Mike and Nick talk with former Poker Players Alliance Executive Director John Pappas about efforts to #GrowPApoker and expand online poker to more parts of the US.

From what can players do to help bring shared liquidity to Pennsylvania to grassroots activism to bring online poker to more states, John Pappas draws on his experience as PPA Executive Director to share tips and advice for growing poker in the US.

Full Transcript

Mike: Welcome, John. Thanks for sitting in with us today. Why don’t you tell our listeners a little bit about who you are and your background?

John: Great. Well, thank you so much for having me on. It’s a real pleasure to reconnect with the poker community here. I’ve been involved in the gaming industry dating back to 2006, 2007, around the same time that the federal government passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. That was the first blow, if you will, to iGaming and iPoker in the US.

From that, I worked with an organization that many of your listeners are probably familiar with, the Poker Players Alliance, for about a decade as their executive director, really focused on federal and state advocacy efforts for poker, everything from talking about legalization of online poker at the federal level as well as at the state level, but also talking about poker as a game of skill, an American pastime, and really all the great benefits for people who enjoy this great card game and why it should be a legal and regulated form of entertainment in the US.

That was something I did for over 10 years and then transitioned out into my own consulting business in 2018, but I’ve still remained very close to the poker community, but also working on other issues. Sports betting obviously has taken up a lot of my time over the last four to five years, and general iGaming expansion, which would include internet poker as well. I’ve been involved really on the legislative, regulatory, public affairs side of this industry for a long time, have made a lot of good friends in the industry, and a lot of good memories and a lot of good thoughts on how we can propel things moving forward.

Mike: Well, John, we’re really happy to have you here to talk today on this topic because obviously, your experience is very valuable, and hopefully we can learn some lessons and help us move forward with getting poker more widespread across the US. Recently, Pokerfuse launched a campaign, #GrowPApoker, in an effort to bring shared liquidity to Pennsylvania, one of the major online poker states that still does not share liquidity with the other states. What, in your opinion, can players do to help bring shared liquidity to Pennsylvania?

John: Well, I think you guys are off to a great start because really social media advocacy, I think, is one of the top ways of communicating with lawmakers today. They’re very heightened and aware of what’s happening on their social media channels, and I think that’s just a really great way to directly interact with a lawmaker. It’s more difficult to get a meeting with them in their office or track them down at a local event, so communicating with them through social media, email, calling their offices are really three, four ways of getting to them. Pennsylvania’s an interesting case. As you mentioned, they’re the largest market in the US that hasn’t entered the compact.

The reality is, while I applaud Representative Dunbar, who’s been a longtime champion for poker, I remember working with the representative when the bills were being worked through the legislature back in the day. He’s a huge poker fan, poker player, loves the game, loves the strategy of it, and I see him doing this legislatively as a strategy because we have a gaming commission and a governor’s office that has been unwilling to do it on their own, and they have the full ability to do it on their own. They don’t need further legislative authority to do this, but they’ve been waiting around, and I really think that this is going to help motivate them and push them to do the right thing.

Mike: When it comes to social media, are there any dos and don’ts that you would recommend towards players? We’ve seen a lot of activity as we monitor the social channels, but it’s hard to know what gets through and what lawmakers may see, if they value a like better than a retweet, better than an original post. I know that back in the day of the PPA, you guys used social media quite effectively. I was just wondering if you had any tips for players.

John: Well, certainly, the basics are, obviously, you’ve got to tag the lawmaker in there, make sure that you’re using the right account. Sometimes lawmakers have multiple accounts. They’ll have a personal account, and they’ll have a campaign account, and then they could have their official business account as they serve in their capacity, so making sure that they’re actually active on Twitter. If the last time they posted was sometime in 2022, then maybe a tweet isn’t going to be the best way to communicate with this lawmaker because they’ve decided that Twitter’s not a platform for them.

Maybe you have to figure out is Facebook a better place to go to connect with them, or is it better just to call their office to find out what their public schedule is and try to catch them at a public event and raise this issue? I think just being aware of their social profile is the first step, and then those that are active on social media, really engaging with them, tagging them appropriately in the email, and then I think, most of all, being respectful. We are conveying a message that this is important to us, and we need to do so in a way that the lawmakers realize that, “Hey, this isn’t some fringe person who wants this. This is a mainstream desire, and the way they’re communicating with me is a very mainstream way.”

