Poker players, fellow gamblers: We’re being conned

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (2009) in Bluff magazine.

The Poker Players Alliance is a group boasting 650,000 members and growing rapidly. I’m an admirer of that organization. In fact, I’m a charter member and delivered an address to their first public meeting two-and-a-half years ago. Fine. One of the PPA’s primary goals is to overturn a United States government ban on Internet poker. You might argue whether the legislation really bans Internet poker or merely attempts to make it difficult for financial institutions to allow exchange of your money — money needed to fund participation and collect winnings. Another goal of the PPA is to legalize poker throughout the country. Joining that crusade implies that we’ve already been conned, as you’ll see shortly.

The PPA is trying to get players to contact their representatives in Washington, begging them to be fair. But why beg? How did those folks originally get the idea that they have authority to manage our adult behavior regarding activities that don’t concern them? That’s the issue. And making arguments about poker being engrained in American culture or asserting that poker is a matter of personal choice or that poker is a game of skill only empowers evil. If congress passed midnight legislation banning frozen dinners, would you politely petition legislators to reconsider? Or would you say WTF?

I believe WTF is the appropriate response. About a decade ago, I wrote a column for a general gambling magazine which has since become one of the most popular pages on my web site. Here is that article:

Caro’s brief history of gambling legislation

Let’s go way back in time. We’re early humans. There are just four of us in the whole known world, you and I and two unattractive women. It kind of sucks, but that’s how it is.

Sometimes we sit down and talk about how things should happen. We decide that each day you should go find some logs and bring them back to the cave. I’ll rub sticks together and start the fire. Tammy will cook and Mary will wash the dishes. Occasionally we use paper plates, but this is back toward the beginning of history, there are only four of us, and paper plates are very expensive, so usually we use porcelain.

Anyway, the point is that we don’t really need a government. We’re going to agree to procedures that make us comfortable. Sometimes we’re going to get irritated and yell at each other, but we’ll work stuff out.

A corner of the cave

Each night you and I go to a corner of the cave to gamble. At first, we bet on how many days in a row the sun will rise, but I always take the overs and you always lose. So we start betting on more random-seeming events, such as how many thunder claps we’ll hear before the fire goes out, The loser has to do a chore for the winner.

Pretty soon, Tammy and Mary decide to play, too, because there’s nothing very interesting on television. Just outdoor hunting and fishing stuff. No Oprah or soap operas to stimulate their minds. This goes on for years. Gambling becomes more and more important to us as a diversion.

Now, here’s where it gets strange. One day six strangers come to our cave. We’re stunned. We thought the four of us were alone in the world. Now there are 10 humans. You sit down and work out a theoretical formula suggesting that if there are 10 humans we know about, perhaps the world might be populated by as many as 100. I’m the only one who takes your theory seriously, however.

Meanwhile, we’re finding that it’s much harder to keep track of who’s supposed to do which chores with 10 people. Note that all of these are adults, because the concept of children hasn’t been invented yet. Days pass. There are more and more squabbles. The quality of life has deteriorated. Now what?

Well, we decide that someone has to take charge. You nominate me, but in a shocking vote, one of the newcomers is chosen to be our leader. On the very next day, 90 more humans show up at our cave door, including 40 children. The concept of children overwhelms us and our leader decrees that no gambling shall occur in front of them, because they’re too young to understand.

Gambling behind the barrier

We don’t fully grasp the purpose of the decree, but it’s no big deal. We build a rock barrier to keep the kids away from the corner where we gamble. Soon after that there’s a murder. We’re appalled. Our population has shrunk from 100 to 99 for no sensible reason at all. We build a jail in another corner of the cave and put the killer in it.

This makes sense to us. Now we realize we need laws and more people to help us govern. It happens quickly. There are laws against stealing and killing and tickling each other without permission – laws we didn’t need when there were only a few of us.

And then, on the gloomiest night in world history, our leader decrees that henceforth there will be no more gambling. “How come?” fifty of us protest in unison.

“It’s not in the best interest of the community,” our leader explains cryptically.

“But nobody’s forcing anyone to gamble,” I argue.

‘Besides,” you add, “what business is it of yours? You’re supposed to help protect us so that we’re free to do what makes us happy. Now you’re making us unhappy. Whatever gave you the idea that you could tell us whether or not we could gamble?”

And then our leader ponders. And there is a lingering quiet. All 97 men, women and children who are free and not jailed and not the leader wait for the answer. Time passes. More time passes. The silence stretches, surviving for moment after moment. Still no answer is forthcoming, and eventually the leader leaves the cave to smoke a cigarette and to be by himself. When he returns, everyone is sleeping.

