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Players Refuse to Fold to New Rules

“I am a voter, I am a poker player and I am mad,” opens a letter to Congress from Poker Players Alliance, a non-profit organization.

In response to internet gambling provisions that pose an obstacle to online poker players, the letter asks every individual affected to protest the Security and Accountability for Every Port Act (SAFE) signed by President Bush on Oct. 13.

The act, which prohibits financial intermediaries from transferring money to online gambling services, essentially prevents players from using the credit cards in their wallets to pay for the playing cards in their hands.

Poker players on campus say that although the provisions may make it more difficult to gamble online, loopholes exist that allow them to keep up the pastime.

Will P. Deringer ’06, who told The Crimson last year that he played online poker 40 hours a week, has virtually folded. “I was concerned about keeping balances of money in online sites that might be subject to regularity restrictions,” he said.

But others question the act’s efficacy.

Neal Wadhwa ’09, whose friends created a facebook.com group exalting his online poker prowess, said he doubts the act “will be too effective if the poker sites don’t enforce it on themselves. The bill has no authority over banks in Europe.”

LAST-MINUTE SHUFFLE

The act aims to protect U.S. seaports, but at the last minute, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Act (UIGA) was appended. The provision—which bars banks from transferring money to online gambling sites—shuffles the rules, cuts loopholes, and deals a bad hand to internet cardholders everywhere.

“It was tacked on literally in the 12th hour on a port security bill as kind of a last chapter,” Poker Players Alliance spokesman John A. Pappas said. “The legislation was never given a hearing.” He added that “whether you play poker or not, the way that legislature was passed through was not a good representation of what our democratic system should look like.”

GETTING THEIR FIX

Harvard poker aficionados are quick to call certain loopholes to circumvent the provisions.

“The people that do have gambling problems are still going to have problems since they’ll just set up offshore accounts and make their money (or lose it) that way,” Jeremy T. Warshauer ’08 wrote in an e-mail.

“It really hurts the people that just play the game for fun and a little extra spending cash.” Warshauer, who placed in the top three in an online tournament sponsored by truepoker.com and walked away with $10,000, said he no longer plays the game.

Moreover, the restrictions may only accomplish the opposite of their intended corollary.

“By driving online gaming ever and ever deeper into the internet ‘black market,’ Congress is eliminating transparency from the process and endangering players,” Deringer said,

And others say that the provisions themselves would be difficult to implement.

“Prohibitions have never worked, and they certainly won’t work in the case of online poker,” Pappas said. “The internet is so ubiquitous, and the enforcement mechanisms, by putting the burden on the banks, [are] going to be very difficult to enforce.”

By driving the game into the black market, Pappas and students agreed that by targeting the more reputable shareholding sites, the provisions would not solve the problem of gambling disorders.

“Problem gambling exists in any situation in which there is money to be put to risk,” said Deringer, who added that he had encountered possible problem gamblers at Harvard.

Harvard, which has recognized the problem of excessive online gambling in the past, offers campus services for students in need.

“The Mental Health Services and Bureau of Study Counsel are resources for students who are concerned about their gambling,” said Bureau of Study Counsel Director Abigail Lipson, who declined to comment further on specific cases.

BETTING ON MORALS

Despite the potential perils of gambling, some object to the act itself because it can be seen as an attempt to address the morality of gambling.

“There are a hunk of people who just look at it as a moral religious point of view as just being wrong,” said Managing Director of Harvard Opinion Research Program John M. Benson.

“Obviously President Bush’s constituency has a large element of religious voters, but that hasn’t been the main reason [for the provision], I don’t think,” added Benson, who studied national attitudes towards gambling.

Kevin J. H. Paik ’07, who quit online poker last year, said he understood why people were opposed to gambling.

“I see why gambling is a problem in that I think it has very dangerous addictive qualities,” said Paik, who is a Crimson photo editor.

Wadhwa said that students who enjoy gambling shouldn’t lose their hobby at the expense of someone else’s addiction.

“People shouldn’t be forced not to gamble just because some people can’t control themselves,” he said. Poker “is a zero-sum game and everyone’s expected value is proportional to the how skilled they are.”

When asked how he would respond to someone who claimed poker was amoral, Warshauer answered, “I would stare them down. They would eventually crack, and I’d call their bluff.”
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