“I consider myself a moral, spiritual person, but this has nothing to do with that. I have a responsibility to you the citizens.” — Escambia County Commissioner Gene Valentino, Pensacola News Journal
With that quote, Commissioner Valentino did something few elected officials are brave enough to do: put personal beliefs aside to vote on the merits of an issue. The issue here was whether Pensacola Greyhound Track should be allowed to open a poker room.
It failed, 3-2.
Just days later, across the state in the town of DeBary, the developers who planned to build a quarterhorse track and poker room sought a rezoning decision before City Council.
It failed, 3-2.
Two proposals, each defeated by a single vote. Poker players know you need to win your coin flips to survive. In fewer than 72 hours, Florida’s poker players lost two.
Commissioner Marie Young was one of the “no” votes in Pensacola. She said she was swayed by a constituent who says her house is in foreclosure because of her husband’s gambling debts.
Never mind that thousands of Floridians are fretting over foreclosures born of gambles of people who don’t share their house.
At the marathon DeBary meeting, opponents no doubt swayed the council by painting a picture full of prostitution. Of crime. Of endless other social ills.
Never mind that the state’s poker rooms are full of working men and women, not “working girls.”
This has to stop.
At a time when our country faces grave economic perils and an uncertain future, too many of the people who govern our land fall easy prey to emotional scare tactics.
This has to stop. Now.
Had either of these votes been defeated on the basis of a rational discussion of reality, we would have been merely disappointed. But instead, the boogeyman in the closet spoke loudest, and we’re stark raving mad.
But the best poker players know how to curtail their rage. They know they need to play that hand back, looking for clues on how to prevent it from happening again in the future.
And readers of Ante Up, that’s what we need to do here. We need to convince the men and women who fill Congress, the state house and city and county chambers that poker is a game of skill. That properly regulated, it’s a bountiful source of tax revenue and jobs. We need to remind them gambling is already here, and by expanding poker, we’re not expanding gambling — we’re just giving gamblers a better bet.
On our travels around the state, we’ve told poker room executives how much Ante Up wants to be a force in creating sensible poker legislation in Florida. With the annual legislative session upon us, we need the help of every Ante Up reader to do it.
Keep reading these pages, and sign up for our weekly e-newsletter at anteupmagazine.com. In the next couple of months, we plan to corral the collective power of the Ante Up Nation to persuade all of our elected officials to treat their votes like Commissioner Valentino did.
The facts. Not fiction.
We’ll see you at the tables.
Christopher Cosenza and Scott Long