Poker Players Are People Too. Get Government Out Of Our Way!

Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)
Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)

In 1986, a professional poker player named Billy Baxter fought the law, and the law didn’t win. Baxter v. United States was a landmark decision that forever changed the lives of American professional poker players from that day forward.

Prior to this, Baxter, like all poker professionals, had been taxed on his poker winnings as if what he had done was simple luck, such as winning the lottery—a whopping 70% based on the tax code at that time. However, Baxter argued that poker is a game of skill—he was not just stumbling aimlessly into good fortune the way people who play actual games of chance like roulette, craps, and slots occasionally do.

As such, he deemed he should be taxed under the “Personal Service Income” code at the time, similar to other skilled trades, which had a maximum rate of only 50%. Billy felt the government owed him 20¢ back for every dollar he had been taxed on, and when the arguments were all over, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with him.

Professional Poker Player Billy Baxter
Professional Poker Player Billy Baxter

Please allow me to explain how poker is different from other methods of gambling.

A true professional poker player is someone who consistently wins, and there are thousands of them. If it were a game of chance, the winnings would be divided up randomly amongst all parties playing. One person might win more than the other in a short span, but over time, unlike actual games of chance, poker has shown that people can consistently win by employing effective strategies.

A Nevada judge who sided with Billy was quoted as saying to one of his differing-opinion counterparts, “I find the government’s argument to be ludicrous. I just wish you had some money and could sit down with Mr. Baxter and play some poker.” His point being that the dissenters who thought Baxter was just lucky shouldn’t be afraid to play against him with their own money to prove it—there were of course, no takers.

Another important point in his favor is that depending on the variant of poker being played, a high percentage of poker hands are won without any player’s cards being shown. This is due to all other players folding as a result of the actions of the hand winner who may or may not have been bluffing. It cannot be the luck of the cards, when the cards often don’t factor in.

In an amazing feat of skill, poker pro Annette Obrestad famously won a tournament online without ever looking at her own cards, simply by employing behavioral analysis of her opponents and the mathematics of odds and probabilities. To argue that this was luck would require a gross misunderstanding of the word luck.

Professional Poker Player Annette Obrestad
Professional Poker Player Annette Obrestad

So why is poker and gambling in general treated differently in the eyes of the law?

Well, the historical issue I suspect, is that gambling of any kind is considered a sin in the eyes of many religions. Older repressed generations conditioned people to believe such activities are bad, and like any old dogma, it can take generations before logic wins out over ignorance.

Poker is simply math, game theory, and psychology; fields that are well-respected on their own. But those who don’t play poker simply don’t know that.

Thanks to the movie Rounders, (a phenomenal cast and script; I highly recommend it) and to the Cinderella-story win of Chris Moneymaker at the 2003 World Series of Poker’s (WSOP) Main Event, where a simple $40 entry fee into a lower-level qualifying tournament was parlayed into a $2.5 million dollar payday, poker has started to permeate the mainstream as more people see the allure of this mentally challenging game. The fact that it can also be a decent source of revenue if done right doesn’t hurt either.

Gone are the days of thinking poker players are degenerate gamblers—these folks are often brilliant minds, like M.I.T. grads, Mensa members, or both in the case of award-winning actor James Woods, who often plays in the WSOP Main Event, along with many of his other acting peers like Ray Romano and Jason Alexander.

With Baxter’s 1986 court case win coupled with the evolution of knowledge of poker, you would think poker players were free from government intrusion, but you’d be dead wrong. This brings me to the point of this blog.

On April 15th, 2011, the U.S. government decided to intervene into the law-abiding actions of poker players throughout America. In United States v. Scheinberg, the case that brought about poker’s “Black Friday.” The government shut down three major online poker sites, Poker Stars, Full Tilt, and Absolute Poker. Full Tilt Poker, as it turns out, was engaged in nefarious activity, which I won’t go into here, but here’s a link. The other two sites however are still quite legitimate, albeit outside the U.S.

Actor James Woods
Actor James Woods

The issue with this was quite simple. Thousands of people were making a living playing poker on these sites. They weren’t competing with us normal folks for jobs, they already had one. On Black Friday, the government not only infringed on the American people’s right to pursue happiness, but they actually rendered thousands of professional poker players effectively unemployed.

Barack Obama has stated he intended to create jobs during his presidency, so I’ll never understand why he allowed his justice department to put so many out of work.

A recent Rasmussen Poll shows that only 40% of Americans oppose the government allowing and regulating online gambling, and for poker players like me, it is encouraging the majority favor and/or are open to it. But I hope that more limited-government minds will start to get behind the idea of getting government out of the way of those of us who used to like to play online.

Some conspiracy theorists think the government is simply concerned about its ability to collect tax revenues from these players. While this may also be true, logic dictates I shouldn’t engage in such theories without empirical evidence to support them.

There is hope however; on April 30th, 2013, Station Casinos went live with UltimatePoker.com, albeit, only for residents of Nevada.