My friends, I have just told you the real history of gambling legislation. Everything else you have ever heard is a lie. — MC

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Mike Caro

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Known as the “Mad Genius of Poker,” Mike Caro is generally regarded as today's foremost authority on poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. He is the founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy (MCU). See full bio → HERE.


11 thoughts on “Poker players, fellow gamblers: We’re being conned”

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  1. Conned is right, O Wielder of Wisdom. They razzle-dazzle us with religious rights and personal choice lefts and games of chance versus skill sets and all the while they try and figure out how the OC will keep the gambling profits if we can all just play with each other internationally and money can change hands without war or anything but rake.

    Online poker is the harbinger of true global freedom. They’ll kill us before they’ll let us have it.

    Or I could be wrong. Just sayin’

    (can’t wait for forums to open….)

  2. Well Mike lets see: Being from Alabama where the politicians can play and then they regulate that us regular folks can’t wow talk about having their heads in the sand. It has been that way for many years and the power has been passed along the lines of those that had power in the past or that can be controlled. If you can’t play the game as they say on capitol hill you need to stay home. Their game set up for them and no one else. Poker lives on just behind closed doors at their game. Larry

  3. Hi Mike,

    Fascinating article, indeed. (And I’m one of the ugly women in the cave.) The PPA has 2 million members as of last week according to John Pappas, Executive Director. I met him at a charity poker event co-sponsored by the PPA. (I was a freeroller thanks to a PPA contest. I’m too poor to attend such events otherwise!)

    WTF is an appropriate response to poker legislation but not exactly helpful. My poker activities may not be anybody else’s business, but legislators have made it their business. And since they are the rulers, I have to care about what rules they make and, yes, beg them to make those laws in my favor.

    It’s hard, though. The federal government is slow to act. Where once — just a few weeks ago — there was hope, it seems there will be no legislation favoring poker players for many many months. In the meantime, the UIGEA will take effect June 1 due to strong-arm tactics by some republicans.

    Even if Representative Barney Frank and others could get favorable federal legislation passed, it would not be the end of the legal battle. Eventually, each state will make their own internet gambling laws. Some have started. I’m sure it won’t be long before I am forced to play with pretend money only. I am chronically ill and would not be able to tolerate prison.

    So, yes, I advocate for myself and my online poker friends. I have contacted my members of Congress on our behalf despite being a resident of Alabama, where the laws will only get more restrictive. I defend my poker activities to family members who think I’ll go to hell. And I follow the news coming out of the PPA. It’s nobody’s business that I play poker online. But if those in power are making laws, I can’t just say WTF. I have to know about it and I have to care about it.


    1. Hi, Sheryl —

      Sorry to hear about your health issues. Online poker should be one of the things most people can enjoy whenever they’re feeling up to it.

      This is what seems important to me. We shouldn’t really have rulers — we should only have our hired representatives, the ones we choose.

      If you ask some American to create a hierarchal flow chart of our relationships to each other, you’re likely to get one that has the President at the top, with lines branching down through the cabinet and congress (contrary to the theoretically established President-congress-court sharing of power), with — perhaps — the Supreme Court off to the side. Below all of that will be people (the citizens).

      That’s wrong, of course. The people are actually supposed to be at the top, and everyone else answers to them.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

      1. True enough, Mike — which is exactly why we SHOULD be contacting our representatives to advocate our issues — we are the bosses, so we have to let them know what to do. Unfortunately, the people I choose to represent me usually don’t win here in Alabama. And in the one case that my choice won, he turned out to be a Republican in disguise. Mine is a lonely voice where I live, but I’ll make damn sure it’s heard anyway. :-)

        Thanks for your great articles!

        1. It’s not just Republicans, Sheryl. Both major political parties strive to control our lives. It’s the nature of power.

          They do it in different ways, though.

          Many Republicans tend to want to control our morality while leaving us free to make our own choices in many other endeavors. Many Democrats tend to want to control large aspects of our lives, but not our morality (except in regard to political correctness).

          The Libertarian Party is probably the one that most closely reflects the beliefs of those who want broad freedom, but some of its policies would arguably be impractical to implement.

          Choose wisely.

          Straight Flushes,
          Mike Caro

    1. Hi, Jan —

      Welcome to our Poker1 family.

      For those who don’t know, Jan Fisher is one of poker’s most influential ambassadors and a member of the Women in Poker Hall of Fame.

      She is an owner of Card Player Cruises. Welcome aboard.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

  4. See, they never teach this stuff in school. Thanks for keeping us educated.

    On the other hand, I am happy that most states protect us from the evils of gambling. Thankfully, they only allow lotteries, keno, instant scratch offs and bingo, not the stuff that can be problematic. (Today’s word is hypocrite.)

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