WSOP 2016: A sacrifice worth the cause

What--outside of losing all his chips--could make 2003 World Series of Poker champion Chris Moneymaker stand up from his chair after the first level of Main Event play and bolt for the door? What could make him run out into the desert heat, cut short a conversation with fellow champ Joe Hachem, and cram himself into a convertible Mustang? What could make him direct his driver to the Gold Coast with instructions to have the car running in an hour?

Well, only the future of online poker in America could do that.

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Moneymaker, still keen to add another gold bracelet to his wrist, would normally not abandon his Day 1C stack for anything longer than a bathroom break. Today, however, after one level of play, he decided to blind out for as long as it took to support one of poker's biggest causes.

Moneymaker was due to meet his fellow American online poker supporters Jason Somerville, John Pappas, and Lee Jones at a roundtable to discuss the long-standing and ongoing fight to regulate online poker in America.

Jones didn't want to waste any time getting everyone seated.

"Every minute that we don't start is a minute Chris Moneymaker is not in the Main Event," Jones said.

"Sit the hell down," Moneymaker quipped before reconsidering. "I'm doing a lot better here than I am in the Main Event."

In any case, it was time to address the 800lb gorilla riding on the elephant in the room.

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Somerville, Pappas, Jones, and Moneymaker


A decade in the dark


"We're coming up on a decade since the passage of UIGEA," Jones began.

For those who don't remember the end of summer in 2006, that's the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act, an 11th hour piece of legislation slipped secretly into an American port security bill that changed the way online poker operated in America forever.

Since that moment, advocates like Jones and Pappas, the Executive Dirctor of the Poker Players Alliance, have been working tirelessly toward the ultimate goal of having online poker regulated in America.

"We're really beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel," Jones said.

Nevertheless, Pappas pointed out, while we may be living in an era of instant gratification, online poker regulation hasn't and won't happen just because poker players want it to.

"Lawmakers don't work that way," Pappas said. "It's a slog."

The struggle is real. In the time since UIGEA and 2011's Black Friday when the American government essentially ended online poker in the United States, only three states have passed laws regulating internet poker. It's a start, but it's nowhere close to the glory days of the game.

So, why the optimism?

It's a good question.


Building the corridor


It's been a couple of years since New Jersey opened its state up to online poker. PokerStars joined the field earlier this year and raised that's state's online poker revenue by 30%. While it's a success story, it's nowhere close to where the PPA wants to be.

To hear Pappas tell it, it's a matter of education, both for players and lawmakers. Every year that looks like a defeat in some state legislature is actually the product of several months of successful education. Now, after ten such years of education, lawmakers are starting to see the light.

Pappas said it's very possible the state of California could vote on an online poker bill as early as August. Meanwhile, a surprise bill in Michigan seems to be on the fast track in that state. Both, as far as Pappas is concerned, are reasons to be hopeful.

The real action, though, is in Pennsylvania.

"Literally, as we're speaking, they are talking about that bill," Pappas said. "Often, internet gaming is considered controversial. In Pennsylvania, that's not the case."

Pappas said most of the arguments happening in other states over online poker just haven't been issues in Pennsylvania. It's simply a matter of budget questions, and if those get solved, an online poker bill passage could be a reality there faster than anyone expects.

"Quite frankly, it could happen tonight," he said.

That's where things could get interesting. If Pennsylvania comes online so close to New Jersey, it could inspire other states in the northeast corridor to follow suit. New York was very close to passing its own bill this year. With Pennsylvania comes New York? Who knows, but if it happens, Pappas thinks the eastern seaboard could become a hotbed of online poker action.

"I think the dominoes start falling then," he said.

But for a domino to fall, you've got to have some one to push it. That's where it gets tricky again.


Tipping the domino


If online poker has a friend, it's Jason Somerville, the always-Twitch-streaming, regularly-shouting advocate for the ages.

When PokerStars went online in New Jersey, Somerville went there, turned on his camera, and streamed live content for six weeks. The result? Four hundred thousand unique visitors, all of whom got a taste of what online poker looks like while hearing an important message: advocacy is easy if you just make the effort.

"It literally takes you 30 seconds to contact your representatives," Somerville said today.

He does it all the time. He's talked to lawmakers in many states, and he'll keep doing it. But no matter how many millions of viewers he has, he is only one voice. He wants a chorus.

Fellow New York poker player Vanessa Selbst said the advocacy will start with educating the would-be advocates.

"The biggest thing is for people to know how they can help," she said.

It will take, they said, a combined effort of people making the decision to speak up, and then going to the Poker Players Alliance website and figuring out the best way to do it. After that, it's a matter of spreading the word to fellow players--at the table, on Facebook, and anywhere they can find someone who will listen.

The point is this, Pappas said: if people in favor of regulated online poker in America don't speak up, lawmakers and regulators will only hear from people who oppose the game.

"We need to make sure we're twice as loud," he said.

What's more, he said, people who live in states that aren't currently battlegrounds shouldn't sit idly by. He likened the cause to the multi-state lotteries. Once Powerball started spreading across America, even states that traditionally didn't cotton to gambling felt compelled to come on board. That is, for instance, if you live in South Carolina, it's just as much your responsibility to advocate as it is for someone who lives in Pennsylvania or New York.

And that's why Chris Moneymaker temporarily abandoned his WSOP Main Event stack for a little while. He lives in Mississippi, a place where he cannot legally play online. When Moneymaker wants to play on PokerStars, he flies to New Jersey. He doesn't hate it, but he'd much rather play from his own sofa.

"If I could sit in my own state and play, that would be an amazing thing," Moneymaker said.

For now, however, he has to be content to hop back in the convertible Mustang, zoom back across Valley View, and retake his seat in the WSOP Main Event. While he tries to rebuild his stack, he can think about the day when he might once again be able to qualify online for this event from the comfort of his own home.


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is the PokerStars Head of Blogging. Follow him on Twitter: @BradWillis. WSOP photos by PokerPhotoArchive.com.

Brad Willis
@BradWillis in PokerStars news