The world is full of aggrieved groups: the Kurds, PETA, Boston firefighters. But you probably wouldn’t think to put poker players on the list.
Think again, pal. Left alone, poker players may be a contented bunch. But here in Massachusetts — where Governor Deval Patrick’s proposal to legalize casino gambling would also ban online gambling, including online poker — they’re up in arms. And on Tuesday, just before a legislative hearing on Patrick’s casino bill, they gathered at the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial on Boston Common to state their case.
A little after 9 am — as Patrick and a couple hundred union laborers held a pro-casino rally down the hill — Randall Castonguay, the beefy Massachusetts director of the Poker Players Alliance (PPA), grabbed a bullhorn and talked strategy to his 30 or so compatriots, who wore bright-red POKER IS NOT A CRIME T-shirts. “Today, we’re expecting that the governor will be coming through,” he said. “And we want to make our voices heard loud and clear.”
Next up: Charles Nesson, the silver-haired Harvard Law School professor and founder of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, who waxed eloquent on poker’s mental benefits. “I speak as a professor, a teacher,” Nesson said. “From my point of view, poker is a key to a strategy for education into the future. . . . Poker is a game of uncertain, incomplete information. It’s, in its way, the highest category of game — the closest model to economics and economic activity.”
After some brief chanting (“Now’s the time! Poker’s not a crime!”), Castonguay retook the bullhorn and offered another pro-online-poker argument. “The other day, I spoke to a 75-year-old man who called me on the phone from Wareham, Massachusetts,” he said. “This gentleman has congestive heart failure, can’t even get out of his house. He loves to play online poker. It’s the one last vestige of happiness that this man has!”
Unless the online-gaming provision — which would make online gambling punishable by up to two years in prison, and/or a fine of up to $25,000 — is eliminated, Castonguay added, the PPA wouldn’t back the casino bill. “We’re here to send a message that we are taking these cards to the river!” he bellowed. “I don’t care if I get dealt seven-two off-suit! I am taking these cards to the river!”
After two more speeches, the poker players mugged for a group photo. Then, as Castonguay and Nesson headed to the State House to testify, the others hauled their memorabilia (bumper stickers, pamphlets, donuts, a “Poker Prison” built by Castonguay’s mother and his wife) up to Beacon Street.
Finally, the union-heavy pro-casino contingent started filing past. It was time to act! But the poker players seemed to have grown tired or timid; confronted with the laborers’ quizzical smiles, they ignored them or looked away. “Who doesn’t love poker?” shouted one guy in a hard hat. “We do!” a poker player shouted back. “Okay, good,” Hard Hat replied. “ ’Cause I’m the best player in the state!” He walked away. The governor never showed up.