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Posted by on Jun 20, 2015 in Blog, Personal, Politics, Rants and Raves, World Series of Poker | 19 comments

Thoughts on Oklahoma Johnny Hale’s Pledge of Allegiance Controversy at the WSOP




The views expressed are strictly my own and do not reflect the opinions nor the positions of the World Series of Poker, Caesars Interactive Entertainment, or the Rio Las Vegas.


I like “Oklahoma Johnny” Hale.¬† I respect Mr. Hale.¬† I think Mr. Hale has done a lot of good things for poker.

At age 88, he doesn’t quite¬†get around as well as in his younger days.¬† But Mr. Hale remains mentally sharp as a tack and personifies the prevailing wisdom we all should follow that one doesn’t ever¬†retire from the¬†activities he enjoys¬†and values in life.

Earlier today, Mr. Hale gave his usual opening remarks just prior to the start of the Seniors Championship, here at the 2015 World Series of Poker.¬† These festivities¬†tend to be considerably longer than normal since there’s some period of reflection, including a poignant moment of remembrance for all the poker greats who are now gone, as well as patriotic fanfare connected to an age group sometimes best described as “the greatest generation.”

At one point, Mr. Hale, who was accompanied on stage by his family, introduced his daughter Debbie.¬† She then took the microphone and asked players to rise and recite the “Pledge of Allegiance.”¬† Most complied with the simple request like elementary school children, although quite a few within this diverse crowd, particularly non-Americans, were admittedly forced to undergo the awkward ritual of feigning loyalty to a foreign nation.

Following the ceremony, several poker players voiced their objections to the “Pledge of Allegiance” being included in the opening festivities.¬† Twitter blew up with angry comments about the pledge being inappropriate for this time and place.

This winded preamble¬†leads to my own take on this controversy and whether or not having the pledge is appropriate for the occasion.¬† My view will probably come as a surprise to some and will likely offend¬†those on¬†both sides of the debate.¬† Hey, that’s¬†what provocateurs do — right?

My position is as follows:¬† I object to the “Pledge of Allegiance” being included in any official¬†WSOP event of any kind.¬† My view is that this is the World Series of Poker, not the American Series of Poker.¬† It took this tournament’s predecessors several decades to open this event up to a truly global audience, eventually creating what’s become a competitive attraction on the scale of the Olympic Games in terms of the number of nations that send participants.¬†¬†Jingoism in the form of pledges to any flag deals a serious setback to the international flavor of this event.¬† Besides, we have enough patriotic rituals connected to our event already, including national anthems each day (dominated by Americans winning about 70 percent of all tournaments), Memorial Day remembrances, and the Fourth of July holiday, which traditionally marks the start of the Main Event Championship.¬† No doubt, I support all of these activities, but I do not agree with the “Pledge of Allegiance” being sanctioned in any way with a competitive event at the WSOP.

My personal view on the¬†pledge¬†is even more dogmatic, and likely offensive to many.¬† I will stand out of respect for those who take the occasion seriously.¬† However, will not recite the “Pledge of Allegiance” under any circumstances, given the¬†verses and what’s¬†intended to be an oath.¬† For¬†me to do so would be intellectually dishonest. ¬†Like parroting a lie.

For one thing, I’m not pledging allegiance to any flag.¬† I’ll certainly pledge my allegiance to fight for social justice, for human rights, for peace, and for many of the principles, this nation supposedly stands (and sometimes fights) for.¬† Moreover, I’m not pledging allegiance to “one nation — under God.”¬† That’s because I believe God is a fictional man-made myth about as real as the Easter Bunny.¬† Not only that, but this nation was presumably founded as a secular state with no official declaration of religion, which makes any invocation of a deity to be inconsistent with the true role of government, which has nothing to do with offering what amounts to a pronouncement that God exists.¬† Finally, I have serious trouble with the closing line of the pledge about “with liberty and justice for all.”¬† Sorry, but that won’t fly with me, either.¬† Not when corporate lobbyists¬†essentially buy and run the¬†government and¬†innocents are gunned down by police.¬† Not when liberty is based on economic class and justice is based on race.¬† I’m not saying that pledge. ¬†Then, there’s the blatant hypocrisy about liberty echoing within a nation where people can still be jailed or fined for playing poker, but now I digress. ¬†Ether re-write the verses or expect me to remain silent.

