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 it — 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 am. 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.
Special 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.