Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Follow the Money, Part 2: Where Online Sites Spend Lobbying Dollars

I had some more fun poking around Open Secrets last night, searching out where online poker dollars landed in Washington. Again, this isn't breaking news or intended to be any sort of dramabomb-- it's all publicly available information.

Over the last two years, PokerStars spent $1.26 million on lobbying. They were the seventh-largest donor in the casino/gambling sector in 2010. #1 was Caesar's/Harrah's with $3.9 million and surprisingly, The Poker Players Alliance was #2 with $1.8m. Coming in at #3 with $1.66m was the Interactive Gaming Council, a Vancouver-based trade group representing offshore online gaming entities including PokerStars and Full Tilt.

$900,000 of PokerStars' $1.26 million went to a lobbying outfit headed by former House Majority/Minority Leader and Democratic presidential candidate Dick Gephardt. Beginning in Q3 2009, the Gephardt Group was paid $150,000 per quarter to represent PokerStars on Capitol Hill. They were no small client either; Stars' lobbying dollars represented 9.1% of their $6.59 million take in 2010, tying them for first place with Peabody Energy among the Gephardt Group's clients when it came to reported billing dollars in 2010. Despite the hefty paychecks they received over the last six quarters, the Gephardt Group has never commented publicly on their work for PokerStars, nor do they explicitly list PokerStars as a client on their company website next to their other "stand-up" clients like Goldman Sachs, United Healthcare, and the Government of Turkey. Instead, Rational Entertainment Enterprises, the name of Stars' holding company, is listed. PokerStars is also referred to as "Rational Entertainment Enterprises (on behalf of PokerStars) in the Gephardt Group's lobbying disclosure paperwork filed with the House and the Senate.

So...although Dick Gephardt doesn't mind taking PokerStars' money, he sure seems ashamed to be in business with them. For $150,000 a quarter, he should be wearing a .net patch every time he does a stand-up on CNN.

The remaining $360,000 of Stars' lobbying dollars went to the St. Louis-based law firm of Stinson, Morrison & Hecker at the rate of $60,000 per quarter. Based on the information available on OpenSecrets, PokerStars appears to be their largest client when it comes to government affairs. Of the $1.21 million they reported from clients for lobbying in 2010, Stars represented almost 30% of their receipts. Second-largest was a New Zealand-based dairy company called Fonterra. The firm's other clients primarily lie in the energy, agriculture, and oil & gas sectors. The only lobbyist listed was Jane E. Duecker. Her bio on the firm's website reveals that she is a former assistant attorney general for the State of Missouri and served as the Chief of Staff to the Governor from April 2003 to December 2004. Although it lists her work in a variety of industries, gaming is not mentioned.

PokerStars wasn't the only major online site that engaged in lobbying activities. PartyGaming spent $2,155,000 on lobbying over the last four years: $1.65 million in 2007, $170,000 in 2008, $60,000 in 2009, and $240,000 in 2010. Here's where it really gets colorful-- $1.35 million of Party's 2007 lobbying dollars went to a company called Avatar Enterprises based in Collinsville, IL. Avatar was run by Gary Frears, a man who has been in trouble with various state, municipal, and federal agencies since the early 1980s. After a stint as a fixer for the Illinois Department of Transportation, Frears worked for the Democratic Party's national finance committee before moving into his own business deals. After securing a $13.4 million from the State of Illinois to build a Holiday Inn in the city of Collinsville in 1982, Fears defaulted on the loan and never repaid it, leaving the state hanging on $31 million in outstanding principal and interest by 1995. The state ultimately sold the property at a loss in 2007. Fears moved to Florida in the mid-1990s and began investing in Indian casinos. Almost every deal was fraught with drama and ended acrimoniously.

Frears turned to lobbying in the mid-2000s, acting as the registered foreign agent for the Moroccan government in addition to his work for PartyGaming. Avatar also received a payment of $606,048 from Russel DeLeon, husband of PartyGaming founder Ruth Parasol. The IRS is also after Frears, seeking over $300,000 in income taxes dating back to 2001 from international currency transactions he made with Deutsche Bank. More information on his tangled web can be found in this article: Fears and Lobbying in Collinsville.

