Interview with Shelley Berkley About National Poker Week

It was a Monday morning like most others during the 2009 World Series of Poker, as poker players sat grinding in cash games and satellite tournaments and fans wandered the halls wondering looking at the setup of the infamous WSOP. The halls were typically sparse with people prior to the noon start time of the events, but June 22 found the weary poker media seated in a ballroom at 11:00am for a press conference hosted by the Poker Players Alliance.

The announcement of National Poker Week came with the support of PPA Chairman and former Senator Alfonse D’Amato and Nevada Rep. Shelley Berkley, both of whom spoke about their passion for working toward the legalization and regulation of online poker. They will be joining other PPA members, including poker pros like Greg Raymer and Linda Johnson, in Washington, D.C., during the week of July 19-25 to express their support of the cause. caught up with Rep. Berkley just prior to her words of encouragement and the “shuffle up and deal” instruction to the Amazon Room full of senior poker players who awaited the start of the $1,000 Seniors No-Limit Hold’em World Championship (Event 43).

You obviously bring a long background in gaming to the online poker fight.

Gaming is the major industry in my Congressional district, and I have hundreds of thousands of constituents who depend on a strong gaming economy to make a living, so if it’s important to my constituents, it’s important to me. I also used to be vice-president of the old Sands hotel, so I know gaming. I think of the 435 members of Congress, I’m probably the only one with any gaming background, so I think my colleagues look to me when it comes to information about gaming matters.

But there are members of the gaming community fighting against Rep. Frank’s pro-gaming bills, like Steve Wynn and others.

There is a definitely a split in the gaming industry. There are those who are very much in favor of online gaming and those who are opposed to it and think it will hurt brick and mortar casinos. My personal opinion is that of a representative of Las Vegas. I think it would be disingenuous of me to pick and choose which type of gambling I prefer or don’t, so I support all forms of gambling. It’s worked very well in Nevada. I grew up here, I turned out alright, I raised a family here, my kids turned out alright… I’m a big proponent of gaming.

Have you had any discussions with Senator Harry Reid, who opposes Frank’s proposed legislation?

Often! (Laughs) I don’t think he was a great fan. I don’t want to speak for him, but I think he understands now that there are built-in controls and ways of insuring the integrity of the game, which he was very concerned about as the former chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission. Obviously, there isn’t anyone who knows more about gaming than Senator Reid, but I think a lot of his questions have been answered, and while I can’t tell you where he is on any of these pieces of legislation, I know he has an open mind.

Are you going to be participating in National Poker Week?

Of course; that’s where I work, in D.C.. I have a job there with a very long commute! (Laughs) I come home to Las Vegas on weekends and go back during the week to work. And yes, I will be helping with National Poker Week.

Do you play poker?

I’ve been known to play a hand or two! (Laughs) Now my dad is a great poker player; he’s 84 and still plays everyday – not online, though. He likes the live action poker games. As for me, I don’t play live or online because I don’t have time for too many recreational activities period!

Did you consider playing the Seniors event with Mr. D’Amato?

What?! Why would I think of playing the seniors event?! Actually, I more than qualify, but I have a ridiculous schedule and go back to Washington tomorrow. It’s for everybody else to enjoy and for me to advocate for them to enjoy.

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