Sunday, May 1, 2011

A letter to the Editor

This a letter I sent to the Daily Democrat, Davis Enterprise, The Sac Bee, and San Francisco Chronicle. Don't really expect to get published, but you never know :).

Dear Editor,

The issue that causes me to write to you today is online poker legalization. When the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act (UIGEA) passed in 2006, internet poker essentially became illegal. It was grouped in with all other forms of gambling (excluding horse racing and stock trading) and categorically banned from operating within the United States. The argument was made that online gambling errodes the moral fabric of society, and can be highly addictive.

The first argument is contentious in my opinion. However, that is irrelevant, due to a simple fact: it doesn't matter what other peoples moral judgements of an individuals actions are, so long as the actions of that individual do not directly and negatively effect others. In short, it is none of their business what I do in my own home.

As for the addictive side of gambling, I have a fairly simple counterargument. We permit many things to be legal, despite a minority of the population who become addicted to it. Our concern for the individuals who become addicted is valid, however concern for the small minority should not trump the rights of the majority. The current situation only pushes the act of playing online poker underground, which makes it harder to keep those who should not be playing away from the game. Our efforts should be made towards educating individuals on the possible risks of addiction, rather than categorically denying people the right to participate in an act.

A clear distinction must be made between Poker and other forms of gambling. Poker is a game of skill, while other forms of casino gambling (excluding blackjack at times) are inherently negative expected value, meaning that mathematically, you cannot win in the long run. This is because in traditional casino games, "the house always wins", as they essentially rig the game against you. Poker is different, in that you are playing against others. Each player receives a limited amount of data (the cards, their knowledge of the opponentand his/her tendencies) and has to make the best decision possible. The player who makes the best decisions is always the winner in the long run. In fact, Poker has more in common with Chess than with it does with other forms of gambling.

Ten million Americans play online poker each year. A small percentage of those are professionals who make a living playing the game. For the past three years I have played online poker professionally. It has given me the freedom to travel, pursue my hobbies, and intellectually enrich myself. Recent action by the Department of Justice, enforcing the UIGEA, has taken this away from me, and I am forced to considering leaving the United States to pursue my career. Tens of thousands of other professionals have lost their livelihoods as well, while the millions of recreational players have lost a form of stress relief and entertainment.
If online poker were legalized, it would bring in an estimated forty billion dollars over the next ten years, according to the Poker Players Alliance. It would open the market to U.S. Companies, creating tens of thousands of jobs! Given the current state of the economy, it would seem reckless not to use these viable options to help us.

In sum, we have an obligation to the individuals of this country to not restrict their rights needlessly. We also have an opportunity for all to benefit from this via regulation and taxation of the online poker market. Legalizing poker is a win-win scenario for the United States.

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