Haley Hintze is one of my favorite poker writers. Her continued coverage of the UB / AP scandal is fascinating and essential reading, and her work at PokerFuse, PPN and KAP is always informed, entertaining and frequently makes me nod in agreement.
Everyone knows what comes after a lead like that, right?
I recently read two pieces by Hintze that made me shake my head rather than nod: “The Fatal Flaw in the PPA Lobbying Game Plan” and “A Flawed PPA Might Just Not Be Better Than None.” Both take the Poker Player’s Alliance to the woodshed, and it would be tough for me to disagree more thoroughly with Hintze and the conclusions she draws about / charges she levies against the PPA.
As I’ve mentioned before, I have no qualms about calling out the PPA when it’s deserved. I just don’t think Hintze’s shots meet that threshold.
Hintze has a number of complaints with the PPA that all quasi-revolve around the call for an online gambling ban in the 2012 GOP platform. Let’s talk a bit about her main points and why I think they miss the mark.
Complaint #1: The PPA Didn’t Respond Forcefully Enough to the Platform Decision
Hintze has some strong words for the PPA’s response to the GOP platform:
If ever an instant occurred where the PPA should have picked up the phones and screamed to GOP policymakers that they represented a million-plus poker players who knew how to vote, that instant was earlier this week. [...]
Instead, the PPA threw its supposed million-plus, special-interest members into the trash, doing its best to not irritate anyone on the GOP side of the political aisle.
Really? Party platforms are essentially wishlists of the most activist aspects of the base and not a reflection of political reality. Language calling for an online gambling ban has been in the GOP platform since 2000. Any response from the PPA beyond the sensible, measured reaction the PPA’s Rich Muny wrote would have been counterproductive, a waste of resources and given unnecessary legitimacy to a non-mainstream view regarding online poker. Precisely how this amounts to throwing members in the trash is unclear (save Hintze’s assertion that it does).
What’s even odder is that Hintze admits the platform plank doesn’t mean anything right before she slams the PPA for not caring enough about this thing that … doesn’t mean anything:
Therefore, the GOP policy plank has little chance of affecting the DOJ’s so-called interpretation; it is instead solely an indication of GOP policy on the topic, which has been and continues to be a stance against online poker since the game itself came to be.
In short: The far right doesn’t like gambling, and calls for an online gambling ban have been a fixture of the GOP platform for over a decade. That was true before this platform, and it’s just as true after the platform. It’s a little hard to fault the PPA for not reacting enough given that nothing happened for them to react to.
Complaint #2: The PPA is Wasting Their Time Courting the GOP
This one is a bit of a mind-boggler for me. Hintze writes:
If one tracks the PPA’s lobbying efforts over its history, the group has spent most of its time and money attempting to court GOP favor, rather than pursuing Democratic votes. [...]
That’s right: The PPA has spent years and a healthy chunk of its very limited lobbying budget in trying to get on the good side of folks who want nothing to do with them in the first place.
Maybe they’ve changed a vote or three, but in terms of bang for the buck, one could not do worse. This is core incompetence, regardless of the political climate, a desire to want to act in a certain manner rather than choosing a strategy that’s most effective.
A vote or three?
If you had told me in 2007 that one of the strongest public advocates for the regulation of online poker would be a Republican from Texas or that UIGEA architect and GOP strongman Jon Kyl would confirm his collaboration with Harry Reid on a bill to regulate online poker, I would’ve had a hard time keeping a straight face.
I’m having a similar difficulty at this point with Hintze’s willingness to omit those two critical facts about the status quo when discussing the relationship between the GOP, the PPA and online poker regulation.
In Hintze’s eyes, the epitome of the PPA’s GOP-courting numbskullery is their annual purchase of a booth at CPAC:
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the height of PPA folly has been to purchase an annual lobbying booth at the American Conservative Union’s annual CPAC (Conservative Political Action Congress), where good chunks of the attendees likely scoot right by the PPA booth while averting their eyes.
