Poker’s cause and effect

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We credit Aristotle for expansive teachings on “cause and effect,” teachings refined and refined again over the years by dozens more of our world’s greatest thinkers.

An event occurs (“the cause”) and then we see what results from that action (“the effect.”) Simple in explanation; complex in analysis.

Starting this month, we’ll see much in the world of poker for which we can easily identify the cause. Predicting the effect is a different endeavor.

OK, enough with the heady babble. Let’s talk in plain English.

Poker players from sea to shining sea know that on July 1, Florida is destined to change the poker universe when betting and buy-in caps are eliminated and hours expanded. “The cause” is indeed simple, and certainly not revolutionary. With a state budget stretched as thin as the odds of hitting a bad-beat jackpot, lawmakers shrugged off past opposition to expanding gambling to fill those gaping budgetary holes. “The effect,” however, is being pondered daily in poker rooms.

But don’t be foolish enough to focus solely on Florida. July will be a bountiful month for poker in many other states:

PENNSYLVANIA: On July 8, poker rooms will open in three Western Pennsylvania casinos: The Meadows in Washington County, Rivers in Pittsburgh and Presque Isle Downs in Erie. By the end of the month, six more rooms will be dealing cards in Wilkes-Barre, Harrisburg, the Poconos and in the suburbs of Philadelphia.

DELAWARE: Harrington Raceway opened its room on Memorial Day weekend, while rooms at Dover Downs and Delaware Park opened soon after.

WEST VIRGINIA: Newly christened Hollywood Casino at Charles Town expects poker to begin by July 2, while the Greenbrier Resort’s semi-private Casino Club with a couple of poker tables expects to be open at the same time.

The “cause” for opening these 14 rooms  is the same as in Florida. Quick and easy infusions of cash into depleted state and municipal budgets, while also “keeping up with the Joneses” as more and more states watch tourism money cross their borders into neighboring states that have casino gambling. It’s the same “cause” that led to approval of casinos expected to open in 2011 in Ohio, and why Maryland, Rhode Island and reportedly Virginia may soon get serious about getting into the game.

But it’s the “effect” of this expansion of poker that’s much harder to quantify.
As a player, it’s easy to be lured into giddiness. Consumers benefit from competition. The more options there are for you to play live poker means better rakes, better promotions and better tournaments as rooms fight over us.

I’ve fielded plenty of emails from players, tired of going to Atlantic City, who will be first in line at the Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware rooms. West Virginia rooms will likely feel a pinch from the new Western Pennsylvania rooms (and eventually Ohio). Mississippi rooms no doubt will fight an exodus of their tourist players to Florida. To remain competitive, virtually every poker room will need to get, well, more competitive.

And no doubt, convenience helps create more players, or at least encourage those occasional players to become regular players.

So in the short term, players will win. But keep that giddiness in check. There’s a dark side to the “effect” of increased competition.

Most obvious, we need to keep an eye on whether the market gets bloated. While players will love benefiting from cut-throat competition for their poker dollar, eventually that fight will mean it’s no longer viable for some rooms to keep their doors open. This is especially true in markets where other lucrative options exist. We saw that recently in Biloxi-Gulport, Miss., when Island View Resort shuttered its poker room in favor of a tournament slots parlor.

And the effect of bloatedness may be something less than closure, but essentially just as damaging. Poker, unlike blackjack or slots, requires participation. If there’s just one poker player in a room, there’s no game. That’s why you see so many poker rooms put a guarantee on their tournaments. They know that unless players know there will be something to play for, they’re less likely to show up.

Likewise, if players feel as if there won’t be enough players to get a $4-$8 Omaha/8 game going at the room down the street, they won’t even bother stopping. They’ll head straight to a room across town where the chances are greater.

So as you take your seat in July, whether it’s in Florida, Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia or anywhere else, take some time to soak up what could be called the second coming of the Moneymaker Effect.

But also keep in the back of your mind that too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Let’s work together to make sure that never happens.

— Email Scott Long at scott@anteupmagazine.com.