Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2010) in Poker Player newspaper.
Good morning. Poker has plenty of legal issues. This self-interview deals with poker law. It isn’t intended to be comprehensive. Instead, the questions and answers cover a small selection of my related opinions.
If you’re ready, so am I.
Question 1: Why is poker illegal?
It’s tyranny, plain and simple. “Status quo” is a word that means “the way things are right now.” People tend to accept the status quo without questioning it.
If, as is currently the case, there is no law preventing drinking a beer in your own house, folks will become incensed by the mere thought of instituting such a prohibition. But if that law passes, eventually these same folks will accept it as the status quo.
They’ll either dutifully go to a licensed tavern to have that beer or break the law. Many might grumble about the law’s stupidity, but they’ll accept it. And, once established, legislation will become very hard to change.
When you think of it, there’s no reason whatsoever why hosting a poker game at home should be illegal. The law is widely ignored by millions of poker players. But think about how absurd this situation is. We’ve allowed government to act as our parents and threaten us with being sent to our rooms, which in government-speak means jail.
For what? Stop. I’m going to ask it again: For what?
I don’t need to write about the reason laws against poker are ridiculous. You understand it much more powerfully, just because, for one fleeting moment, you refused to accept the status quo and pondered “for what?”
Question 2: Are there any meaningful laws regarding the quality of random shuffling and dealing at online poker sites?
The countries in which the poker sites are licensed sometimes impose vague standards. At most, the deals must be honest and random. Most sites have the quality of their random number generation certified, but usually this only checks to see that the method is reasonably sophisticated and that the cards were distributed so that outcomes covered the full spectrum of probable outcomes evenly.
It would be easy for an unscrupulous operator to maintain an even distribution by subtracting favorable results from some players and adding them to favored ones. That’s just another reason to only play at sites with trustworthy reputations.
The problem with RNGs is that someone might – as people have – find the keys to the method. The numbers aren’t really random, but are generated in a sequence, using a mathematical formula. If you could figure out the method being used at the point of the last deal in that sequence, you’d also be able to accurately predict what would happen next.
Some experts have suggested that random numbers should be generated non-mathematically, such as by measuring tiny data points for atomic decay that are believed to be essentially truly random. I’m against this, because you can never prove in court (by reconstructing a sequence) that the cards dealt were the ones that should have been.
The Mike Caro method for random number generators, which I’ve advised for 12 years when consulting with online poker sites is this. Use at least five sophisticated, randomly rotated RNGs to deal cards. Use of 1,000, instead of five, is even better. Use a separate god RNG to determine which of the dealing RNGs will be employed for the next hand, or even the next card within an ongoing hand.
Skip generated numbers by randomly selecting how many times from yet another RNG. All random sequences should be occasionally, but not often, reseeded to an undetermined point in the chain. The reseeding, numbers skipped, and choice of RNG for the next hand or card should include real-world (analog) events in the formula, such as the number of cards dealt site-wide for a period of time.
Do that and you’re pretty safe, although 100 percent safety is never theoretically possible.
Should this method become law? Probably not. Should it be used everywhere? Of course.
Question 3: Are there any laws regarding the methods of physical shuffling and dealing at real-world cardrooms?
There are some city ordinances that address this to a degree. I’m against laws stating how a dealer must distribute cards in a real-world casino, because methods are always subject to improvement and laws don’t keep pace.
You should know that human dealers can never approach the effectiveness of random number generation at an honest, sophisticated, online poker site. Physical deals can be observed and tracked cards remain grouped or distributed non-randomly during the shuffle.
Still, a human shuffle done right is probably good enough. When you’re in a cardroom, ask management what the dealing procedure is and note whether it’s being followed.
Question 4: How come poker is illegal and the lottery isn’t?
If you really want to know, it’s stupidity, power, and greed. While government makes criminals of casual gamblers, it rakes 50 percent from state-run lotteries. And it advertises to entice naïve players – often the poor and little educated.
I still remember an obnoxious California lottery ad on TV that said something like, “What if your numbers came up and you didn’t buy a ticket?” My immediate thought was, well, if they’re taking half the pot, then you should be able to bet twice as many times for the same price. That leaves us with the question: “What if your numbers came up and you didn’t get paid?”
Government likes to set maximum fees to protect consumers. There are even maximum rakes in poker and a cap on credit card interest rates. Yet it takes 50 percent for itself? And you can go to jail for playing poker! Make any sense to you? — MC