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Online Poker Testimony Before Congress
by Timmor L. White

On November 14, 2007, history was made. That was the day when world-class poker player Annie Duke testified within the the Congress of the United States of America. Before the House Committee on the Judiciary, she spoke on the subject of "Establishing Consistent Enforcement Policies in the Context of Internet Wagers."

If you play online poker, Ms. Duke testified on your behalf. Truly, she was speaking for all who know and love the wonderful game of poker.

The few news outlets that mentioned this testimony at all, provided just a sentence or two taken from her entire talk. But her words deserve far more coverage than that. Here are a few larger and more significant excepts from what she had to say:

"At its most basic level, the issue before this committee is personal freedom -- the right of individual Americans to do what they want in the privacy of their homes without the intrusion of the government. From the writings of John Locke and John Stuart Mill, through their application by Jefferson and Madison, this country was among the first to embrace the idea that there should be distinct limits on the ability of the government to control or direct the private affairs of its citizens. More than any other value, America is supposed to be about freedom. Except where one's actions directly and necessarily harm another person's life, liberty or property, government in America is supposed to leave the citizenry alone. Examples of Congress straying from this principle are legion, but few are as egregious as The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, or UIGEA."

"To be sure, there are many who believe that gaming is immoral or unproductive. I don't share these beliefs, but I do respect them. What is harder to respect is the idea that just because someone disapproves of a particular activity that they would seek to have the government prevent others from engaging in it."

"What is remarkable to me about the UIGEA is that while it allows games of pure luck, like the lottery, it prohibits a game of skill like poker. For nearly 200 years, U.S. presidents, generals, members of Congress, Supreme Court Justices and average citizens have enjoyed the challenge and the fun that is poker. I have no doubt that tonight, somewhere not too far from the U.S. Capitol, groups of friends and family will open a deck of cards and play some poker. This scenario will be replicated in almost every city across the U.S. That is because poker is an American pastime, it is woven into the very fabric of American history. Poker typifies Americana just like baseball or Jazz and has become a positive ambassador of American culture throughout the world."

"Poker is a great egalitarian game. Anyone who is willing to learn, regardless of race, creed, color or gender, can succeed at poker. And playing on the Internet gives millions of Americans the freedom to enjoy the game in the comfort of their homes, when it would be otherwise impossible to get to a casino, or gather others to play in person."

"I don't believe that poker and the people who play it should be lumped into the category of gambling or be called gamblers. ... There is critical distinction between poker and other forms of "gambling" which is the skill level involved to succeed at the game. I cannot stress this point enough: in poker it is better to be skillful than lucky. I ask anyone in this hearing room to name for me the top five professional roulette players in the world or the number one lottery picker in America. It is just not possible (my apologies to one obvious candidate, Congressman Sensenbrenner). We can however have a real discussion about the top five professional poker players, just like we can have a discussion about the top five professional golfers."

"Few can debate the skill elements involved to be successful at poker. ... Everyone agrees that the betting elements and hand selection involved in poker are skill elements. But I hear people say all the time that poker is only a game of skill for good players and the vast majority of recreational players are playing a game of luck. This is as absurd as asserting that bad golfers are playing a game of luck while only the pro golfers are playing a game of skill."

"One defining characteristic of games of skill is this: a player or team can intentionally lose. If I suggested that you should play slots, roulette, baccarat, or lottery and seek to lose, you could no more make yourself lose than you could make yourself win, as long as you continued playing. However, at golf, tennis, baseball or other games of skill it is entirely possible to lose on purpose. Losing on purpose is playing in defiance of the concept of skill, and thus proves the existence of the skill element in the game."

"Millions of poker-playing Americans were stunned last year when politicians decided that playing Texas Hold 'em over the Internet was so pernicious that the government must deputize financial institutions to prohibit personal financial transactions to certain forms of online gaming."

"Internet gaming is the subject of a hodgepodge of antiquated laws that were intended to govern brick-and-mortar operations. The governing federal statute, The Wire Act of 1961, has been found to only apply to sports betting, beyond that we have a morass of state laws which, for the most part, did not contemplate the Internet."

"Poker players believe that the UIGEA regulations should not apply to games where players compete against each other and not against "the house" and where success is predominantly a function of skill. Such games include poker, bridge, mahjong and backgammon, among others. However, because neither UIGEA itself nor the regulations seek to address the issue, we cannot make that case."

"This issue is about personal liberty and personal responsibility -- the freedom to do what you want in the privacy of your own home. I suspect that some on this committee support freedom, except where individuals would use that freedom to make what they believe to be bad choices. "Freedom to make good choices" is an Orwellian term for tyranny -- the governments of China, Cuba and Iran all support the freedom of their citizens to make choices that their governments perceive as good. For those whose religious or moral beliefs hold gaming as abhorrent, I fully support their right to live by those beliefs. I support their right to choose to not gamble. What I do not support, and what this Committee and this Congress should not tolerate, is an effort by those people or anyone else to prevent me and the millions of people like me from playing a game we find stimulating, challenging and entertaining. However you might feel about gambling on the Internet, I would suggest that gambling with freedom is far more risky."

This brave testimony from Annie Duke is intended for the benefit of all who value freedom and enjoy poker. If you play poker online -- regardless of how you play, whether you are good or bad, whether you win or lose, whether you play tight-aggressive or bluff every hand, whether you play low-stakes limit or high-stakes no-limit, whether you play fairly or attempt to cheat -- these words are for you. The unshakable logic behind this testimony is something in which we should all take comfort.

Perhaps one day, in the not too distant future, the United States government will abandon its ill-conceived efforts to prohibit this natural game of skill. Until that day, poker players across the land can celebrate these brilliant words delivered to lawmakers. Let us hope this testimony is a forerunner of better times ahead.

Timmor L. White is the founder and president of Online Poker Systems and the OPS Group. With a background in Internet technology, he is active in the study and reporting of online-poker playing strategies. If you wish to explore a specific way to cheat when playing online, click here: Online Poker Cheat.

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