At the time of writing, the petition created on April 2 by the Poker Players Alliance seeking to get the President to weigh in on the proposed online gambling ban currently in Congress has just under 4,000 signatures.
The petition needs 100,000 signatures within a 30-day period to receive a response from the President – a threshold it doesn’t seem likely to cross.
In fact, the petition is unlikely to reach the 10,000 signatures a similar petition amassed in 2011 – which at the time was enough for it to receive a response from the White House.
One would think with a potential ban of online gambling moving (very, very slowly) through Congress, the current petition would be a lot further along.
So where is the petition going wrong?
I can think of three reasons.
Reason #1: Mobilizing the poker community is TOUGH
This isn’t a slight on poker players, it’s just the nature of the beast.
Poker players are exceedingly rational thinkers, and weigh the risk to reward of virtually every decision they make, including something as simple as signing a petition. A lot of poker players have become disillusioned with the whole legalization process, others simply don’t care, and some have other reasons for not signing the petition because high-level poker players tend to see different angles than the average Joe.
Where many feel signing the petition is a freeroll, some poker players have certainly envisioned potential negative consequences or harbor conflicted feelings on the way the petition is framed, since a large swath of the political spectrum is very skeptical of states’ rights arguments.
What negatives could there possibly be?
What if the president agrees online gambling should be banned? Or even disagrees with the OLC’s 2011 opinion?
Reason #2: This petition needed outside support
This petition was going to need outside backing to reach the 100,000 target signatures. The poker community simply wasn’t going to be able to muster that kind of support.
I wrongly assumed the wording of the petition (making it a states’ rights issue and not a poker issue) was related to a larger coalition of support from libertarian groups.
“Protect Internet freedom. Oppose efforts in Congress to force states to shut down state-authorized poker & gaming sites.”
As noted above, in 2011, on the heels of Black Friday, a similar petition focused on poker managed to hit 10,000 signatures. The poker community mustered all of the 10,000 signatures when they were frothing at the bit about what had occurred several months prior on Black Friday.
The threshold for White House response has now been raised to 100,000, and there is simply no way the poker community is going to reach that tally. Without gaining momentum in mainstream libertarian and states’ rights circles, the petition simply had no chance.
No outside support came, and at the same time the poker community hasn’t been fully on board either, likely because of the phrasing.
Reason #3: Off timing
Launching this petition on the Thursday before Easter weekend wouldn’t have been my first choice – I would have went with the first week of July, about a week before the World Series of Poker Main Event kicked off in Nevada – as it’s not only a major holiday, but April is also the beginning of a seasonal downswing at online poker sites.
Launching the petition just before Easter effectively eliminated two or three days of the 30 allotted to gain the necessary number of signatures – and when you need 3,333 signatures per day, every day counts. Furthermore, these lost days occurred early on in the process, impeding early momentum.
The petition could have possibly survived a slow first weekend had more support appeared, but when it failed to pickup any steam after the Easter holiday, fewer and fewer players saw any point in adding their name to the rolls.
Running the petition during a high awareness period would have been a better play in my opinion – particularly if the PPA or some other group opened up a booth where people at the WSOP could sign the petition electronically, and perhaps receive some kind of free bauble for their signature.
Don’t read too much into the petition’s failings
With less than 4,000 signatures and only two weeks remaining, the petition has the potential to backfire, and could embolden Sheldon Adelson and RAWA supporters, as it appears there isn’t much opposition to their proposed ban.
However, I don’t think the petition is a good representation of the overall opposition to RAWA.
First, it focuses on a single argument against RAWA, states’ rights, and RAWA opposition is made up of a diverse coalition of groups who usually don’t agree on very much.
Whether they want online poker or not, there are likely a number of poker players who are weary of states’ rights arguments due to their political ideologies.
The petition flat out asks people to set aside their views on gambling and treat this as a states’ rights issue, but doesn’t ask poker players to set aside any states’ rights qualms they might have.
This singularity in argument could have been overcome had they coordinated with libertarian groups, but for the most part, those opposing RAWA have been silent on the petition.
It seems there wasn’t a game plan put in place prior to the petition between the PPA and the libertarian groups who have come out against RAWA in the past, such us Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty, Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, or FreedomWorks.
Moreover – and this can’t be understated – the petition was launched during a seasonal lull and just prior to a major holiday, effectively stopping any momentum it might have accumulated just days after it began.