I believe there is a reasonable libertarian case to be made for a federal gaming commission to exist; protecting our rights to property by ensuring these games are on the up and up, even if the anarchist wing of libertarianism hates me for saying it. But as long as we continue criminalizing online poker, these sites will go outside the U.S., and a good source of income and tax revenue will be lost.

Even if the tax collection issue is real, legalizing it could simply be a matter of requiring online poker sites to submit W-2’s at the end of the year for all winners, or better yet, get rid of income tax in favor of a consumption tax as the Libertarian Party promotes, and stop worrying about it altogether.

Poker players are intelligent and respectable competitors in a sport of the mind, and it’s time to let us play without government intrusion. Whether it’s a game of skill or a game of chance, one thing’s for sure, it’s none of the government’s concern whether I fritter my hard-earned money away on poker when they wouldn’t care if I did so playing golf or on a $40,000 plate from a Democratic fundraiser.

So I implore those of you who don’t play to not be part of the ignorant group of folks who want to take our rights to compete from us based on old biases, but instead, stand with me and repeat the libertarian code, “Mr. politician, mind your own damn business.”

Forced Medical Treatment Poll

In Ohio recently, an Amish girl was given chemotherapy by doctors despite objections from her parents, who opt instead to have faith in God to heal her. The government appointed a guardian to the girl on the basis they were protecting her right to life, a Constitutional duty of government. But yet this is also a violation of one’s right to religious freedom.

So where do you stand on this issue? Feel free to comment below after voting if you wash to elaborate on your reason for voting.

The Point Of A Gun

Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)
Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)

On any given day, we are bombarded with news media, film stars, and sometimes just random citizens who champion the idea of government doing more to solve all the world’s woes. Those of us on the side of liberty think these folks are misguided and/or ignorant, but the question has always troubled me as to why two people, often of similar intellect, can come to two drastically different conclusions about the role of government.

I pride myself on embracing empathy. I try to imagine what it is like to think the way my ideological opponents think; it helps to break down any claims of theirs I consider erroneous, if I first understand them. While sometimes I get frustrated to no end with the semi-socialist mantra, I give them credit for simply wanting no person left behind. There is a beautiful altruism in the idea that people should always help other people in need.

So why can’t I come on board with them?

Socialism has been tried many times in history; we have four nations in the world today that practice it as official policy. China, Lao, North Korea, and Cuba. As near as I can tell, living conditions in these nations, by no account whatsoever, can be considered even remotely as nice as what we have in America or most other capitalist nations.

Russia, a former communist nation with similar land mass and natural resources to America collapsed under communist rule while trying to compete with us. We hardly batted an eye vying with them for economic might.

Even comparing same cultures, look no further than Hong Kong versus the motherland China. Where capitalist Hong Kong natives live largely free, make good wages, and enjoy a strong economy; the Chinese struggle to keep workers from just killing themselves.

Suicide Prevention Nets at Foxconn factory
Suicide Prevention Nets at Foxconn factory

Altruistic or not, history has shown complete socialism, as official policy, doesn’t have any successful examples (from the perspective of the citizenry) to choose from. So being someone who tries to approach everything with logic, why would I champion something so historically laden with failure?

But if someone eschews history, and simply believes that somehow the only reason a government controlled economy has always failed is because they haven’t been the one running it, that person may be stuck in an ideological Alcatraz.

For those who are willing to consider a different viewpoint however, I wish to ask you to empathize with me. I’m going to give you an exercise to try to understand how I think of government, then pick any government policy you condone and apply this simple test.

First, I want you to remember one thing:

Everything government does, it does so at the point of a gun—sometimes just implied, but the threat is always real.

I know that may seem like hyperbole, but I assure you it’s not. The IRS will show up with guns on the doorsteps of those who simply refuse to pay taxes. If you fail to comply with a government demand (they don’t make requests) every step of the way, as the situation escalates, government will not simply say, “OK,” and walk away; the ultimate conclusion will either be you or a government official getting shot and killed.Bad-boys-bad-boys-watcha-gunna-do-courtesy-freepatriot.org_[1]

So when I consider any law, the first thing I imagine is whether I would be willing to put my own gun on that person to make them do what the law being proposed is asked.

For instance, I do not use recreational drugs—I think doing so is an illogical act and they simply do not interest me. But if my neighbor were next door smoking a joint, would I be compelled to walk over there, put a gun to his head, and tell him stop immediately or I’ll shoot?

Of course not.

Yet every one of you who argue to keep marijuana illegal are asking the government to ultimately do exactly that in your name. Government is an extension of you in this country, so if you’re not comfortable doing it yourself, you’re being lazy and hypocritical asking government to do it.

Conversely, if my neighbor were next door molesting a child, would I be compelled to go over and tell him to stop at the point of my gun? Honestly, I’m not so sure I’d even pause to ask him to stop. I’d probably go straight to “kill” mode. Therefore, I’m very comfortable asking government to enforce such a law.

