Interview with Shari Gellar Regarding Online Poker Legalization i

Posted by James Guill on Oct 17, 2011 Posted in Interviews | No Comments »

Yesterday, I spoke with legal expert and poker writer Shari Gellar regarding the chances of poker getting legalized this year.  In addition, I spoke with her regarding the recent Full Tilt Poker acquisition agreement with Group Bernard Tapie.

JG: In your opinion, what is the best chance for online poker becoming legalized before the election year?

Shari:   “It would probably take an act of God for that to happen.  If the clouds parted and a booming voice said I’ll obliterate the planet if you don’t pass legislation to regulate and legalize poker, you might be able to get the Republicans on board.

This is not a priority for either party and because of the association between poker and “gambling” it is always considered a political hot potato. It is even more problematic for politicians now due to the Full Tilt Poker scandal.”

JG:  So, if online poker isn’t passed in 2011, do you feel that is has any prayer of being passed during the 2012 election year?

Shari:  “No, it has zero chance of being passed during an election year.  One, because the parties are at odds and don’t want to work together because each side wants to blame the other for the country’s problems.  And this is not the kind of bill that has such overwhelming support on one side it can handle opposition.

This has to be bipartisan for it to be successful, and thats unlikely in this political climate.  Add to that the fact that those proposing legalization and regulation can’t even get on the same page and you have a recipe for disaster.

Which is unfortunate, because with the country needing revenue, this would be exactly the right time to pass this sort of legislation.”

JG:  From the beginning, one of the predominate arguments has been that if poker is proven as a “game of skill” then we could get legalization pushed through.  Do you think this argument holds any weight?

Shari:  “In part.  I think what differentiates poker from other forms of gambling is two things. One, you are playing not against the house, but against other players.

Two, there is an element of decision making that improves your chances for success.

Actually…make that three things.

I know of no other game where you can still win even if you did not have the best hand/outcome.  Meaning, you can’t bluff a craps table into giving you money because you tell it you rolled a seven.”

JG:  Do you think the argument will play a significant factor in getting poker legalized?

Shari:  “Actually, no.  Because for some reason, I’m not sure people can get their head around that argument.  Because to most people, if you get good cards (which is the result of an random event) you will do better than if you have bad cards.  Even poker players, who all share their bad beat stories cannot deny that luck does play a role and since they can’t ever quantify how much is luck versus skill, it will remain a tricky argument.”

JG:  What issues do you feel that lawmakers and lobbyists should focus on regarding poker legalization?

Shari:    “Revenue and safety.  We can use the concern that Americans have about jobs and money going to other countries to explain why having online poker legalized and regulated here would make more sense.  Why send all that money overseas.

And the Full Tilt Poker scandal can be used to explain why it is important for the U.S. to be involved in overseeing the industry. We can set up safety precautions and rules for the sites to follow so a similar thing (fraud, mismanagement, whatever you want to call it) does not happen again.  

So I think an argument that combines safety and oversight with revenue stands the best chance.”

JG:  How about the jobs issue in general.  Do you not feel that poker will create a significant number of jobs for American over and above those that choose to play poker professionally?

Shari:  “I don’t really see that this type of legislation would put much of a dent in the unemployment rate, but it would obviously bring jobs that are otherwise in the Isle of Man or Antigua back to the US.”

JG:  Let’s change the topic to Full Tilt Poker.  What is your opinion of the current “acquisition deal” with Group Bernard Tapie?

Shari: “I am stunned, frankly, that anyone would be interested in associating themselves with the Full Tilt name/brand right now.  I think it’s tarnished beyond repair.  And I don’t see that they have enough good will, customer potential and other tangible value for anyone to buy them.  But poker players are a forgiving bunch of people, quite a few went back to Absolute Poker.”

JG:  In order for the deal to go through, Full Tilt must reach an acceptable deal with the DOJ.  Do you believe they will reach an acceptable deal?

Shari:  “I have no idea. I can’t tell if this is a stunt by the French company or if they’re really interested.  And considering that if online poker is legalized in the US my suspicion is that the first operators would be those with existing land based casinos, I really don’t see the value in the FTP name.  So I’m cynical about this ever happening.

But people have done crazier things than buy the second most recognizable name in online poker.” 

JG:   What do you think the odds are of Full Tilt players getting repaid?

Shari:  “Fully, I’d say a million to one.  Some partial repayment is more in the 100 to one shot range.  A number of people, not just the Tapies, see value in  Full Tilt and know that for it to ever become a viable company it will first have to settle its debt to players, so someone will.  But I can’t see players getting repaid dollar for dollar.”



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