I think making it clear what the benefits are. There’s clear economic benefits to the state for doing this. The increased liquidity pool will raise revenues undoubtedly. The revenue that’s being raised from online poker today, tax revenue, is small. I would imagine a shared player pool could probably double the amount of revenue that the state is getting, and in these economic times, I think every dollar is going to be important to a state. There’s a real basic message there, is to talk about what the benefit is to the state, not just what the benefit is to you as the player.

There’s clear benefit to you as a player, and that should be motivating you, but you also have to understand that lawmakers have to see it from both sides, what’s good for the consumer, but what also is good for their state.

Nick: Are you optimistic about the efforts by Dunbar and this bill to move this issue forward? Would you consider it still a long shot because it’s a small issue in the grand scheme of things? I’d just love to get your thoughts on whether this is the right path to be on and whether players could be optimistic that this might move the needle.

John: I would say it’s a small issue in the grand scheme of legislative matters, but it’s an issue that’s at front of mind for the gaming control. This isn’t the first time that they’ve heard from interested parties, if you will, that, “Hey, this is something they need to do.” As you may recall, the hesitancy is been around the interpretation of the Wire Act and whether or not this would actually be permissible under federal law. It seems like a pretty silly reason to oppose it given that six other states have essentially done the same thing, and there’s been no legal action taken against them.

I think what this effort is doing is heightening awareness for the commission. If I was to predict what’s going to be the outcome here, hopefully the outcome here is that there’s enough momentum for this bill where it moves through the process, but maybe not get across the finish line, but it moves through the process far enough where it really motivates the commission to take the steps that they need to do to get this launched on an interstate basis.

Mike: Besides the lawmakers, John, what other types of organizations can these grassroot efforts be directed at? You had mentioned the commission. Is that a step too far to try and reach out to them on social?

John: Absolutely not. I think that’s completely appropriate to reach out to them on social. I know they do have a social handle. I don’t have it on my fingertips right now, but they are definitely reachable on social. Quite frankly, they have public meetings that they hold. I don’t know if they’re monthly or quarterly, but generally, at the end of those meetings, there’s an opportunity for the public to weigh in on matters. I think that’s certainly appropriate. A letter-writing campaign to the commission as well. Again, they have the clear authority to do this on their own, they don’t need new legislation.

What Dunbar is doing is great, but it’s not necessary. The commission can do this on their own. Then I think the third person to reach out to, the third entity, is the governor’s office. Ultimately, the gaming agency is an agency under the auspices of the governor, and they are responsive to the governor. If the governor understands that there is a grassroots momentum, grassroots desire for this, I think that would be really important for him to be hearing as well so that trickles down to the commission, and it gives them the political will to do what is the right thing to do.

Nick: I would love to just get more of your thoughts on the whole time you had with the PPA efforts to ultimately try and pass online poker legislation federally in the US, and obviously, that was not successful. I would love to just hear more about what worked and what didn’t. Maybe one question I could ask just off the bat is, if you were to go back in time now knowing what you know now, do you feel like if we did things differently, things could have come out differently? Do you think there were missed opportunities there, or do you think it was always inevitable that we wouldn’t get further than we have?

John: Sure, there are certainly regrets and missed opportunities. I think as much time as we spent on the federal level, I think capitalizing on the popularity of poker at the state level could have been as effective. The challenge was, as the challenge remains, is that state-by-state regulation of Internet poker is difficult because you need that mass liquidity. Players want what they had in 2009-2010, where they’re playing across the country with people from every time zone, and you can’t have that when it’s individually state-regulated.

Perhaps a strategy that would have coupled both state regulation along with this compacting opportunity would have been maybe a more optimal strategy to get more states on board.

I guess hindsight’s 20-20, and it’s no guarantee that that would have worked either. We were in a different political time. The internet was still very much something that lawmakers weren’t necessarily understanding. The demographic of lawmakers back in 2010, 2011, 2012 were still older. We have a younger generation of lawmakers that are in office today, that would be more, I think, accepting, that’s what we saw, I think, with sports betting. It’s a different time, but I take great pride in the fact that we were really active in a state like New Jersey, which is the model for iGaming legislation that includes internet poker.

