A landmark bill was brought before a committee today, regarding legalization and regulation of poker in the state of Texas...
So I've just come from the Texas State Capitol, one of many that appeared in the all-too-small room there to show their support for a bill to legalize poker in the state of Texas.
'Twas a long day, indeed. I and my trusted sidekick, John, showed up around 2pm, as we were instructed, ready and eager to get full coverage on the day's proceedings. However, it quickly became evident that the day's proceedings would actually be the evening's proceedings, as whatever work the committee was deeply involved in didn't get finished until around 7:30.
There were some 17 bills up for discussion in front of the committee that evening, and ours was but one. However, it is worth noting that the entire room was filled to the brim with folks in support of the legislation. Professional poker players Clonie Gowen and Lyle Berman (who is also the chairman of the board of the World Poker Tour), president of the Poker Players Alliance, Michael Bolcerek, and countless others appeared before the committee to express their support for legalized poker in Texas.
I've been playing in Austin for years. In Austin poker you generally have the newbies, the seasoned, and the veterans. Tex Flaniken, one of the people I've come to respect the most in the Austin poker community, most certainly belongs in the last category.
I won't claim to know much about Tex. I've only conversed with him once or twice. But, you know, there are just certain people that you encounter that exude a sense of self-respect and unknowingly command the same from you. Tex is one of those people. He's an old-schooler, has been playing poker longer than I've been alive, and to see him tonight well before the proceedings took place was a pleasure. Tex took the stage early on, quite unexpectedly, not having prepared any kind of speech. He had been prepared to defer his testifying to Vernon Harrison, President and General Counsel of the Texas Card Players Association, but the chairman of the committee all but forced him up onto the podium. Tex said a few strong words in support of the bill, and exited the podium with the respect one would expect.
It was well-noted that Erick Lindgren, WPT champion and multi-million dollar poker-winning professional, along with Dallas' District Attorney, Craig Watkins, were both scheduled to take the stage. Neither did, however, for one reason or another. I was told Erick "had to go home," and was never given a reason for Watkins' absence. Clonie Gowen, notable pro, however, did take the stand. You'll be able to see her testimony on PokerPages later today.
It is definitely worth noting that PokerPages was the ONLY place filming video inside the room. A local CBS affilliate showed up early on in the afternoon, but seeing as their piece went on the air at 5pm, was unable to get any footage of the goings-on. That means that we'll be the only place - now, or ever - you'll be able to get video of this momentous occasion.
And that's exactly what it was. I don't think I've ever seen such comradery among poker players. Don't get me wrong - there's always the "pat-you-on-the-back" mentality that comes with hitting a good hand or posting a good win, but those situations always come with a grain of salt and, sometimes, with a sense of envy. On this day, however, poker players were working together for a common cause.
Perhaps the funniest happening of the evening came when the sole spokesman against the bill took the stand. Rob Kohler, with one Southern Baptist organization or another, "stood up" against the bill. It's folks like him that will most likely present the biggest opposition to the bill, but if his performance was any indication of what we can expect from the others, I simply will not be worried in the slightest.
"He's so nervous," he said to me. "Look at his leg."
I did so, and sure enough that guy's leg was shaking like a leaf on a tree. I'd heard a shake in his voice, as well, but hadn't notice this other tidbit. Leave it to a poker player to notice a tell even inside of a court-room.
I'll be honest - the committee didn't really take his testimony seriously. At one point, as Rob was blathering on about how poker was a "game of chance," and not skill, the committee chairman stopped him.
"So," he asked, tongue-in-cheek and clearly eager to knock him down a peg for one reason or another. I'm paraphrasing the following quote: "What would you do if we killed your Bingo games for the same reason?"
This took Mr. Anti-Poker aback. It took him a few seconds to recover, before he finally came up with: "Well... Bingo is a socially acceptable game."
I kid you not, folks, the whole damn room erupted into laughter when he said that... even the committee. I have the video to prove it.
One of the other committee members apparently said something to get the chairman to back off, to which he replied: "No. I've been waiting ten years for this!" And smiling the whole time.
Waiting ten years for what? To slice down an activist speaking out against legislation that is years in the making? Did his fundamentalist thoughts have some play in that statement? I think so, given that the chairman asked:
Whatever your'e running for next election, Mr. Lopes Flores, I'm gonna vote for you. Provided I like everything else you say, of course.
In the end, the bill was put up for "further consideration." Meaning, we'll know whether or not they recommend the bill to move on in its journey to the House floor a little later. My guess is: It's gonna get there.
Whether or not it will pass depends on a lot of variables. But to be honest with you folks, I have a lot more faith in this bill after tonight than I did yesterday morning. That's for sure.
More on this to come.
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