Betting on poker: Pros, politicians play for charity

May 4, 2011

Rep. Bobby Scott and poker pro Phil Gordon at the final table of "Bad Beat on Cancer" fundraiser at Union Station Tuesday night. (Tony Brown )

Rep. Joe Barton celebrates a winning hand. (Tony Brown )

Good day for poker players on Capitol Hill Tuesday: Attorney General Eric Holder was outmaneuvered by members of the House, and then the politicos lost to amateurs in a charity tournament.

Last month, the feds came down hard against online poker companies, arresting top execs and shutting down the sites. At issue: whether poker should be considered a game of chance — which would violate U.S. gambling laws — or skill, which would not. Congress got an earful from card-loving constituents; supporters showed up wearing “Poker is not a crime” T-shirts. Holder conceded there was “some degree of skill” during a House Judiciary Committee and said he was just upholding current laws.

The shutdown was a hot topic at the “Bad Beat on Cancer” in Union Station Tuesday night. The annual Texas Hold ’em fundraiser, which raised $200,000, featured both politicans (Sen. Mark Begich and Reps. Bobby Scott, Joe Barton, Jim McGovern and Jim Langevin) and top pros like Phil Gordon, Annie Duke and Lee Childs. Childs started his pro career playing poker online and said the Internet laws are . . . oh, just a little contradictory: “I can sign up for a lottery subscription online. I just got a check the other day for $6.”


Poker players t-shirt protest at the House Judiciary Committee Hearing on Tuesday. (Poker Players Alliance )

The pols bet, bluffed and otherwise did extremely well at the tables. Begich claimed he was just a “lucky player”; Barton collected a few fat pots. But it was Scott who landed a coveted seat at the final table (the only elected official to do so) and finished the tournament in fifth place. (Ethics rules prohibited him from accepting the prize of an new iPad.)

The big winner: T.J. Byrd, one of a group of amateurs from Fairfax Station who bought 12 of the charity’s $500 seats in honor of their late neighbor Kathy Leach. “We rallied together,” he told us. Of the dozen players from “Team Leach” who started in the tournament, Byrd prevailed to win a $10,000 seat at the World Series of Poker Main Event this summer.

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