We were extremely active there. We had a very active state director. We did multiple trips where we went to the Capital. We actually met with Governor Christie. We met with all the key lawmakers to lobby for it. We sent thousands and thousands of emails and phone calls and social media posts back then to lawmakers in New Jersey. I honestly believe that we were very instrumental in getting that law passed, same thing in Pennsylvania. I testified multiple times in Pennsylvania, our organization was extremely active in getting that legislation done. It was probably one of the last states where PPA was really involved in 2017, where we were able to make a difference and get legislation done.

I think that it’s always interesting to look back to see what we could have done different. The reality was the industry, and let’s be clear, we have to follow where the industry wants to go. When I say the industry, I mean those that are providing the services to the players. The industry felt that a federal solution, something that covered all 50 states or as many as 50 states as they could get, was a better way of moving forward for them, for their business model, than trying to go state by state, and hopeful that you’d be able to compact together. We can chalk that up as a mistake, or we can chalk that up as that was the most logical path to take, and it just fell short.

Mike: Since those efforts, there’s been advancements in technology. What advancements have we seen in the past decade that may lend itself to making online poker more appealing to legislators?

John: Well, I’d say there’s two sides of the coin there. There’s been advancements in technology to help detect fraud and stop collusion, but I also think there’s been more awareness that there has been fraud, cheating, and collusion in poker. I don’t think we can ignore that there have been some big issues that have made some headlines that I think would give anyone some pause. We face that for all sorts of gaming right now, there’s a huge blowback with sports betting and problem gambling and addiction. Perceived or real, it’s a problem that the industry is facing.

Part of the problem that we’re facing right now for iGaming expansion is that lawmakers are saying, “Okay, well, we just legalized online sports betting, and I’m hearing all these reports of increase in addiction rates, increase in calls to the problem gambling hotline. What does it mean if I do iGaming? Is it going to become even worse?” I think technology and talking about how technology can be used to analyze behavior, not to incentivize players, but analyze behavior to make sure that players aren’t getting out over their skis, I think is something really important.

Now, I feel poker should be really separated out from some of these traditional gambling games, where you really can get into a lot of trouble very quickly. Poker, as we know, is a slow burn, and the stakes are so varied that it’s difficult to, I think— there’s certainly people that have a problem with poker and have addiction issues, there’s no doubt about it, but I think it’s probably far less prevalent in a game like poker than it would be in an online slot machine or something like that.

I think separating out the game a little bit, but we can talk a bit more about the pathway for poker as a standalone moving forward versus being part of something larger. I think as an industry, we need to talk about how technology can protect consumers, and demonstrating how it’s actually being done to protect consumers, not just talking about it, but give me examples. Show me where you’re actually doing something that’s actually protected a consumer, and highlighting that, would be a really powerful tool.

Mike: Sure. When I think of technology advancements, I frame it against maybe land-based gaming. Responsible gaming measures are more prevalent in the online space than they are in land-based space. There’s a greater ability to restrict underage gamblers online than there is in land-based. I think the way that we look at that issue, we can certainly point to technology as being a way to better protect consumers.

John: There’s no doubt about it. Everything you’re saying, the amount of data that we have online, and I don’t mean this in a big brother way, but if you were to tell a regulator that I would know every game an individual played, every bet they made, and every win or loss, dollar deposited, dollar taken off of the account, that would be a regulator’s dream in terms of being able to control an activity. That’s exactly what you have online. I’ll share an anecdote with you from where we know the technology is there, and I know it’s being used appropriately, but people aren’t telling the story well enough.

There was a hearing last month in Maryland on iGaming legislation, which would include iPoker. In fact, the sponsor of the Senate bill, Senator Ron Watson’s avid poker player, loves the game. He’s told me privately, and I think he’s said it publicly, the reason he’s doing this is because he wants poker legal in Maryland online, and all the other gaming stuff is ancillary to him. There was testimony from casino companies at this hearing, and they were asked, “Tell me an example of when you’ve actually proactively intervened with a player to stop them when they’ve exhibited signs of problem gambling.”

