Logan Schiff

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For my final project I chose to create a podcast series in which I argue that recent legislation to functionally ban online poker is misguided. I also created a basic website using Harvard’s free blogs in which I posted the podcasts along with a couple pictures and descriptions of myself and the intent of the project. I also included the podcast where I attempted empathy by arguing the opposing position. The website itself is a bit sparse right now as the main focus is the 6 part podcast. In the future I hope to add to these podcasts and create a more organic environment.

I have relatively little experience with public speaking and no experience recording myself. My initial impression was how difficult it is to actually speak coherently but off-the-cuff, even about an issue which I have strong and reasonably well thought out ideas. When I first started recording I would constantly slip up or pause or stutter and would promptly start over. I tried reading from paper for a while but it sounded very stilted. Eventually I settled on a medium in which I practiced several times before recording but did not hold myself to a standard of perfection in recording.

While recording the podcasts I realized that I had learned a good deal from the empathetic counterview. I had not really ever thought through the somewhat amoral nature of the game of poker whereby every success is accompanied by an equal or likely greater loss and failure for another individual. The criticism that poker is canabilistic certainly has persuasive power and challenged me to articulate a clearer reason for a laissez-faire approach to poker, for reasons beyond simply the fact that it is personally enjoyable and profitable for me.

I ultimately felt that I articulated several legitimate reasons, and I think talking it through out loud using the medium of the podcast was quite useful in this regard. One of my principle arguments conceded that poker, especially online, is not a particularly socially productive activity. Players distribute money back and forth while an offshore entity takes a continuous rake and often does not pay taxes or give anything back to society, something that live on site gambling enterprises may do. My argument however is that if poker is an enjoyable activity for many Americans it should only be regulated, or in the extreme case banned, if it poses severe externalities on society. We allow people to make their own choices both in business and in leisure even if these are often to their determinant. People have the freedom to day trade (perhaps more of a form of gambling than poker even if the markets are truly efficient), online shop, go into credit card debt, and make various crazy investments. Our society and economy thrives on risk and we only limit it in extreme circumstances.

Furthermore, regulation as opposed to abolition, much like in the alcohol and tobacco industries, poses a viable alternative in many industries including online poker. As I engaged in empathic podcast I came to recognize some of the perils of online poker as opposed to live play, which do present a strong case for broader regulation. For one, players can sit at multiple tables creating the potential for very quick and dramatic losses. The ability to jump to higher stakes and the fact that most people have their bank accounts linked to the site make the potential for abuse and severe losses far greater than in the live context. Poker sites have some deposit limits and information for gambling addiction but they are relatively minor and easily avoided. What I now think is necessary is a more individualized approach that perhaps takes into account ones financial resources and perhaps history of gambling abuse. If online poker’s base shifts more to the U.S. this might be more easily achieved, plus the government can tax the industry as much as it likes to account for externalities related to gambling abuse.

Even if my blog and podcasts do not draw much of an outside audience I think I will continue to update the website as the details of the online poker industry unfold. I was surprised and pleased to see how easy it is to use the podcast software from the comfort of one’s home without even the aid of a fancy microphone. The free Audacity software is rather easy to use and edit and the blog software really minimizes my lack of familiarity with html. Navigating through Second Life with my peers really opened my eyes to the enormous audiences and communities out there in the cyber world. Since online poker takes place exclusively through this universe, it seems appropriate and useful to engage in dialogue through this very medium.

One thing I hope to do in the future in gauge the online poker community’s interest in the legalization debate. Interestingly, a critical part of my success in poker both live and online has come through dialogue over the internet on the chat forum known as www.twoplustwo.com (2+2). 2+2 is an online forum that discusses a wide range of topics including poker strategy, statistics, legalization, non-poker related life topics and more. In order to post one needs a username which serves as an identity much like the avatar in Second Life. Thousands of people post every day on 2+2 and I have had access to the incredible skill and intelligence that would be impossible without the aid of the online universe. The support and recommendations these members have given me over the last year has been invaluable. Perhaps the most important skill I have learned is dealing with the statistical variance of the game, as there is a significant luck element that leads to inevitable losing periods even without bad play. The ability to take these bad periods in stride and see the big picture is a skill I expect to utilize in real life, whether investing, relationships or work in which there is also a large degree of chance. All we can do is play the best given the situation.