So, to recap--along with the (completely toothless) PPA, two of the major forces repping online poker interests on Capitol Hill over the last few years were Dick "Don't tell anyone I'm working the pro-gaming lobby" Gephardt and a notoriously shady motherfucker in trouble with the IRS.

Still like our chances for legalization/regualtion?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Black Friday Fallout

It's lunchtime in Los Angeles and I'm ready to pour a cocktail since I was just able to cash out my life savings PokerStars account. Although perhaps I should put down the shaker until the check clears. Now that the reality of Black Friday has sunk in for me and future plans are being hastily assembled, one other stream of fallout is beginning to come to light.

I miss playing. I really do. Watching sporting events just isn't the same without six-tabling Super Turbos. I was just starting to get decent at Badugi. And opening up the Womens' Sunday tournament was really a mistake. I'd personally vowed to win that fucker at least once by the end of 2011.

Anyhow, here's a few of the things I've been reading and some info on how to get your money out of PokerStars.

PokerStars cashouts now available for Americans: We're obviously not out of the woods yet, but I let out a huge sigh of relief when I heard PokerStars was starting to process cashouts from U.S. players. I first heard about it from Kevmath, and a quick listen to the Two Plus Two podcast confirmed it. The cashout methods available to Yanks depends on the balance you have on the site. If it's $2,500 or less, you can get a paper check. $50,000 and over requires a wire transfer. With $2,500-$49,999 the only option available is something called a "direct bank transfer." You'll need to provide both your bank account number as well as the ABA routing number, which is typically found on the bottom left of your paper checks. Some folks have already reported that the DBT worked for them. Count me among them-- after a brief hiccup where I couldn't enter my entire account number the transfer finally went through. My remaining T$ and step tickets were also converted to cash at 100 cents on the dollar.

No 'mo rodeo: File this under inevitable. News started leaking today that former WSOP commissioner Jeffrey Pollack is stepping down from Professional Bull Riders, Inc. (PBR) to focus on his new role as Chairman of Annie Duke's Federated Sports & Gaming league. FS&G looks like it might be one of the few beneficiaries of the events of Black Friday, now that Full Tilt has done away with the competing Onyx Cup.

Forbes op-ed by Gary Loveman: Yup, he's the sad-faced suit telling you to seek help for your gambling problem in those commercials aka the CEO of Harrah's. He did, however, pen a pretty solid piece in Forbes today that put forth a far clearer argument for legalization and regulation than the PPA ever has. Say it with me-- tax revenue, job creation, game security, consumer protection. Sure there was a bit of underlying "Haha! We gotcha Stars and Tilt! Here we come!" bubbling beneath the surface, but did you expect anything less?

I also enjoyed Matt Matros' op-ed in the Washington Post. Looks like the two of us have similar plans for the immediate future.

dmoongirl sounds off: I'd just started reading dmoongirl's CardRunners blog a few weeks ago. She's a 26 year-old married mom of a toddler who has been an online pro for 6 years, playing $25/$50 6-max NLHE. A week ago she was comfortably supporting her family and filming interviews for the upcoming poker documentary Boom. Now she's out of a job.

Moving Forward, Not Starting Over: Shamus wrote about the podcast I did discussing Black Friday and mused on his own future plans.

And finally, Pauly checks in from Peru, where he penned this stunner about his spiritual journey at Machu Picchu. Check out Cusco - Ollantaytanbo - Aguas Calientes - Machu Picchu.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Follow the Money: Online Poker and Political Contributions

So much money...where did it get us?

Back when I worked in the film industry, a favorite pastime among junior D-people was to play around on, running names of producers, directors, executives, and A-list actors to see where they were spending their political dollars. In the wake of Black Friday, I pulled up the site over my morning coffee and decided to check out how much lining-of-the-pockets the American members of Team Full Tilt did over the last four years (2006-2010). Although this is nothing close to breaking news (it's all publicly available information), the results are pretty interesting.