I know it happens, but they weren’t able to share an example and talk about what they do, what they’re looking for, what are the markers of harm that they’re looking for to actually intervene and use this technology in a powerful way to stop problem gambling before it happens. [coughs] I think building that is really important, and I think that will help for poker, for sure.

Nick: I’d love to dive into that just a bit more about poker often getting bundled with casino like we’re seeing in Maryland at the moment. Do you think that’s been a problem for efforts to pass state-based legislation for poker in the past, that outside of Nevada, poker and casino have gone hand in hand, and then we’ve, outside of that, had 25+ states move forward with sports betting? Do you think there’s something to learn from that moving forward to try and get poker-only legislation passed?

John: I think it’s going to be difficult to move poker-only legislation. Again, I think the reason is the economics of it. For state lawmakers to want to do this, there has to be some dollar figures behind it, and I just don’t think the dollar figures are that compelling for poker alone. When you look at the full iGaming ecosystem, online slots is about 80% of the revenue, and then table games is probably about 18% of the revenue, and then poker is about 2%. It’s going to be a hard sell for poker on its own.

Where I think the industry ought to be thinking about in doing is, and I don’t mean to use poker in like, “Oh, let’s use poker to get what we really want,” but I do think that poker itself is far more appealing to lawmakers than the idea of playing a slot machine on your phone or a table game on your phone, that poker is like sports betting, it’s much more approachable, and that really should be the lead.

Having poker players and the poker community actively engaged to say, “Hey, we want iGaming legislation that includes poker,” and really have poker be the tip of the spear and everything else falls underneath it, I think would be a better strategy than talking about being able to play other types of games on your phone while more profitable, and they’re going to bring more money to not only the operators but to the states. Poker is the only game that brings that kind of community and connection with lawmakers, much like sports betting did.

Mike: What I’m hearing is poker benefits from riding the coattails of iGaming from a revenue perspective.

John: Absolutely, yes. Standalone, I’m going to be honest, I think it would be very difficult. I don’t know who’s the company that’s going to say, “Yes, you can’t have just individuals asking for it, you need companies there saying, “Yes, this is what we want too.” Based on the conversations I’ve had with industry, I don’t think anyone’s thought that they just want to push poker alone, that they view poker as something that’s part of a larger iGaming package. Maybe what we’re talking about here, is how do we reimagine selling iGaming? We reimagine selling iGaming through the lens of poker, and Poker is this great American game that should be allowed.

By the way, all these other games can happen as well, but Poker is really the thing that the customer and the consumer wants.

Nick: Have we then missed the boat of poker riding in on the coattails of sports betting, and putting casino to one side? Because if casino is considered more toxic, is there a world where sports betting and poker, which are maybe more acceptable for lawmakers to pass? That was maybe my surprise when all the sports betting states happened that we never really saw poker in sports.

I think Kentucky briefly considered that combo, but otherwise, it’s always just been sports only. I just wonder if that’s from the operator’s perspective, if you get sports, then you say poker is going to be a rounding error in that industry so that it’s not worth introducing it, but that just felt like maybe another missed opportunity.

John: Yes. I think a good example was if you looked at Kentucky, that started off when the original bills were moving through the legislature, they were always sports betting plus poker, not iGaming, sports betting plus poker. It only got through when they removed poker when it was a standalone sports betting bill. Again, if you were to ask individuals and people in those states, they would all say, “Yes, sure, sports betting and poker makes sense,” but industry, I don’t think is 100% aligned on it. The reality is, who are the players? Who has the poker product that would benefit?

If it’s not the big five casinos that are pushing for sports betting and iGaming, then they’re going to view poker as really an ancillary and not a priority for them because for them, it’s a business. We can’t ignore that companies need to make money off of the game, and they have to pay substantial fees just to be in the marketplace. The Maryland bill, had it gone into law, had it been passed, we were looking at a 55% tax rate on poker, that’s absurd. I don’t even know if poker would have been offered in the state of Maryland under a 55% tax rate. I’m not certain an operator could even make money at that rate. There’s a lot of sensitive economics that need to be considered when you talk about poker as a standalone.