This now brings me to the most shocking point-of-view you’ll probably read today.

My view on this topic is¬†completely irrelevant.¬† That’s right.¬† None of what I just wrote matters.¬† The World Series of Poker doesn’t belong to me, and I certainly have no right nor desire to impose my personal political beliefs on the mass gathering of players.¬† You come to this website to read what I have to say and what I think about things, but when I work the WSOP I’m only a part of the greater machinery that puts on the greatest show in poker every year.

Fact is, “Oklahoma Johnny” Hale has been connected to the Seniors Championship since its very inception.¬† He’s been its tireless promoter and certainly has given much of his time to carving out a special place in poker history for seniors.¬† I salute that commitment.¬† Like all great spectacles which gives all those who participate a brighter spotlight and a louder megaphone, we do tend to project our hopes and desires on this very public event.¬† Perhaps it’s not so much a godly instinct as a human one to create something in your own image, which also reflects your best virtues.

Mr. Hale has quite a different idea about what the Seniors Championship should be, and should represent than do I.¬† As a proud veteran who once served in uniform, Mr. Hale and many of his generation look at this event not just as a poker competition, but as a social reaffirmation of what they value and cherish.¬† I might strongly disagree with that point of view, but they are certainly entitled to their own opinions, and Mr. Hale as this event’s longest-surviving patriarch is more than entitled to structure the opening festivities as he sees fit.¬† One presumes the majority of players have no problem with reciting the pledge, and if that’s the consensus of opinion, then so be it.

So, I’ll continue to object to the pledge.¬† At the same time, I shall respect Mr. Hale’s right to include things he thinks are important to the players.¬† We can agree to disagree, and still not just be friends, but respect each other’s opinions.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s not just what makes a mass gathering like the WSOP so special that so many of us come together with different backgrounds and attitudes for a common purpose.¬† So too, this is the essence of a working democracy.


  1. As a non US citizen I have to agree with some of your comment re the pledge. It would have been uncomfortable for me to stay seated during the pledge, and while I chose to stand, I was still uncomfortable.
    Had I stayed in my seat would the rest of the players at my table feel slighted at my “disrespect”?
    Why should only this one event begin with the pledge?

    A lot of different nations attend and play and as poker players we should not allow the possibility of offenders be created by the organisers of said event.

    That being said…Standing for a national anthem of any country is the correct thing to do as you are ” saluting ” the player and the country he represents.

    • Could have been worse. He was thining of asking everyone to pledge allegiance to Oklahoma.

  2. Well said. What sort of idiot would be offended by that!?

  3. Nolan, your right, I don’t agree with much of what you wrote. A sign of a good friendship – when you don’t agree, but still respect each other. That’s what makes this country great. We don’t have to be carbon copies of one another. We are still free to have our individual thoughts, opinions and speech. Bye for now.

  4. Just say the pledge (Americans) “leave God out of it” if you choose. N shush. I mean.. really.

    The pledge you despise might be nudging you (reminding you, us) to take serious action against loonie sell out,and coruppt lobbies, corrupt big biz, politicians. Lawyers.. what have you. Bad People.

    I could be wrong.

    I believe in separation of church n state, but I believe in a God, force, whatevs… sooo.. yeah.(shoot me?)

    Freedom’s are not free. Never have been… never will be…

    I’ll tell you one thing BD does know… shits not getting better in America while too many corporations, wall street thugs,bad outta control police.. etc. Continue with the “mad men” profit profit profit…shit. (look at the wsop) shitttt. Lol

    America at one time had real (populace protective versights for us average joes) many of these oversight committee’s have been hacked…

    They simply Sold us OUT.

