Something’s gotta give in southern poker

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Change is coming.

This isn’t a flashback to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. It’s a prediction.

Change is coming to the southern poker scene, and not a moment too soon. Whether through legislation in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Kentucky or in a courtroom in South Carolina, change is coming. … but it may not all be good.

It doesn’t matter if this movement is sparked by depleted state budgets, a struggling economy, the fight for freedom or standing up for American civil liberties; the point is, poker will evolve in our corner of the country this year one way or another.

In Florida, under pressure from parimutuel interests and poker players, both sides of the aisle came together in January to “decouple” the provisions of last year’s Senate Bill 788 that aimed to free parimutuel poker from its cuffs while giving the Seminole Tribe an exclusive compact. That bill failed miserably. But the 2010 legislative session begins this month, and right at the top of the docket will be to hammer out an uncapped poker deal, as well as expanded gambling throughout the state. Getting Gov. Charlie Crist to sign these changes into law may be a struggle, but he’d like to leave the mansion knowing his state is better off than when he first took office … and adding millions in found revenue certainly is a way to do that.

Georgia, like Florida, is desperate for money, and what better way to get it than to amend the state constitution and propose commercial gambling? The path to legal poker here lay within two proposals: a full-blown casino in Atlanta or parimutuel horse racing, which would no doubt welcome poker rooms. If either passes, Georgians will vote on their fate in November.

In Kentucky, Gov. Steve Beshear, thinking he’s protecting his state’s horseracing industry, came off as a hypocrite when he tried to seize 141 gambling site domain names last year. An appeals court brought some normalcy back to the Bluegrass State at the end of the year when it overturned a lower court’s decision to grant Beshear’s wish. Beshear, who almost immediately pushed the case to the Supreme Court, has sent a chill through Internet poker and many sites have stayed away until the waters calm. According to Interactive Media Entertainment and Gaming Association, the organization fighting this case, a ruling from the state’s highest court could come as early as March 18. Something that seemed so trivial in the beginning, and served as fodder for many pundits, may bring the online poker world to its knees.

Five poker players in South Carolina wonder if they’ll remain free after cops busted their home game in April 2006. In October of that year a judge ruled Texas Hold’em was a game of skill, therefore proving it isn’t illegal gambling under South Carolina law. Ultimately he ruled in favor of the players, who were guided by the Poker Players Alliance. Now the state’s attorney general is appealing the ruling. The implications will be heard ’round the country as other cases face similar arguments, including the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. There is no timetable for when the appeal will be heard.

Finally, in Rocky Mount, N.C., assailants barged into a home game, shot and killed the host, then followed one of the fleeing players across the street and shot him and a neighbor. The gunmen are still at-large. No motive has been established, but most of these tragedies almost always point to robbery. If that’s the case, what if these players had a different option to explore? The nearest casino in North Carolina is Harrah’s Cherokee, some 300 miles west of Rocky Mount, where the crime occurred. But if casinos and cardrooms were legal in the Tar Heel State, perhaps these guys would’ve been playing in a secure poker room close to home, instead of inviting trouble into their home.

Change is coming, and you can help. Whether you want freedom at the table, or freedom away from it, you should contact your local representatives and give them an earful. Don’t know who your local rep is? Go to theppa.org and click on its resources tab at the top of the home page. There you’ll find everything you need to let your politicians know how you feel. You’ll be glad you did.

We’ll see you at the tables.

Christopher Cosenza and Scott Long