I am firmly convinced that those of you who will not acquiesce to calling yourself a libertarian have never applied this simple principle to every single law you’ve considered a good idea.

But that’s sticking your head in the sand, because you cannot remove “being compelled by lethal force” from the equation of legislation.

Would the average Democrat put a gun to Bill Gates head and demand he pay a welfare mom who refuses to work, despite being physically able to, a chunk of the salary he worked so hard to attain?

Would the average environmentalist put a gun to the CEO of General Motors head and demand his vehicles get 30 mpg or you’ll splatter his brains all over the wall?

Would the average Republican put a gun to the head of a gay couple and tell them they had better not try to marry one another?

I’d like to think none would. But unlike me, they wrongly never take the time to think of considering the government in the proper way I proposed.

Libertarian Party Logo
Libertarian Party Logo

So I ask all of you, think about a law either proposed or on the books that you condone. Then imagine putting a gun to the head of the would-be violator and honestly ask yourself if you still feel the same.

If you do, I would like to think that for many of you, I can now warmly welcome you into realm of libertarianism. We’re glad to have you.

72 Dolphins—no longer undefeated

Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)
Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)

As any NFL football fan knows, the 1972 Dolphins are the NFL’s only team to go a full season without a loss. It was a pretty amazing accomplishment. However, at the time of their perfect season, it was not yet a common practice for the sitting president to invite the Super Bowl winning team to the White House. Then again, maybe Nixon was just a Redskins fan.

Nonetheless, Barack “The Cool President” Obama decided that it was better late than never and invited them now, 40ish years later.72DolphinsObama

Never mind the irony that a man hell-bent on penalizing the wealthiest Americans for success and giving what the successful have earned to the not-so-self-reliant, decided to bring a team to the White House that is the most successful NFL team in history. Maybe they were invited so he could force some of them to give their Super Bowl rings to the then 1-13 Houston Oilers? Seems plausible.

However, some Dolphins who aren’t so thrilled with the president’s policies opted not to attend. Among them, Hall of Fame center Jim Langer, former offensive lineman Bob Kuechenberg, and Manny Fernandez.

While I agree with these players in principle, I feel this reflected poorly on their part not to attend. The inviting of a team to the White House is a highly non-political event. Since I can’t really think of some evil socialist ulterior motive Obama might have had in doing this (The Super Bowl ring thing was a joke), I will give the president the benefit of the doubt that this was simply a nice gesture to give them the White House visit they never got.

If you’ve read my blog, you know that I disagree, often vehemently, with about 90% of what this president has championed and done. But if the blog fairy came and granted me fortune and fame resulting in an invite to a golf outing with the president, I’d go without hesitation, and I’ve even be thankful and respectful doing it. Then again, I do really love to play golf.Obama-golfing[1]

All kidding aside, Barack Obama is a human being as far as I know. When he’s not in front of a TV camera bashing Republicans and the upper class, he may be a reasonably nice guy. I have some Democrat friends, and although it pains me to admit it, my mother is a Democrat too; although she hasn’t voted since the 70’s as I understand it. While their policies seem to defy logic and ignore the history of socialism in one fell swoop, on occasion, Democrats can still be pretty good people to hang out with.

If the conversation were to get around to policy, I would do my best to be respectful to the man, logically laying out where I think he’s going wrong, and simply voice my displeasure with his performance, sharing my ideas for how I’d like to see him preside over our nation. The White House is likely a very lonely and isolated place where the president, surrounded by other politicians and advisers, gets mostly 2nd hand information about what the people are feeling. I doubt he’s supped with the random John Q. Public very often. So an opportunity for us constituents to chew on the president’s ear should not be wasted.

While I don’t care to debate with someone who appears to be ignorant to the point that they simply can’t intelligently debate me, I’d certainly sit down and hash it out with the man holding the veto pen. If I could change one heart and mind just a bit, who better than his?

If you have a policy issue, new idea, or are simply disgruntled, the worst thing you can do is remain quiet and say nothing to those who oppose you, especially if they were elected to serve you. Sure Obama hears the complaints from largely right-wing media outlets, but it can’t hurt for him to hear it face-to-face from the people he was elected to serve as well.

If a person believes in their ideas like I do, they should never be afraid to defend them in the face of a contrarian. If the ideas are sound, they will stand on their merits. I would think men who spent their professional lives relentlessly beating on one another for an hour would not be afraid to discuss politics with the president, but on this day, the president was only met with like or ambivalent minds.

It has been said that for evil men to accomplish their purpose it is only necessary that good men should do nothing. On this day, some of history’s mightiest athletes, chose the path of least resistance, and I say that as a result, the 72 Dolphins were handed their first loss. If you feel it, don’t be afraid to speak it. As much as he may not seem to appreciate it, along with every other government employee, he is a servant to the people, and should be treated like one.