    Monopolies used to be illegal. Illegals used to need to come into this country legally.. Lol. Ha!

    Yeah.. The pledge to big daddy is just a friendly reminder to us all, as to how ducked up this country has gotten.

    My opinion, say the pledge and comprehend what it’s message is.. leave “the God line out” if you must. (Again, seperation church state) right?

    The corrupt foxes are TAKING over and running the hen house.. for oh.. 20+ years, 50 maybe.. laws are being changed almost daily to take away more n more basic Americans rights…


    But hey, non of what I write here matters.. while we currently still live in a “somewhat free country..”
    Some of you might (one day) wish you listened to.. the cries from long ago… (pledges) “and also wish you took many more serious legal actions” or Snowdon like maneuvers when “the peoples” liberties.. we’re In dire jeopardy.

    Corrupt people want it all Bubba. It’s in their nature.

    Peace. Love. N quality wine Nolan.

    Big Daddy hugs n high fives.

  5. wait a fucking minute! I didnt mind being told not to do small talk with Mr Dalla, and didnt mind that he walked by with WSOP TD without a hello in return, even the George Bushes of the world will wave at you, and the US national anthem is what host countries play when they win an Olympic event but I am a Veteran and mr 88 yewr old does NOT SPEAK FOR ME , I paid my money the same as he and the Pledge of allegiance is Talk, not the WALK!

  6. Very simple. An oath is one you agree with. Under God was added after the original pledge was created. You should only pledge to what you agree to. Many of you commented that you feel the Congress has sold the country down the road to big money. You are correct and design. What Congress was supposed to have been drawn as was a localized body of Representatives with much smaller voting blocks. An amendment in the Bill of Rights designed the House of Representatives to be this way and it was ratified in 1792 when Kentucky voted as the 15th state. Recognizing this amendment and why it’s the real first amendment (28th amendment if you want not move everything around) would do wonders to our country, dilute big money’s power over us, give us more even voting powers, and destroy gerrymandering, giving you better candidates that might have a real shot of winning a seat and covering your real interest and concerns. Until then, we are hosed and it’s getting worse. No new amendment is needed, this was already ratified. Something as simple as not counting past 1791 was the reason. Happy to prove it at
    Scott Neuman for Congress 2016 NJ CD 4 and tournament poker player.

  7. Pledge at any swop event ludicrous. I also find national anthems during bracelet ceremony totally annoying and exploitive trying to make a card game seem like some colossal and relevant event. It’s cards. A 10 year old could win.

  8. When US and Canadian teams play hockey, both anthems are played. Out of respect, people stand for both.

    That’s just what should be done in this case. Stand for the pledge out of respect.
    Only recite the pledge if you want to.

    • The “pledge” is NOT, NOT, NOT the same thing as an Anthem, not even close. EVERY Country has an anthem and very, very few have a “pledge”. Yes, if two countries are competing or you are having a basically “local” event then sing your song(s) and out-of-towners will generally never have an issue standing for them. But, expecting someone from another country to have to stand awkwardly by while you go though a ridiculous rote memory drill you were force to perform as a child is simply… childish.

      A good parent usually has to teach their child how to be a good host when that child wants to INVITE a friend over and you instruct your child how to make their guest feel welcome, comfortable and at home. Halfway into the visit a child’s normal instinct is often to act like “This is my place and what I say goes” because children have to be TAUGHT the art of hospitality, it is not instinctive. The WSOP has invited the WORLD to come over to play a game of cards (and pay for the privilege at that). To shoehorn a mindless local poem that no one would expect to hear nor or miss if they didn’t, at the expense of making many of your paying guests/customers feel uncomfortable is just plain thoughtless, not to mention bad business.

      Yes, in most families 80/90-something year old grandpa gets a reluctant pass on inappropriate behaviour and outdated opinions at the diner table because no one wants a scene to develop but he rarely still has keys to a working, licensed and insured vehicle.

