John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Mad Mullahs and Poker

Posted on June 17, 2009

The revolution in Iran is essentially about control.

Younger people in Tehran are sick and tired of the conservative mullahs telling them how to live their lives. The conservatives demand that these young whippersnappers conform to a conservative, religious way of life.

The young people want freedom and the older people don’t want to give it to them.

Hence, revolution.

Of course, I am simplifying this whole situation, and there is a lot more to the story, but back here in America, we can learn a thing or two about freedom.

Last week, prosecutors from the Southern District of New York decided to impound millions of dollars from a couple of banks, because the money belonged to several hundred Internet poker players.

Now, playing poker on the Internet is not illegal in this country. But because of a dumb law that was passed at the under the Republican Congress in 2006, it is illegal for an American company to facilitate Internet poker playing (the kind that actually pays out money) here in the U.S.

Because of this dumb law, pretty much all of the poker playing companies are located in other parts of the world. Some are in Antigua, some are in Canada, and some are in Europe.

This is dumb because Internet poker is still being played throughout the world, many Americans are playing, and the U.S. has no power to either regulate it or tax it.

It is also dumb because poker is a treasured American pastime.

And poker is very popular in Washington D.C., the place that came up with this dumb law in the first place.

Members of Congress have several regular poker games that I know about. The Supreme Court has a regular poker game. Members of the media play in all kinds of poker games.

You can argue that Barack Obama would never have been President if he didn’t play poker. It was a regular poker game in the Illinois State Legislature that helped him build the relationships that propelled him to fame and political success.

Harry Truman was playing poker with Speaker Sam Rayburn when he heard that his boss had died, and it was his turn to be President.

These guys didn’t play for chopsticks. They played for money.

And you really can’t escape poker if you turn on the television. ESPN hosts the World Series of Poker. NBC hosts a poker game on Sunday. There is poker after dark on another network. Even the Travel channel has a poker game.

That’s okay by me.

Poker is a fun game. You match wits with your buddies, you bluff, you compete, you have the element of chance and the element of skill, and it is great way to spend an evening.

So, why in God’s name, would some people want to stop other people from playing poker on the Internet?

Perhaps they have some religious problem with gambling.

Well, that cat is out of the bag, that horse has left the barn, that train has left the station. Most states have lotteries, many have casinos, and many others have either horse or dog racing. Banning gambling is like banning beer. Dumb idea.

The case has been made that Internet gambling is bad for kids. Well, there are a lot of things that are bad for kids on the Internet. Internet porn is bad. Internet hate groups are bad. Internet shopping is bad. Hell, some can make the case that the Internet itself it bad for kids.

But that is no reason to ban Internet poker. And I will make the case that if you want to protect kids, make Internet poker legal and then regulate it so that kids have a harder time playing.

This all goes back to the issue of control. Like in Iran, some mullahs have decided that they don’t like a certain kind of activity. They want to control the activities because they think it is bad. But playing poker is not subversive. It is not evil. It is not even bad.

It used to be said that the definition of puritan is the overwhelming fear that somebody, somewhere is having fun. Well, in America, we don’t ban fun. We have it.

I would hope that those prosecutors in New York get their heads on straight, and give the poker players their money back. This ain’t Iran, fellas. Not yet, at least.

Subscribe to the Feehery Theory Newsletter, exclusively on Substack.
Learn More