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The Thin Green Line - February 10

This past week, the sporting world was rocked with the announcement that legendary hockey player Rick Tocchet was accused of being involved in a massive gambling ring. Included in the accusations of people who either ran the ring or people who were placing bets in the ring were many hockey players, as well as the high profile wife of one Wayne Gretzky. After reading the news, one thought quickly and clearly passed through my mind.

Should we really be surprised?

I mean seriously, should we? I am personally surprised that this didn’t happen earlier with a higher profiled organization, or that more people aren’t involved. Pardon the pun, but I think the opening round of the investigation is only the tip of the iceberg. It wouldn’t surprise me if a greater net is cast and you get at least 30-40% of the league affected by this in one way or the other.

I am not trying to single out the NHL. The fact of the matter is that gambling is such a proficient influence on society that it would be nearly impossible to think that there’s only one organization that’s doing it. I would make a wager (proverbially, not literally) that all of you know someone who is involved with a gambling organization – whether you know them or you don’t.

At least when the whole Michael Jordan gambling controversy came out in the 1990’s, he bet in a casino, a ‘legit’ organization…which is where another point comes up. What is the difference between legal and illegal? I would also gather that most of you have done some sort of illegal gambling in your lifetime. Yes, most of you. You ever gamble on-line? Illegal. Ever place a wager with a bookie? Illegal. Sure you know those two things, but let’s keep going. You ever participate in an NCAA Final 64 Bracket or a Football Square Pool? Illegal. What about playing cards with your friends for money? Illegal. Yes, according to most governmental law, any playing for money that is not regulated by your government can be deemed illegal.

But on the other hand, why shouldn’t you continue to do illegal gambling deeds – especially when you are being spurred on by the same media that tells you that gambling is bad? Look at the subculture of gambling and how it has grown over the past 3 years alone with the emergence of the World Poker Tour and the World Series of Poker. Let’s look at Poker Royale, High Stakes Poker, Poker Superstars Invitational or any other show that glamorizes the poker world and how any shlub off of the streets can, with some playing and a little luck, be an instant millionaire and have his finances taken care of forever. Who cares about Stu Unger or the hundreds of people who spend upwards of $10,000 of their own money that they probably could not afford to do. It’s the American Dream, right?

This is how the television media is trying to get it’s ad dollars now, and if you’ve seen all of the online casino commercials in those same sort of shows, you can figure out that it’s working – big time. According to medialifemagazine.com, in 2005, worldwide gambling revenue reached $10.9 billion this year, about 20 times more than what’s spent on digital music and 10 times more than online porn. And that’s just the vig, or fees charged to players. EMarketer says more than $200 billion was spent on playing games. The $10.9 billion is a 28 percent increase versus $8.5 billion last year. That’s billion, with a B. EMarketer attributes some of the growth of online gambling to 2003 World Series of Poker winner Chris Moneymaker, who qualified for the tournament through an online poker site, giving amateur gamblers everywhere hope.

Gambling is the new prohibition, the new forbidden fruit, the new potent portable that can get you drunk and lose your inhibitions. I mean that in every sense of the phrase. Most of the on-line gambling is ‘illegal’ because the government can not regulate it, but at the same time, legitimate brick and mortar casinos are popping up quicker than rabbits. It will only be a matter of time until the major casinos will be able to set up their own on-line establishments, where the lure of racking up player points will be enough of a motivator to get people off of partypoker.com. Of course, those internet sites will still be operational because not everyone lives an hour away from Donald Trump or Steve Wynn.

But like alcohol, gambling has it’s own addictions. As you all know from WLTI, I am a proud member of pokerroom.com. I put in a $50 investment in October of 2005. Not only have I gotten it back, I have also withdrawn over $400 from that site. The key is that I have never had to put in anything besides the $50. Consistent and sharp tournament play on my part has kept me in the black. However, not everyone plays the way I do, nor does everyone play as responsibly as I do. I love to play in the Sit and Goes, where $5 can net you as much as $25. One of the plays that’s continually made is that one person on the first hand puts all of their money in the pot to try to get lucky and get a nice sized stack where they can bully people around during the game. More often than not, the strategy doesn’t work, which leaves the person out 5 bucks in around 30 seconds. Should they do this technique even 3 times in a day, that’s $15 down the tubes daily. $105 weekly and $5,460 yearly. $5 here and $5 there does add up to a lot, and people who don’t count their money are not going to realize that.

The gambling is not just on poker. Many foreign on-line sites have betting odds on Survivor or The Apprentice. Think you know based on insider information who’s going to win The Amazing Race? Then plunk down $300 and see what happens. Maybe a bet on Stacy Keibler to win Dancing With the Stars 2 or on the Brittenum Brothers to be in the Top 12 of American Idol is in order. If you want to part with your money, the internet gambling services that be have devised hundreds of ways for you to do so – all from the comfort of your living room and all of which a handful of clicks away.

I’m not saying that I am taking the high road on this – far from it. But how can any government responsibly go after one or a group of people for something that’s only deemed legal because they don’t have a piece of the action? And how can you tell the youth of America that this is a problem when you are constantly selling this impossible dream on your television set? The ‘well it’s only bad because it’s not from us’ mentality didn’t work in the 1920’s and it’s not working now, because all that the youth is doing is following what they are seeing on television – television that is being provided to them by the adults of America.

If you REALLY want to curb the problem, then education and regulation is the key. Let the government figure out how to get a piece of the action. And if you do want to see a movie that doesn’t glamorize a casino, I highly suggest to pick up the movie ‘High Roller – The Stu Unger Story’ if you want to see the real world of gambling. Let’s see if GSN can find the time to add that to their ‘Anything to Win’ collection during their Japanese Slot Machine infomercials or their 18,000th on-line casino advertisement.

Gordon Pepper will take your money and run... We oughta start calling him the Whammy. E-mail him at gordon@gameshownewsnet.com.
 

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