      Your pledge is not deserving the same (or perhaps any of the) respect from Non-Americans of an anthem, it’s not the same thing and never will be. It is unnecessary, in-your-face patriotism and you now know that it makes many visitors uncomfortable, why would you want to treat a guest that way?

      • Sorry, I thought I proof-read my comment but I now see a few typos. My bad for rushing.

  9. ‚úĒ The USA is one nation under ‚ĆGOD! They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are ‚ĆGod’s. -Matthew 22:21 – I was there, some didn’t stand, so sad! If you don‚Äôt stand for something, you‚Äôll fall for anything. -Alexander Hamilton – “‚ĆGod bless us, every one!” -Tiny Tim

  10. Couldn’t agree with your more. As a British citizen, an atheist and anti-royalist (the correct term is “republican” but this means something very different in the USA! My political views are somewhat to the left of your Democrats) I have a similar difficulty when asked to sing our national anthem.

  11. This is an American game (poker). The seniors trophy has the American eagle. What’s the big fuss? If you are a true gambler, then believe in God because it is a good bet to do so! If you’re right, you’ll never know and if you’re wrong, you’ll have some explaining to do.

    Ours is the best country in the world. Muhammad Ali for all his fights with the government never thought to abandon America.

    Two poker stars — I’ll not mention their names as they are a disgrace because of their public stance in asking the world to Free Palistine — a terrorist regime — and ignore the only true democracy in the Middle East — seems that’s ok.

    The Pledge — ask the people who fought the nazi regime and the empire of the rising sun whether it is proper. I’ll take the answer of those who laid down their lives to protect the world from evil empires.

    The pledge might not be perfect but it embodies perfection. There is no variance about that!

    Too much of a big deal over a few moments of respect. Those who are from other nations are not forced to recite the pledge but a nation founded in religious freedom — although freedom of speech is essential to a free society — gives us all an opinion and everyone has an opinion the same as everyone has an “assshole!”

    As a nation, we are not perfect, but we have a perfect pledge and it is recited for all the veterans and soldiers fighting for the American way (which includes poker)!

    Hell this is a game that has its myths but being an American institution is not one of them

    • What drivel. I can’t play poker for serious money in my home state either online or live. Why I am going to recite a pledge to a piece of cloth that embodies these restricted freedoms? The lie about ‘justice for all’ is particularly bad when those with too little money don’t get justice and those with an excess of money can get away with murder.

      The whole pledge thing is a page out of the book of socialism which is where this country is heading in a rapid hurry. If that is what you want, then keep voting for democrats or republicans. If you are with me, break free from that drivel and start voting for someone who is serious about liberty and will lead this country away from the economic ruin that is being perpetrated by the dinosaur parties.

      Vote Gary Johnson!

  12. How can non Americans be asked to pledge allegiance to a foreign flag? Wouldn’t they have just contravened their pledge to their own flag. Many at the event brought up the national anthems played at hockey games but an anthem is not asking for a pledge which is something you must do when you become a citizen.

    Asking non Americans to Pledge Allegiance to the American Flag was tasteless and insensitive and I am shocked it was repeated from 2015. It paints the organizers of the WSOP in a very bad light for what they’d like to see as an international event and one that is truly gaining World status. Please don’t insult me again with forcing me to listen to twenty minutes of Johnny’s pointless ramblings which was topped off with asking me to pledge to something I am totally unable to do.

  13. You’re dumb.

    • Resorting to name calling doesn’t in any way make your comment “you’re dumb” meaningful to me in any way. All it says is that you are not willing or able to engage in dialogue that will produce a result

      I ask you to think more about your responses in future.

  14. Man this was a peek at what was to come. Now we have this insulting, indignant, SoB for a president that uses every chance to weaponize Religion and Patriotism to his base of bafoons. Keep em’ straight Nolan!


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