Interview with PPA Chairman and Former Sen. Alfonse D’Amato

For the second year in a row, Poker Players Alliance Chairman and former Senator Alfonse D’Amato made the trek to Las Vegas during the World Series of Poker. In 2008, his trip consisted of a daylong visit to the Rio to speak with the poker media, handle “shuffle up and deal” duties for one of the main event starting days, and watch some poker featuring his favorite players like Phil Hellmuth. In 2009, he came to play.

To be fair, D’Amato came to the 2009 WSOP to represent the PPA in its announcement of National Poker Week, but he had another purpose to his several-day stay at the Rio. He registered for the $1,000 Seniors No-Limit Hold’em World Championship (Event 43), and just after the PPA press conference, he sauntered down the Rio hallway to find his seat and take his shot at a WSOP bracelet. He played well during the first half of the day, though his demise in the tournament came just after the dinner break. While his foray into tournament poker did not have the desired result, the Full Tilt Poker-patched player enjoyed his experience and found out first-hand how difficult a day of the tournament grind can be. caught up with the former New York senator the following day before he caught a flight out of Las Vegas.

You’ve been with the PPA for over two years. How do you feel about the direction you’ve taken it and where it’s going?

Of course, I’d like us to make further strides, but given the opposition that has come from the sports leagues and others, we’ve done pretty good. We are poised now, I think, for a big victory in the House of Representatives, as Congressman Frank has been leading the charge. When he holds a hearing, we will be able to get a bill that will permit the playing of poker on the internet. We have to tweak the bill, we think, in order to get it passed and in order to get some of the sports leagues to drop their opposition.

Did you anticipate their opposition?

They were the big pushers of the opposition initially. They funded the Christian right groups to come in and scream, and they were wrong. I think they see it now; it didn’t help their cause. We’re looking to work with them, not against them. We’re not looking to promote online gaming activities across the board. Hopefully, we can get the Congressman to make some modifications to his bill, and I think we can then get the support of the sports leagues and be able to get the bill passed, which will allow adults to play in their own homes. We’re not talking about kids; we’re talking about having the kinds of software programs making it virtually impossible for youngsters to play. We think that the industry needs regulation to keep honest people honest and to ensure the integrity of the game. And last but not least, we believe that we could raise anywhere between 20 and 30 billion dollars over the next decade, and that’s a lot of money to help [the federal government] during these difficult times.

Do you think victory will come from the Frank bill or the upcoming Menendez bill?

I think the Frank bill has to be tweaked somewhat and will eventually look something like the Menendez bill, and it will be a good compromise.

What are your hopes for National Poker Week?

We hope that we get enough people down during the week of July 19 to visit Congressmen and Senators. We have 35 statewide representatives and their delegations from the Poker Players Alliance who will be bringing the case to the legislators. We think we have a convincing argument, and there’s nothing like people seeing their legislators face to face and saying, look this is important to us and we want your support.

How many cosponsors are you hoping to get on Frank’s bill?

I think we’ll get at least 50; that’s our goal.

About your poker game, tell me a little about your WSOP tournament experience.

I lasted awhile. I guess about 60 percent of the field was gone when I finally got knocked out. I had a pocket pair of jacks, and I took a beating with that. I was down to 1,600 in chips, and it was desperation time, so I went all-in with my pocket eights and someone else had pocket kings. That was it, but it was a lot of fun.

Was this your first tournament?

Yes, but of course I play poker regularly. This was the first WSOP tournament, and I’ll definitely play again. But I’ve got a 16-month old baby at home and a baby girl on the way, and tournaments take time. I’ve been playing cash games for about 45 years, and that’s what I really enjoy the most.

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