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Inside Straight -- News

Reviews, News, and Interviews From Around the Poker World

by Card Player News Team |  Published: Mar 20, 2009

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Colorado Verdict a Huge Victory for Poker
Poker Players Alliance Supports Local Poker Players
By Stephen A. Murphy

Rafferty's was hoppin'.

It was the biggest poker night the Greeley, Colorado, bar had seen in quite some time. The owners even had to pull out a third table on Aug. 12 to accommodate the 30 or so players who had come to play in the $20 tournament. But then, out of nowhere, the bar was full of police officers.

"When the police came in, I knew exactly what was going to happen," said Mary Paiz, one of the organizers of the tournament.

The police had come to break up the game, and when the dust cleared, five people were arrested - Paiz, Kevin Raley, Jim Vaughn, Tim Ouellette, and Braden Waddle.

These five small-stakes poker players never planned on becoming martyrs for the game they loved. In fact, they had gone out of their way to create a poker game that was legal. They researched Colorado law and even created bylaws for their twice-a-week game.

"That's the irony of this," said Vaughn. "We were doing everything we could to do it legally."

In Colorado, illegal gambling excludes any "bona fide contests of skill." The players were confident that they could prove that Texas hold'em fit into that exemption.

Although they were determined that they had done nothing wrong, the five players weren't exactly thrilled with the idea of facing a lengthy and expensive legal battle.

"If the police hadn't made as big a deal of it as they did, we probably would've taken a deal," said Ouellette.

Although the five players were originally charged with professional gambling, those charges were soon downgraded. Still, if the players had taken a plea and then were caught again participating in a poker tournament that was deemed illegal, the consequences could be dire.

"They could've potentially brought us up on felony charges," said Ouellette, who admitted he was concerned that an online poker tournament or even a charity tournament that didn't fill out its paperwork accurately could qualify as a second offense. "None of us wanted this on our records."

So, the "Greeley Five" begrudgingly proceeded toward their trial date.

Before they ever went on trial, the prosecution reduced the charges to a petty offense with a maximum fine of $100, according to Raley. But by that time, the group was invested in the case and determined to see it out.

The Poker Players Alliance came in to support the players, even paying for an expert witness, Dr. Robert Hannum, a statistics professor from the University of Colorado.

The five defendants had to file their cases individually, so it was a crapshoot as to who would actually go first in court. The luck of the draw selected Raley as the first defendant to face trial. After a two-day trial, he was found not guilty on Jan. 22.

"It is further confirmation that poker is indeed a game of skill, not chance," commented Gary Reed, the Colorado state director of the PPA. "At the same time, the not-guilty verdict cements the rights of Colorado citizens to enjoy the American pastime of poker, and will allow law enforcement to use its scarce resources to investigate real unlawful activity in the state, not poker games."

After the verdict, the four remaining cases were dropped without prejudice. The term "without prejudice" means that the district attorney can refile the cases if he sees fit; in fact, he has appealed the judge's decision to allow Hannum's expert testimony, which presented evidence that poker is a game of skill. Regardless of the outcome of the appeal, Raley's not-guilty verdict cannot be overturned, and the other four players are confident that they won't have to face their day in court.

"It's good to have this whole thing over with," said Waddle. "I'm hopeful that this is going to bring about change."

Colorado is just one of a growing number of states that have seen recent poker-related trials. A Pennsylvania judge also ruled that poker should be considered a game of skill in January, and at press time, a trial was taking place in South Carolina in which the skill versus chance debate was at the forefront.

Vaughn said he is currently having discussions with the owners of Rafferty's to bring back the now-infamous poker tournament league.

"We'll get together, have some beers, eat some wings, and play a little poker," said Raley. "There are no victims here."



PPA Chairman Discusses Poker's Future
Former New York Senator Discusses PPA's Goals
By Stephen A. Murphy

Al D'AmatoThe Poker Players Alliance has experienced a busy start to 2009, lending its support to a number of successful poker court cases around the country.

PPA Chairman Alfonse D'Amato, the former Republican New York senator, recently published an article in Roll Call, the Capitol Hill magazine, calling for the regulation of online poker.

He recently sat down with Card Player to discuss some of the pressing issues that the organization faces in 2009.

The PPA was founded in 2005 to support the establishment of favorable laws for poker players. D'Amato joined the organization in 2007.

How has the Poker Players Alliance grown since you joined the organization?

I'm entering my third year now. In that time, we've made some tremendous strides in gaining support, particularly with members who have signed on to sponsor legislation. Congressman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) has an omnibus approach, an approach that would basically legalize many activities that this particular legislation [the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act] prohibits. It would permit poker.

There is the congressman from Florida, Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), who has more narrowly crafted legislation that would permit playing poker over the Internet.

And then there is Congresswoman Shelley Berkley's (D-Nev.) legislation, which calls for a study to determine the effects of online poker.

