Was the Ventetian Poker Boycott a Success?
I’d be remiss were I not to address a few questions and try to provide closure to the manifestation of frustration known at the Great Venetian Poker Boycott of 2013.
In case you missed the — and based on the number of poker games going full steam at the Venetian all of last week, many of our dearest brethren seemed to have missed the hell out of it — the forces of good boycotted the darker forces of evil during a five-day period that between July 22-26, 2013.
The question we now must ask ourselves was — was the boycott a success?
I suppose this all depends on who you ask and how you look at things. Much like a glass “half full” or “half empty” argument, there is no clear answer. That said, I’ll try my best to provide a rear-view perspective on this issue and examine what worked versus what did not:
Question: Was the boycott of the Venetian Poker Room a success?
Answer: Yes and no. The boycott clearly accomplished a few objectives. First, we drew lots of media attention to Sheldon Adelson’s (mostly baseless) arguments against online poker’s legalization and the irrefutable lunacy of his contention that poker is not a game of skill. Second, the boycott controversy kept the online poker issue very much in the news — not just within poker/gaming media but in the mainstream press, as well. According to my most recent count, 47 websites ran at least one story related to the Venetian poker boycott. Multiple articles also appeared in the Las Vegas press. The story made two nightly television new broadcasts (including the ABC and CBS affiliates) and one radio segment (CBS). I also appeared on four poker podcasts and did two web-based video interviews. Moreover, I still have Four more interviews pending. Keep in mind that our primary objective was to draw attention online poker as not just a gaming story, but a business and economic issue, as well. However, I won’t deny that the boycott was unsuccessful in some ways. Clearly, not as many poker players neither supported the initiative nor actively participated as I would have liked (or expected). In fact, the number of players who continued to play at the Venetian during boycott week was disheartening. Sadly, I’m convinced this lack of unity and utter indifference to consumer activism hurts us deeply as a community and dissuades others from viewing us as a constituency to be taken seriously. Failure to engage is one the primary reasons we now see ourselves in the position of not being able to play online poker in most states at the moment.
Question: What would I have done differently to make the boycott more successful?
Answer: I’m not sure we could have gotten more media attention, although an empty Venetian poker room for five straight days would surely have created a firestorm of press had that happened. The bottom line is, a lot of poker players simply don’t care. And even those that say they care often aren’t willing to do much in order to change things. That’s probably the most depressing thing of all I learned from this experience.
Question: Do I still hold a grudge against the Venetian poker room?
Answer. No. I never held a personal grudge against the Venetian poker room, nor any of its staff. Quite to the contrary. I’m a huge fan of Kathy Raymond. My point of contention was (and remains) against Sheldon Adelson, the Chairman and CEO of the Sands Corporation, which owns the Venetian. Let me make it clear that I’ll continue to speak out against Mr. Adelson and others who want to deny me the right to play online poker or work in a what should be a booming industry that could hire perhaps 25,000-30,000 Nevadans in what I foresee as the “Silicon Valley of Gaming.” That’s a concept I envisioned a decade ago, which I still see happening someday, despite Mr. Adelson’s objections. Nothing that happened at the Venetian changes what’s coming in the future, and that’s legal online poker (in a majority of states).
Question: Are you upset with poker players and the Las Vegas poker community?
Answer: Yes. I think this was a moment of shame for many people I held in high regard. There’s no way to sugar coat this, and I won’t. We needed leadership at this time and a lot of people failed to step forward. That’s a disgrace.
Question: What about the fear that a successful boycott would have hurt dealers and other staff, who might have been the real unintended victims?
Answer: Total nonsense. Reducing the number of games at the Venetian wouldn’t have made much of a difference to employees. I hoped games might drop by a third, which would have been perhaps 3-4 tables less of players during the busiest times. The boycott was to last for five days. That’s it. Furthermore, I never asked players stop playing poker on The Strip. Had players simply played somewhere else instead during the boycott, think of how the dealers at other properties might have benefited, by being a little busier than normal. It would have been a net-zero gain or loss for poker dealers overall throughout the city.
Question: Weren’t you just shilling for properties owned by Caesars Entertainment, with which you’ve been associated for many years, which might have benefited from a successful boycott?
Answer: Everyone knows I work for the World Series of Poker. And no one at any property, including any casino owned by Caesars Entertainment has said a word to me about this issue or the boycott. This was my initiative. Solely. I’ve been on the record since 1998 as a strong proponent of online poker. My numerous writings on this issue — many written and published long before I joined with Caesars Entertainment — speak for themselves.
Question: Are you encouraged by many poker players who supported the boycott?
Answer: Yes. More than I can possibly express. I can’t begin to count or list the many players who called me, texted me, posted comments at Facebook and on Twitter, and made it clear they supported the boycott. For every Las Vegas local who disappointed me with silence and indifference, I gained at least twice as much support from people I had never met before. That was a great victory to see who really has the courage and conviction to fight for what they believe in. People like — Gavin Smith, Bryan Devonshire, Frank Kasella, Kara Scott, Michael G. Friedman, Shaun Deeb, Stephen McLoughlin, Chris Cronin, Mike Lloyd, Alexia Alsop, Mike Qualley, Rich Muny, Loru Kolstad, Marco Valerio, Jerome Schmidt, Edward R. Bob Coombs, Cameron Schneider, Carl Adkins, Lee Davy, Chris Ford, Scott Porcella, Riley G. Matthews, Jr, Lauren Failla, Larry Bierman, Ben Mintz, Fabio Coppola, Dan Ross, Eric Chan, and many, many more which I regret not mentioning by name.