Mike: If poker on its own is not the best path, it benefits from the revenue that casino brings, for example, it’s also going to be then connected to the problem gambling issues that are associated with casino, so it seems to me like responsible gaming is one of the better paths forward. My question is, when it comes to responsible gaming, are the people that are pushing back against iGaming, are they open to solutions or are they just firmly opposed because they view it as any increase is bad?

John: I think there’s probably two camps. There’s some that are just firmly opposed to gambling, take this organization, Stop Predatory Gambling. They want to see all gambling eliminated, lotteries, casinos, online, offline, whatever it is, that’s their position. It’s a head-in-the-sand type of strategy, but that’s where they are. There’s a new organization out there called Campaign for Fairer Gambling, which I think may have some intentions on how do we regulate the industry in a more responsible way to have more guardrails on.

I get mixed messages even from that group as to what they ultimately want. I think the more we can focus on RG and responsible play, the better, and I think poker has a great story to tell with that. I think one of the wonderful things about poker and online poker, is just the table stakes are so different in an online environment versus going to a casino. You can’t sit down at a casino table for less than $100, but I can play a $2 or $5, $10 tournament online, those just aren’t available in the real-world setting. I think talking about how poker certainly can be the leading edge of responsible play, I think, is probably really a good way to move about it.

Nick: Do you think the argument of, “This is happening regardless. People are playing online poker, they’ll play online casino, they’ll play sports bets regardless.” Just by regulating, you’re now just bringing it into the fold. You can now oversee it. You can implement problem gambling. You can obviously raise tax revenue, but do you think that argument of, “Look, it’s already happening, let’s admit it and regulate it,” do you think that resonates with policymakers who might be on the fence?

John: It does. It’s certainly been a winning argument on the sports betting side. I think it’s been far more visible for sports betting. I think poker may have some similarities, maybe less so now than it did 10 years ago. That is certainly an argument that you have to make, the fact that there is an illegal, unregulated market that— I think one of the most powerful messages we ever started saying, and this was back when I was working with the PPA, and we were testifying in Pennsylvania and Michigan and places like that, the way I’d start my testimony, was I would literally pull up my computer and say, “Can I play online poker in Pennsylvania?”

You would get a myriad of options, whether they’re affiliate sites or direct advertisements for offshore unregulated poker sites where they’re encouraging you to deposit and saying that it’s perfectly legal. I think lawmakers understanding that that is still happening today and that anybody with a internet connection and a credit card or cryptocurrency can play poker in their state today, they’re just doing so in a way that has no protection for the consumer and no benefit to the state, it’s a really powerful message. The third leg of that is what is the upside for the state outside of protecting consumers? There has to be a significant revenue reason for it.

I wish all lawmakers would say, “Oh, we need to protect consumers and be damned if we make a dime off of it.” They’re not legalizing marijuana or regulating alcohol or tobacco because they think it’s a way of protecting consumers, they’re doing it because they know it’s a way to make money for their state.

Mike: John, is there currently any effort to lobby for online poker? I know that PPA was the most vocal and visually out there of any lobbying organizations in the past, but since then, is there anybody out there getting behind online poker?

John: Not in terms of an independent organization. Obviously, PokerStars is still very active. They’re part of the larger, flutter FanDuel organization, and they have a lot of lobbying firepower behind them. Again, I can’t think of an instance where they are solely focused on online poker. I think they’re looking more holistically at iGaming and iPoker as being part of that. I would imagine there’s people probably within PokerStars themselves that wishes that there was maybe just more focus on poker rather than all these other things.

Again, this all comes back down to a business decision. I think these companies are recognizing if we’re going to invest time and lobbying and resources, we want to get the most bang for our buck, and that is more than just poker for them. I do think there are some natural allies here. There isn’t a Poker Players Alliance anymore. Unfortunately, the organization does not exist anymore. I think what you guys are doing in Pennsylvania, these smaller micro organizations of real grassroots, I think is super interesting, and I think can be extremely helpful, but on a national level, no, there isn’t a singular poker advocacy group.

