For those lacking context, I’m responding to Did Pappas and the PPA Just Shoot Full Tilt Players in the Foot? a blog post (written by Grange) that takes the PPA to task over a recent Forbes editorial penned by PPA head John Pappas.
Well, let’s start with the fact that the post never quite lives up to its title, which implies that the Pappas editorial will somehow interfere with payment for US players. There’s no serious argument on this score – just a quick line of speculation that the Pappas’ editorial could presumably wad up the undergarments of a bigwig at the DoJ to a level of tightness that would somehow impede payback of US Full Tilt players.
Further, Grange basically admits that the PPA can’t have a catastrophic impact on US payback right after getting as close as he comes to claiming that they will:
It seems foolhardy for Pappas to poke—and probably provoke—the DOJ by publicly asserting the DOJ wants to legalize the very conduct it has just spent years investigating and prosecuting in a high-profile manner. It’s certainly not the smartest public relations strategy.
Of course, the PPA probably has little or no credibility with the DOJ in any event. (emphasis added)
Well, which is it? Is the DoJ parsing Pappas’ every word like a starstruck schoolgirl triple-reading Tiger Beat? Or could they care less?
My guess, for what it’s worth, is that they treat the PPA just like they treat any lobbying organization interacting with the agency during the course of official business (heavily weighted toward general indifference). I’m sure this isn’t the first time the DoJ has dealt with backed by tainted money.
But Also, Pappas Didn’t Do The Thing That Wouldn’t Matter Anyway if He Did
Grange’s core complaint is with Pappas’ claim that the Stars / DoJ settlement can be read as an explicit endorsement by the DoJ of regulated online poker in the US. Here’s the offensive part of the Pappas editorial:
The hidden gem in this settlement agreement, however, has much larger stakes for American poker players as well as online poker more broadly. In the agreement, the U.S. Attorney’s Office very clearly left the door open for PokerStars, and it’s now-owned Full Tilt Poker, to become licensed online poker operators as soon as the United States decides to license and regulate this great American pastime.
This sends an important message to Congress. The Justice Department could have very easily banned PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker from the United States forever. Yet it chose not to. It chose to clearly recognize that online poker can and should be a viable industry in this country. Now the question is, will Congress listen?
As Grange writes it, Pappas “crossed the line” and is guilty of ”blatant misrepresentations” via the above. I’ll agree that the “should” is maybe stretching it a bit, but you could argue that the DoJ already said that and more with their 2011 Wire Act flip-flop.
Past that, I’m not sure where the problem is.
Among lots of other things, the settlement between the DoJ and Stars basically says that PokerStars can’t offer real-money online poker in the US until it’s legal, but that – when it is legal – the company can’t be stopped from getting a license as a result of the settlement (and presumably the allegations therein). Some people found this very significant, and others didn’t.
Wherever you land, the ultimate reason for the inclusion of these provisions is obviously known only to the parties involved in the final negotiations of the settlement. Pappas is not claiming to be one of those parties, nor to speak for any of the parties. Instead, Pappas is offering one possible interpretation of what one might read in the tea leaves of legal language – a pretty common pastime that rarely gets you called a liar.
The more I sit here thinking about Pappas’ argument, the more I appreciate why it tilted Grange. It’s not a great argument. It’s not even really an argument at all – more just two ideas in proximity. There is a big, big step between the DoJ leaving the door open for PokerStars / Full Tilt Poker in a future, regulated US market and a full-throated DoJ endorsement of that market.
That said, Pappas is free to speculate, as are we all, about what the settlement really means. It’s tough to see a world where the DoJ changes anything about their day based on speculation in the media about a case they’re clearly ready to keep wrapping up.
I’m not affiliated with the PPA (although I did participate in one of their lobbying events a year or two ago). I certainly don’t think they should be above criticism, nor do I think Pappas has always been on point. I just think taking thin shots at the organization doesn’t serve much purpose to anyone except those who would just like to see the PPA burn for the sake of it.
Pappas’ editorial certainly won’t save online poker, but it’s just as unlikely to do it any damage. Meanwhile, other arms of the PPA – like Rich Muny – are doing solid work day in and day out that will likely have an impact. I think it’s better to focus there and not on micro-critiques of opinion pieces that are mainly grist for the mill.