We've gone from being viewed as villains to building a robust group of over a million members in the Poker Players Alliance. We have the active support of 50 or more members of Congress. I believe that during this next Congress, we have a good opportunity of reversing this madness, and allow people their individual rights in their own homes.

What do you think are the biggest hurdles moving forward for online poker?

It's convincing some people that their concerns about youngsters can be dealt with in a very effective way. They have a legitimate concern. They don't want youngsters to become addicted. We can provide software that can screen out underage participants.

The second concern is that we'd have unsavory people ruining the games. But we can demonstrate by showing what's taking place in Europe, where every single game can be viewed and stored, that we can prevent manipulation. If you license and regulate, you can see to it that it's an honest game.

Another thing you have to recognize is that the NFL has played a very substantial role in bankrolling a number of organizations that have come out in opposition to us. We are not interested in legalizing sports betting.

Is poker currently on the legislative agenda for the new Congress, and if not, what will it take to get it there?

Well, you can't suggest that it should be on the agenda this early in this legislative session, given the incredible meltdown in the financial community, given the priorities of the president and the Congress now. But it will be.

The UIGEA will probably be overturned during this legislative session, but I'm not going to predict early on, because the fact of the matter is that they're dealing with the president's economic stimulus package. The president's nominees aren't going to be thinking about this because it pales in comparison to these other issues.

To knock on the door of the various legislators now and say, "Hey, by the way, we should appeal that obnoxious, ridiculous bill …," people would think that we're nuts. They'd wonder where our priorities are. We would be hurting ourselves to attempt to push anything right now during these monumental times of crisis.

Can you talk a little bit about some of the recent court cases that have gone on in Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky?

They've been terrific. This kook in Kentucky who's tried to take the rights of poker sites is just incredible, but when you mention Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Colorado, those were three victories for the poker community in less than a week. The courts in all three of these states have affirmed that individuals have a right to play poker in a time and place of their choosing.

If you want to play poker at home, you have a right to do that. If you want to play down at the VFW, you have a right to do that. These cases are a confirmation that poker is indeed a game of skill, not chance.

Can you speak a little bit about the poker culture of Washington?

I played in a pretty regular game, mostly on Thursday nights. It was a modest game. Historically, almost every president has played poker - Nixon, Truman, Lyndon Johnson. We have presidents who played with their cabinet members, congressmen, and senators. I know a number of senators who have played and who do play, but I'm not going to start mentioning names.

What can Card Player readers do to help the PPA?

Call your congressman on the phone and ask where he [she] stands on this issue. Go visit him at his office - not in Washington, but in your local district. If you have a couple friends who play poker on the Internet, bring them with you. There's nothing like the individual reaching out.



Full Tilt Signs Sweden's Michael Tureniec
First Swedish Full Tilt Pro
By Julio Rodriguez

Michael TureniecIn an effort to stretch its marketing efforts to Sweden, Full Tilt Poker has added up-and-coming poker superstar Michael Tureniec to its stable of Full Tilt pros.

Tureniec is the first Swede to be signed by Full Tilt, joining other Europeans such as Jens Voertmann (Germany), Sigi Stockinger (Austria), Claudio Rinaldi (Switzerland), Soren Kongsgaard (Denmark), Nikolay Evdakov (Russia), Alessio Isaia (Italy), and Trond Erik Eidsvig (Norway), among others.

Tureniec final-tabled a tournament at the EPT Copenhagen, finished runner-up at the EPT London for more than $700,000, and then won an event at the Master Classics of Poker for just over $200,000. Most recently, he made a deep run in the Aussie Millions main event, eventually finishing in 19th place.



Dennis Phillips and Ylon Schwartz Join Team PokerStars
Team Grows to 31 Players
By Julio Rodriguez


Ylon SchwartzPokerStars has signed World Series of Poker "November Nine" members Dennis Phillips and Ylon Schwartz to its team of pros. Both players will promote the PokerStars brand in online and live events, and will represent the site at various global poker tour stops.

Phillips, an accountant for a trucking company in St. Louis, Missouri, finished third in the main event, for a payday of $4,517,773.
In addition to his duties for the site, Phillips hosts a radio show in St. Louis and has a blog on CardPlayer.com. He will be playing on PokerStars as "D.Phillips."

Dennis PhillipsSchwartz was certainly more experienced than most of the players at the main-event final table, and his ability to draw from the past led him to a fourth-place finish and a $3,794,974 cash. The New York City resident has been on the tournament circuit for years, but before that, he was a prominent chess player. He will play online under the name "YlonSchwartz."

Both players join a PokerStars team that includes the likes of Greg Raymer, Chris Moneymaker, Joe Hachem, Chad Brown, Daniel Negreanu, Barry Greenstein, and others.

With its new additions, the team is now comprised of 31 players.