The Ebola Poker Scare

December 18, 2014

Recently, I was playing poker at the Commerce Casino and heard a player tell a dealer he would send her to Africa so she can get Ebola. Without skipping a beat, she replied, “When I come back, I’ll give you a big wet kiss!” When I tweeted that story, it was supposed to be humorous, but someone replied that the dealer should be arrested for making a death threat. It’s a perfect example of how out of hand the Ebola scare was in the U.S.

Ebola dominated news headlines in the United States this fall. There was a huge panic in areas where patients were being treated. Parents kept their kids home from school. Many politicians sounded off about how poorly the situation was handled. It was almost like a scene out of the movie Contagion.

The truth is, the Ebola situation was actually handled pretty well. While it is a real danger in Africa where there is little access to good healthcare, no one who remained in the United States during the scare died from the disease. Two people died after coming from Africa and not getting treated here in time to be saved, but the few care workers who were infected are now cured.

Thousands of people in the United States die every year from the flu and other contagious diseases, and yet we had a nationwide panic over a disease that didn’t permanently hurt anyone here? Ebola is not nearly as contagious as a lot of other diseases. It isn’t airborne and is only transmitted through bodily fluids. As a matter of fact, I think those of us who play live poker are more in danger of getting sick from the dirty poker chips we use than if we’d been in the same room with someone who contracted Ebola.

So why was everyone making such a fuss about Ebola? The short answer is it was the month before an election. When something scary and newsworthy comes up near an election, everyone who is not in office will blame those currently in power for not doing a good job. Politicians are great at fear mongering and in this case, it made the story blow up.

Those of us who play poker know all about fear mongering. It’s the reason we’re not playing online poker in the United States anymore. One casino owner is spending millions of dollars to scare people into believing it’s safe to gamble in his casinos, but unsafe to play online poker in the privacy of your own home. Politicians love to scare people by telling them online poker is used to launder money for terrorists. They love to talk about how online poker will lead to an epidemic of underage gambling, when in reality, age verification protocols have made this problem virtually nonexistent. I’ve had conversations with politicians who try to bring up the underage argument and I’ll remind them that I’m a father too. How many of you have had a problem with your kids trying to play online poker? And how many have had a problem with your kids chatting online to strangers that could potentially put them in danger? How many have had to discipline kids for spending too much time on Facebook or other social media platforms? How many have opened up a credit card statement to discover their kids ran up hundreds of dollars of charges for in-app purchases on an iPhone game? As parents, we all have issues with our kids doing stuff online that we don’t want them to do, but it’s almost never playing online poker.

Now that the U.S. elections are over, we’re already hearing a lot less about Ebola. I think it will stay that way. Hopefully, since we don’t have another election cycle for two years, we won’t have to deal with politicians trying to scare us about Ebola and online poker and we’ll again have the freedom to play in the safety and privacy of our own homes.


Barry Greenstein is a member of Team PokerStars Pro


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