Question: Will you continue to boycott the Venetian poker room and ask for others to do the same?
Answer: I believe the best way to demonstrate to Sheldon Adelson that we are appalled by his words and actions is to carry this over and boycott his hotels and refuse to play on the casino floor (non-poker). However, I’m not calling for an extended boycott of the poker room at this time. I’ll leave it up to poker players to make their own decisions about who deserves their loyalty.
Question: Sands has recently announced record profits. Why does this matter?
Answer: Fighting for your rights matters. Calling attention to a worthy cause matters. Fighting for additional jobs for Nevada residents matters. Acting in solidarity for a common purpose matters. Standing up and being counted matters. Perhaps most important — being able to look at yourself later and say you tried to do something matters. Whether Mr. Adelson is the 12th or 13th richest man in the world doesn’t matter.
Question: Given what you know now about how things turned out, would you do the boycott again?
Answer: Yes. Absolutely. I’d rather fight and lose and be proud of the effort rather than sit in silence and do nothing. To me, letting the other side spread lies and misinformation and make no attempt at an orchestrated response simply isn’t an option. I repeat — silence and indifference is not an acceptable option to me. I’m more passionate about this fight than ever before.
Note: I want to call out two people with whom I have an honest, but respectful disagreement. Linda Johnson voiced her opposition to the boycott and I understand her reasons for doing so. I also wish to call out Robert Stan, for his excellent column on why he did not participate. I am disappointed Mr. Stan did not join us, but I appreciate his thoughtfulness and willingness to share those views with others (SEE HERE). Some of us can agree to disagree.
We talked about it a great deal on HoldemRadio and Tweeted out the players who were supporting it. I was disappointed in the number of players who responded to us by saying their single voice didn’t matter so they were going to go ahead and play at the Venetian.
For one who claims to represent poker players in general, you, Nolan, seem to know so little about them. The failed, botched, horrendously ineffective boycott of the Venetian poker room is proof of that. But what really bothers me is the fact that you are willing to go after fellow denizens of the poker industry. I’m really glad this attempt of yours failed.
Why is there a duty for Nolan to not “go after fellow denizens of the poker industry” when that same duty doesn’t apply to the Sheldon Adelson’s of the world?
If Nolan has a duty to support colleagues in the industry (as you seem to suggest) then surely the same thing applies to Adelson.
People in the poker industry absolutely should take action against others who harm it: It’s why the poker industry should turn on folks associated with UB/AP, Adelson, and others who cause harm to the game that so many of us love.
That is a very lucid intelligent question and thank you for not overlooking it. I think I can answer your question with a question. What did ANY of the Venetian poker room personnel do to warrant a boycott? I agree there are scum that should be drummed out and prosecuted to the fullest. However these people do not fall into that category.
Go after Adelson by all means. Just be smart about it.
While I appreciate that you may be trying to be gracious to people who disagreed with you, Robert Stan’s article wasn’t the least bit “excellent” on why he did not participate.
He simply said that participating would cost him – and he didn’t want to pay the cost.
That’s the whole point of a boycott: people sacrifice something to make a bigger point. You sacrifice eating at a nice restaurant because you want to protest their hiring policies. You sacrifice going to a particular country because you want to protest their laws.
Robert’s article simply affirmed that he would continue to put his own self-interests first: and there’s nothing notable or principled about it, and it does not show the least bit of “thoughtfulness” on the issue.
Robert’s article simply repeated the obvious point why your boycott did not significantly reduce the number of players at the Ventian during the week: because they want to put their own short-term interests ahead of their own long-term interests.
Your series of articles on this issue have been genuinely excellent with high-quality thinking. There has been no intellectually robust response, because there is none: poker players have a choice between supporting an organisation that opposes online poker, and not supporting that organisation. It’s really that simple.
For many of us that live in other parts of the country and could not boycott as we would have , this was a huge success! This week alone four of my poker friends became active in the PPA, and started to educate themselves on the online poker legislation issue! Organizing the boycott and writing about the “why” was of huge interest here in Biloxi. Quite simply, Sir, thank you!
what you and Nolan Dalla have done and are doing is what other poker players who want to play online could be and should be supporting! I for one will do boycotts and anything else I can to get online poker back until I am dead!
I appreciate both sides of this argument but think a key concept has been overlooked by the entire poker community. If poker is to ever be viewed as a skill based game it has to be completely removed from casino venues. It simply amazes me that anyone involved in this industry thinks the gambling stigma can be removed while “legal” poker is only allowed in sanctioned casinos or in some cases charity events. Even in California the so called “card” rooms are controlled and regulated by the gambling/gaming authority.
What other “skill” based games exist only in a casino environments? What other games are regulated and licensed by an authority that oversees gambling? Just some food for thought!
yes all gambling we do its what we like about it