Howard and Susie Lederer (NV): $355,635
Andrew Bloch (NV and MD): $176,992
Chris Ferguson (NV): $109,100
Phil Ivey (NV): $92,470
Erik and Ruah Seidel (NV): $91,800
Phil Gordon (NV and WA): $49,900
Jennifer and Marco Traniello (NV): $40,800
John Juanda (CA): $17,200
Erick Lindgren (NV): $12,000
Allen Cunningham: $0
Mike Matusow: $0
Tom Dwan: $0

Couldn't find anything on those last three, at least on Open Secrets. But for the nine individuals listed above them, that's a grand total of $945,897 of dirty dirty Full Tilt money over three election cycles.

I expected as much from the FTP pros with percentages. But what about the other industry big-guns/sponsored pros/guys with deep pockets? Here's a few more names I looked up:

Leon Black, Founder, Apollo Management (NY): $296,250
Barry Greenstein (CA): $76,100
Joe Sebok (CA): $51,700
Rafe Furst (CA): $50,050
Daniel Negreanu (NV): $41,200*
Doyle Brunson (NV): $40,800
Dennis Phillips (IL): $30,700
John Pappas, Executive Director, Poker Players Alliance (DC): $25,250
Tom McEvoy (NV): $18,700
Ray Bitar (CA): $17,500**
Vanessa Rousso (FL): $17,450
Annie Duke (CA): $15,000
Joe Cada (MI): $13,500
Mori Eskandani, Producer, PokerPROductions (NV): $10,400
Phil Hellmuth and Katherine Sanborn Hellmuth (CA): $10,000***
Perry Friedman (NV): $10,000
Greg Raymer (NC): $7,300
Barry Shulman (NV): $4,000
Steve Wynn (NV): $3,000

*= although he's a Canadian citizen, he has permanent U.S. residency (aka a green card)
***= two checks @ $5,000/ea. to the PPA in July/August 2009

And here's a few Hollywood names for good measure from the same three election cycles:

Alan Horn, COO, Warner Bros. Pictures (CA): $312,296
Steven Spielberg (CA): $243,650
Tom Hanks (CA): $74,700
Jerry Bruckheimer (CA): $53,400
Jeff Bewkes, CEO, Time Warner (NY): $48,900
Sumner Redstone, CEO, Viacom (CA): $33,400
Les Moonves, CEO, CBS Corp. (CA): $17,400
Oprah Winfrey (IL): $2,300
Dr. Pauly, Internet Physician (NY): $420

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Jack Tripper Stole My Dog: The Trailer

Pauly impresses and inspires me to no end. Less than a year after putting out his first book, he's back with another. Get ready for Jack Tripper Stole My Dog, hitting the shelves in May! Support independent writers!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011 Black Friday Podcast

Happy 4/20 America! Smoke 'em if you've got 'em!

Last night I recorded an episode of's Today in Sports Betting with RJ Bell discussing online poker's "Black Friday" from a media perspective. Lord knows poker players love themselves some sports betting (look who I live with)and the reverse is certainly true. RJ himself plays some $5/$10 NL at Bellagio and we discussed the impact Friday's events will have on the media, online grinders, sponsored pros, and live games.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The End of the (Poker) World as We Know It

I boarded a plane in Hartford, Connecticut yesterday morning, wearing a PokerStars sweatshirt, carrying a PokerStars player bag, and having just completed a week of work at the NAPT Mohegan Sun. I was looking forward to a few days off before beginning one of two weeks-long writing assignments for PokerStars and would have probably spend a significant chunk of that time off grinding up a little income on PokerStars (and Full Tilt). As I sat down in my cramped seat on the American Eagle CRJ that would fly me through a thunderstorm to Chicago, where I’d have less than half an hour to change planes due to our late departure, I checked my email and Twitter account one last time.

The world was ending. The online poker world at least.

