong play against him, and still get called by bottom pair no kicker and lose. So please, government, let me have some fun. Legalize online poker, so us poker players have more to do in our free time than J-K off.