Mike: Do you have any suggestions for a good starting point for these grassroots efforts in states beyond Pennsylvania that don’t have online poker just yet? How do we even know who to target with such campaigns? Are there any lawmakers in your experience that are open to online poker that we could maybe start the ball rolling in that direction?

John: I don’t have a list in front of me of like, “All right, this is state X and there’s the lawmaker that’s going to be your champion.” I think it’s going to take a little work to determine that. I would venture to say that in every state, there are multiple lawmakers that are poker players, that would be interested in this. Some of them are poker players, but maybe not want to be publicly out there leading the charge on this. There’s some that are poker players that would want to be publicly leading the charge, but really, they don’t have any, for lack of a better word, political stroke. They’re not on the right committees. They’re not in leadership.

They’re in the minority party, things that are working against them. While there’ll be great champions, but they’re not really going to be able to move the needle. It’s really finding a balance of people that have an interest in this, people that would be a champion and would have the ability to push the bill forward. A good place to do is, so you have Senator Watson in Maryland or Vanessa Atterbury in Maryland, those are both the Senate and House champions for the bill there, is reaching out to them from the poker community and talking about how it’s important to you and offering, asking them, “How can we support you? Would it be helpful?”

Are there lawmakers that you’re talking to that are struggling with this? Maybe we can identify 5 or 10 or 15 people in their district that would be willing to make a phone call or go to an event and talk about this with the lawmaker, that would be super helpful. One of the things we did really well with the PPA, is make poker something that was being talked about in state capitals all over the place. People were talking about it. They were hearing from people. I’ll be honest, we saw this with sports betting. A lot of people will be like, “Oh, well, sports betting got done because big lobbyists spent lots of money in these states.”

Sure, that helped, but the reality is, every lawmaker that I was talking to says, “I hear from my constituents about this all the time. People are coming up to me in the grocery store saying, “Hey, man, when are we going to get sports betting here?” Because these are people that were betting illegally or with a bookie or offshore, and they want it, and they see that their neighboring states have it, and they don’t have it, and they want to know why they don’t have it yet.

I think identifying maybe even those that may not be poker champions, but just people that have been iGaming champions in a variety of states and then saying, “Hey, we’re a poker community. We’re actually could be a positive face for your effort here to show that this is not just a game for people to mindlessly sit on their phones and play, but actually, there’s a real skill and component to this, that’s a real community rather than just individual gamblers.”

Mike: One of the topics that I’ve seen pushback for introducing or for legalizing regulating iGaming has been this concept that it cannibalizes the revenue that land-based casinos are seeing. To my knowledge, we’ve seen plenty of research to the contrary. Is that still a legitimate argument?

John: It’s an argument, whether it’s legitimate or not, I think has a lot to be desired. Poker was really the guiding light for me on all this. Mike, you remember what was World Series of Poker like in 2001, 2002 versus 2003 to even today. Land-based poker experience has everything to gain from online. Online drove land-based expansion of poker. I would say the fact that there has been a curtailing of online poker in the US, just hurt land-based. There’s no question in my mind that more legal online poker is only going to help the retail poker industry, and we’re seeing that across all games right now.

Casino games, everyone benefits from a land-based perspective when they’re able to diversify their offering and expand their platform, or their delivery channel, if you will, this omnichannel experience where you’re connecting with consumers on property and off property in a meaningful way. We’ve seen a couple studies out there that make suppositions on what cannibalization will look like.

One notable one was this innovation group study that was tied to Maryland, and they anticipated a 10% cannibalization rate, and that brought out what we’re seeing now, is the labor unions are activating in some of these states where labor unions are strong, and they’re saying, “Hey, you go iGaming, that means we’re going to lose our land-based job,” despite being no evidence to suggest that’s been the case in any state that has legalized iGaming or iPoker today, but that is an argument that’s being made. It’s extremely frustrating, but it’s a reality, and it’s just another hurdle that we have to face.

I think, again, poker is a really good guiding light for this, is to talk about the experience that we saw with the popularity of online poker and what that meant for the land-based game.

Mike: One of the other arguments in favor of online poker that we’ve seen in the past, is that poker is different from casino gaming because it is a game of skill. Do you still see that as an argument that can produce positive results for poker?

