with PPA Executive Director
by Shari Geller
Last month, I had a chance to talk with John Pappas, Executive Director of the Poker Players Alliance (PPA), about the work the organization is doing on behalf of the poker community and its goals for the upcoming year. This interview took place before both the introduction of Senate Bill 3616 and the Kentucky domain name seizure case, and addressed primarily the various initiatives the PPA has undertaken, as well as their specific efforts leading up to the November election.
What are some of the biggest programs the PPA has instituted?
"[We launched the State Director's Program] beginning of 2008 with the goal of establishing at least one director and one PPA volunteer director in each state. We had a criterion in which we asked for applications to be submitted. We thought we'd get maybe two-to-three hundred responses. We got somewhere over 2,000 responses from people who wanted to volunteer. So it was a difficult decision and Drew [Lesofski, PPA's Director of Grassroots and External Affairs] literally spent his first month on the job wading through that, calling people, talking with people, and making determinations on who would best serve as our fifty state directors. And then we also built out co-directors, associate directors.
"We've since now broadened our state director program to include state committees, and we've really had some great success utilizing the state directors not only on the state issues but also using them to communicate with their federal lawmakers as well. One great example is in Massachusetts where we held a rally with the help of our state director there in opposition to the gaming bill that was being pushed through that included a criminalization of playing online poker while at the same time licensing three brick and mortar casinos in the state. Using our boots on the ground in Massachusetts, we were able to pull together these people to protest in front of the state capital in Boston. That bill was sent back not only because of our efforts but because of other problems with the bill as well. But, we are now in a good position in any state should a law like that come up that we can quickly activate our membership to act in a way so that we can prevent that bill from happening. And beyond that, we're looking for opportunities to enact good legislation."
Have you had any positive results getting legislation passed?
"Up in Washington State, where it's a class three felony to play online poker. That is the one state that has made it such a stiff penalty to play poker online, or any gaming online. We're working with lawmakers right now so that when they come back into session we can introduce legislation. We've also worked a lot with a gentleman who's running against the governor who signed this bill into law and we have his commitment to look at this issue when and if he becomes governor."
The PPA recently started the Litigation Support Network, can you tell us about that?
"It has been very active in terms of being a service to our members, but also crafting a broader strategy on demonstrating that poker is a game of skill should we need to take on a court case. There may be some opportunities pretty soon down the road where the PPA Litigation Support Network will be offering up expert witnesses and testimony particularly in South Carolina and Pennsylvania where there are some poker-related cases going on."
Tell us about the PPA's newest initiative, the PokerPAC
"What [PokerPAC] does is allow the PPA to become more actively engaged politically. We are as a 501c, hamstrung in exactly how we can act, but our PAC is able to endorse candidates, is able to give money directly to candidates, is able to engage in other election-minded activities whereas the PPA really needs to be and we always will be more about 'here are the facts, here is where your member stands on the issues, you make your own choices.'"
"The PokerPAC will endorse candidates; but that won't cover every single race. So the PPA will be issuing, hopefully by October 1, a congressional scorecard or ratings card for every member of congress, all 535 members of Congress - House and Senate - will have a rating from the PPA as to where they stand on our issues."
What is the PPA doing to energize its members ahead of the November election?
"The PPA [has launched] 'if you play, have a say.' Trying to get people to register to vote, that is I believe one of the single most important thing poker players can do between now and Election Day is to be registered to vote and be prepared to support pro-poker candidates."
What are the PPA's goals for 2009?
"We're going to continue to work to clarify these regulations and make sure that should UIGEA become promulgated that it will not affect internet poker. That's our main priority between now and the next six months. I think if we can get through November, I think we'll be in very good shape that there won't be any new rules promulgated, by this administration at least. The other thing obviously is encouraging our members to register to vote, encouraging our members to get to the polls, and informing them about where their politicians stand on the issues. Go to our website to learn more about our organization, becoming a member of the PPA, and then contributing to our PAC. We're going to need dollars to support candidates. We're going to need dollars to help defeat candidates. We can have a little bit of influence, but we can still have a lot more influence if we're able to put money into campaigns and we're going to simply ask the poker community to step up. Just being a member of the PPA isn't enough, you're going to need to contribute to our PAC as well."
For information on the PPA, Poker PAC, how you can register to vote, how your congressional representative has voted, and how you can help the cause of the poker playing community, please check out the PPA website at www.pokerplayersalliance.org.