The U.S. Department of Justice just put thousands of Americans out of work, myself included. I’ve grown accustomed to walking the razor’s edge of a freelancer’s life; I made it through the UIGEA, media downsizing, and budget cut after budget cut. Then, when my financial outlook was at its absolute bleakest, I managed to ship a live tournament and buoy myself through that particular rough patch. Now I’ll be mummified in red tape before I see a significant chunk of that money, not to mention the rest of my bankroll and everything I’ve earned since then. It’s more money than I’ve ever had in one place in my entire 33 years on this planet. And my government is not only withholding that money, but taking away the way I earn my living because they think it’s better that they make my decisions for me.

Where’s my unemployment check? Oh that’s right. I won’t get one, and neither will the thousands of people who just lost their only source of income thanks to my country’s ever-increasing nanny state. And it was so nice of them to wait for April 15, when most of us had already paid our taxes on all that dirtily procured income. As my friend Erica Schoenberg put it on Twitter in the aftermath of the announcement—“I should be able to smoke a blunt, abort a baby, marry a girl and play online poker if I want to. Quit telling me what to do with my $ or body. FU.”

Amen, sister.

Once I was on the ground in Chicago, a flurry of emails ensued between Pauly and I as I tried to see if he could transfer funds out of my Stars account from Peru, where he’s on assignment covering the LAPT Lima. No dice. Although I’m confident that Stars and Tilt will make it right for their players and we will see our account balances returned at some point, I see this taking months, if not longer. This isn’t just money I was going to live on. It's essentially my entire life savings.

After a sprint through O'Hare Airport, I made my connecting flight to Los Angeles. Strangely enough, for the first time in about six months my upgrade cleared at the gate. It seemed like a nod from the universe saying “Here you go sweetie, sorry your life is completely fucked at the moment.” I took my seat in 5A next to Joe Giron, the best photographer in poker, and we commiserated over a couple of Canadian Club and sodas. After a while, we both had to forget about it and temporarily tune out. Without in-flight wifi, we were completely cut off at 35,000 feet. We ate shrimp cocktails, chicken with pasta, and that ice cream sundae everyone envies from the economy seats. I was acutely aware that this might be the last time I'd do so on a flight paid for by PokerStars. Joe watched The Office, while I zoned out to an episode of Survivor.

The tribe has spoken.

I looked up and the Rocky Mountains were out my window. Grand, ancient, and snow-capped. Stunning. I'd been thrown off steep cliffs before and have always managed to climb back up. I couldn't see a way back up from this one, at least not toward poker and at least not in the foreseeable future. Anyway you slice it, I lose. Everyone in the industry loses, be it money, a livelihood, the freedom to do what you love or even your ability to live in the country you pledged allegiance to every morning of grammar school. Online pros are already talking about leaving for Europe, Canada, or anywhere else the Nanny States of America can’t reach them. Men and women who were able to spend more time with their families thanks to the freedom online poker provided will be dusting off resumes and entering the worst American job market in over 80 years.

But oddly enough, as those mountains turned to desert, I found a strange sense of peace. Every time I have been pushed off a cliff, I found something better. Hollywood shoved me off the seventh floor of a Wilshire Blvd. high-rise and I found the love of my life. The UIGEA cost me the job I'd barely begun with Party Poker and I ended up traveling the world several times over for other clients. One of those clients unceremoniously sacked me and it sent me down a path that led not only to my first major live score, but to me revisiting outside writing projects I'd long struggled with. I can only hope that my fall from this particular mountainside will see me finishing them.

I'm lucky enough to have a partner who saw this shitstorm coming a long time ago, and has prepared us well for it. A lot of people aren't as fortunate as we are. Life will go on, online poker will even go on someday when the industry finally figures out the right people to pay off. It doesn't matter to me anyway. I gave up on politics a long time ago. I understand who really pulls the strings in this country and it’s not the president, Congress, or anyone else who is elected to public office. It’s powerful corporate interests, and the online poker industry in the U.S. and everyone who earns a living in it is now collateral damage in the ongoing war between B&M casino entities, online operators, and the federal government.

It was winter when I left here two weeks ago. It's 88 degrees today. My boyfriend is still in Peru and I miss him terribly. And since I can't fire up a super-turbo SNG to blow off some steam, I may even go outside.