John: Again, I am bearish on the idea of poker as a standalone and pushing poker as a standalone product. I think even though we can argue and credibly talk about poker as a game of skill, I still think it’s going to continue to be lumped in as a gambling game despite the skillful nature of it, and so as a standalone argument, I don’t think it’s going to win the day. Quite frankly, if it’s solely just a game of skill and operators were comfortable with that, PokerStars and whatnot would be offering their game in all these states where the predominant skill versus chance is the common law there.

Look at any state where Daily fantasy sports is done today without regulation, where that would be if I was an online poker company, I’d be offering my product in all those states under that, but they’re not because I think they realize that they have to be regulated as gambling. As much skillful as they are, there is the likelihood that state regulators and lawmakers are going to say, “I don’t care if you’re a game of skill, you’re putting up money to potentially win more money. In my view, that’s still gambling, no matter how much skill there’s involved, and you need to be regulated as such.”

I think it sets poker apart from the other games, and that’s why I say poker could be the leading tip of the spear for the larger iGaming debate, but I don’t know if that’s going to work as a standalone argument.

Nick: I guess one final question I would have, is listening to you when you were talking about the efforts with the PPA, and you said you testified in Michigan, it was a great success in New Jersey. Up until 2017, whilst it was incremental, we did see progress with online poker. It came with online casino, and then since then, and since the PPA closed beyond some states joining multistate iGaming agreement, there hasn’t really been any progress. Do you think that the reason those efforts ended, was just an industry shift because sports betting happened, and so that’s where all the focus and money went to, or is there anything more that we can learn there?

John: I think you’re right, the industry changed focus. They saw sports betting as the next shiny object. PASPA happened in early 2018, and I think that’s where all the energy shifted to, and I think there was probably a miscalculation that we’re going to get sports betting, and then we’re just going to pile on iGaming and poker and everything right after, and that hasn’t been the case. I think what is missing from the debate right now is a true grassroots component, a voice of people contacting their lawmakers saying, “This is something I want.”

Right now, they’re only hearing from lobbyists. They’re hearing from people like me in suits coming into their offices and saying, “These are all the reasons why you should do this,” but when they get back to their offices, they don’t have 10 phone calls that have come in reinforcing what I said or tweets coming at them. That’s something they had with poker. I’m not going to say that we’re the only reason why, but I think we’re a big reason why states like Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Michigan got iGaming and sports betting altogether, is because of the Poker Players Alliance and because there was a real grassroots voice.

The other side is drumming up grassroots, the other side is drumming up opposition, not necessarily to poker, but to this idea of iGaming and cannibalization when you have— I was at some of these hearings in Maryland. We had 100 people in UNITE HERE Local union t-shirts saying iGaming is a job killer. That’s grassroots, that’s something that PPA used to do all the time.

We used to do that from the other side, talking about how we wanted our freedom to play. We wanted the ability to have this game of skill and the opportunity for the state. I think more and more, there is a need to have a grassroots component to the iGaming debate, and I think poker players are the natural group of players to serve as that. The question is, do poker players want to do that?

I know poker players may feel like we don’t want all these other games, they’re not important to us. I think as we think about it as a community, we have to realize that we have to go in as a package because you need both industry and consumers aligned on something, and I don’t think we’re going to have industry aligned on just a poker-only message.

Mike: Thank you so much, John. It was very informative. Thank you for your service in getting online poker to the level that it is today. It’s been very helpful. Please, if you have any epiphanies later on that you think might help, don’t hesitate to reach out.

John: I appreciate it. I think there’s probably going to be a lot of discussion on this topic. I am of the mind that if we could recreate some sort of an alliance of poker players, whether it’s at state-level, specific state, or on a national level, I think it would be really valuable to pushing the broader iGaming message and talking about the benefits of it and really putting a face to it, and I think that the poker community is a really positive face.

Mike: Thanks again, John, appreciate you spending some time with us, and hope to have success stories about online poker in the not-too-distant future.

John: Wonderful. Thank you guys very much, and thanks for all the hard work you’re doing.

Mike: Take care.

Nick: Awesome.