It’s one thing to call something folly – it’s another thing to show that it is.
The idea that federal online poker regulation can pass sans conservative support is just false on face, so it’s obvious why the PPA shouldn’t be scolded for attending CPAC. Further, if you take a look at the 2012 exhibitor’s list for CPAC, the PPA doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb – or like any sort of thumb. Also, if this document is correct, it cost a maximum of $3,500 to exhibit at CPAC 2012. Hardly a princely sum.
If the “height of the PPA’s folly” is spending $3,500 once a year to reach out to a mix of social conservatives and libertarian-leaning GOP’ers, I am completely comfortable with that level of folly.
I think that’s pretty much the end of the line for this complaint, but – if you still think it has merit – consider these two final issues:
- Hintze never specifies how skewed the PPA was toward the GOP in terms of spend and effort. She just says “if one tracks” and “most of its time and money.” Well, it sounds like she’s implying that she did track and compare, so why is the crucial bit of context missing from the article?
- Hintze’s implied alternative is that the PPA should have pursued “Democratic votes.” At the point where you’re condemning the existence of the PPA, I think there needs to be some concrete expression of how an alternative strategy would look and a touch of analysis as to why it would be superior. There’s also no proof that the PPA didn’t court Democratic votes & support in parallel – reaching out to the GOP and Dems simultaneously is hardly a mutually exclusive proposition.
Complaint #3: Poker Players Would be Better Off Without the PPA
Hintze concludes both articles by opining that the PPA does more harm than good as far as it concerns the typical online poker player. From the provocatively / brain-bendingly titled “A Flawed PPA Might Just Not be Better Than None”:
But lobbying? Ecch. The group claims to represent players, serves up the wrong representatives, lobbies the wrong people, and supports bills that could well do as much harm as good.[...]
An organization like that, poker players don’t need. Poker has a hard enough time as it is, without its lobbying face being occupied by a group that doesn’t serve players’ interests first. In the meantime, maybe the organization should change its name to the Poker Business Alliance, and leave the poor players out of it.
I already covered how the PPA isn’t lobbying the wrong people. I’m not entirely sure what bills the PPA has supported that would “do as much harm as good” given that just about all the harm that can be done to poker players has already been done. There’s also no explanation as to how the PPA prevents an alternative lobbying face from emerging.
Hintze’s analysis also neglects PPA rep Rich Muny’s work to channel the energies of online poker players to focused, productive points through daily action plans, not to mention his ongoing engagement with players and the media at large that serves to educate and inform countless numbers of voters and potential advocates for poker. That’s exactly the sort of organization poker players need, and while the PPA may not have always been that organization, they seem to be now.
As for the “Poker Business Alliance” crack, what can you say? There’s no such thing as a path to online poker regulation that doesn’t pass through the toll booths of commercial casinos, tribal gaming interests, and so on, so there’s no bite behind this bark. Further, Hintze doesn’t identify the business interests that are allegedly pulling the PPA’s strings, nor how the agenda of the PPA diverges from “player’s interests” – whatever those may be.
One last line from the KAP article deserves specific attention:
There are well-founded rumors that the PPA even helped scuttle a piece of worthy pro-poker legislation a few months back because the bill in question didn’t serve the PPA’s own corporate and image needs.
What bill? What was the conflict? How did the PPA – a group that, by all previous standards Hintze established, has basically no influence – manage to scuttle it? What corporate needs? It’s not that I’m unwilling to believe such a thing is possible – I’m just a little uncomfortable with how this pretty serious accusation is just shuffled in toward the end of an article with no attribution or support whatsoever.
The PPA is always an easy target, and only sometimes a valid one. To me, this is an instance of the former and not the latter. From my point of view, it’s a shame that Hintze has deployed her quite-credible voice to undermine the PPA at a point where the group is doing some of its best work on the grassroots side – and during a time when US poker players may have more to gain from presenting a united front than ever before.