I Didn’t Shoot a Man in Reno

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011, 12:22 pm

As you might expect I don’t follow the poker scene as closely as I once did, and it was only today that I learned that Gary DeBernardi won the Nevada State Poker Championship. And that was great news to hear, as “Debo” is as good a guy as you’ll ever meet, which I did back in Aruba in 2006. It was Debo who introduced me to his eponymous drink during Phil Hellmuth’s penthouse party at the 2007 Aruba Poker Classic–Grey Goose, watermelon liqueur, Sprite. So refreshing. So debilitating. Here’s a pic of Debo enjoying one with Mark “P0ker H0” Kroon, who I also met all those years ago.

I was happy to hear that Debo won, yes, but it was bittersweet. Because I should’ve been in Reno shooting pics of his victory and documenting his triumph for posterity. UB became a sponsor for the Heartland Poker Tour (which this event was part of) and the plan was for me to cover a few of these events, starting with Reno. I already knew Al would be out there and it turns out KevMath was there as well along with Lisa Wheeler and other assorted poker types and it would’ve been a blast. Throw in Debo taking down the title and it would’ve been a fantastic trip.

Of course that wasn’t meant to be. On April 15th I was in an oddly productive mood, I worked in the morning, ran some errands, and hit the gym to sweat a bit before I went to Game 2 of the Pens-Lightning series. As I headed home after 45 minutes on the elliptical I saw that my mom had called. Her message said that she’d seen something on the news about three online poker sites. No biggie, I thought, probably some puff piece about pending legislation. But when I talked to Mom and she used words like “indictment” and rattled off the names of the big three online sites I raced upstairs and clicked the link to the blog I’ve written for the past five years. And was greeted with the logos of the FBI and Department of Justice kindly informing me that the domain had been seized, pursuant to blah blah blah.

I’ve read hundreds of posts and articles about the indictments, enough to learn who actually knows what the hell they’re talking about. I have nothing especially insightful to add to that discussion, except to say that Aristotle once said “Law is order, and good law is good order”. I don’t believe that the online poker crackdown amounts to good order. Gambling is celebrated everywhere in the United States. We have an entire city devoted to it. Casinos are sprouting up all over the country. You can buy lottery tickets just about everywhere. The only sport more popular than fantasy football is the NFL itself. Wall Street certainly resembles a casino, especially as it’s the house that always wins (or at least never loses). To say that gambling is fine here, here, here, here, and here…but not HERE, not online, is rank hypocrisy.

But there is the law to consider. Rules were made to be broken, but not laws. What we’ve seen the last five years with online poker is a multi-billion dollar industry that should’ve evaporated after the UIGEA was passed in 2006, but didn’t. It actually got bigger, even after Party Poker withdrew. It doesn’t appear that the Feds used the UIGEA to kill online poker, rather the sites allegedly violated other laws while side-stepping the one targeted at them. Bad law, bad order.  Money was still flowing back and forth between U.S. players and offshore poker sites and the UIGEA was supposed to dam that up. It didn’t, not even close, and I’m sure it peeved a few law-enforcement officials and anti-gaming members of Congress to see patched-up players battling on ESPN for millions of dollars. Year after year after year.

That all ended April 15th (though perhaps it truly ended for good on what’s being called Black Monday). I went downtown to meet up with friends before the Penguin game and tried to get over the shock. And it was shock, even though I’d been waiting for this moment for 5 years. The UIGEA was passed during my first trip to Aruba–it was actually the night of the farewell party, and I asked quite a few people what they thought about it. No one had any clue that it was coming. No one knew what it meant. I tend to assume the worst about such things and I figured this new law meant the end of online poker. When I left Aruba I thought I’d never be back, and that I’d never have a gig covering poker again. It was a nice trip, a nice ride, but it was over.

I was off by five years. That dark Friday night I watched the Pens get killed by Tampa, and as I drove home in a daze I knew I needed a drink. I stopped at one joint, it was packed. Stopped at our neighborhood dive, standing room only. God help me, I went to the Applebees on McKnight Road and found an empty seat at the bar. I needed solitude and  Yuengling to sort things out in my head. I sipped my beer and a chubby woman wearing clothes that would be snug on Kate Moss walked from the bar to the elevated dining area and grabbed a microphone. I stared at her, confused and then horrified, as music started playing and she started belting out a high-pitched yet still atonal rendition of Katy Perry’s “Firework”. Of course on this night, THIS NIGHT, I would stumble into karaoke. “This is the low point,” I told myself. “This is the trough of the wave.” I sipped beer until I couldn’t bear the bad noise and fled.

I thought that maybe I’d hang on a few months before the inevitable end. But I knew I was kidding myself and when the end came it wasn’t a surprise. Still a shock, but not a surprise, if that makes sense. It  feels weird to not to be covering the poker world anymore, but I still haven’t completely disconnected myself. I’m definitely following any and all news about player payouts, that’s what I really care about at this point. I want to see our players get their money, as quickly as possible.

So now I’m looking for the next big thing, ready to move on from five years in poker. I wish the ride had lasted just a little bit longer, just long enough for me to shoot a few pics of Debo winning the tournament and write up a few final posts. But I did take time to play a few final hands of online poker before UB finally blocked American players, I wanted see the cards flutter across the screen one last time. I’m confident that online poker will be legalized someday, though not for a couple of years (after the 2012 election, maybe), but who knows what I’ll be doing then, or whether I’ll still have any interest in poker anymore. I barely played the last few years, and if this is the last hand of online poker I play for a long time, or ever, at least there was poetic justice at the end.



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One Response to “I Didn’t Shoot a Man in Reno”

  1. Darcy Says:

    Oh, wow, I didn’t know. You’re my only source of poker news. Condolences? I do not know what to say. I hope there is another outlet for your voice– maybe you’ll post more here again? She says hopefully. 🙂

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