CC: Tell me about how you became involved in PokerStars.
Nolan: I've always liked being involved, behind the scenes making things happen. That's my role at the World Series, not making headlines but striving with a team to make things work. With the growth of the online sites, you need some sort of face of the site to make people have confidence in the game. That's what I want to see when I think of PokerStars, and FullTilt is the same way. They've done a marvelous job with their great players marketing the site. I worked with PokerStars because I wanted to contribute to a great organization and a first-class site, and it was top of the line as a place to work, its customer support, the client, and so forth. I've played all the sites, but I think it's superior to the others. When they asked if I would come work with them, it was like being asked to play center field for the New York Yankees. How could you say no to that? When the IGUEA legislation came down, after careful study I felt like I had to leave.
CC: With your work in PokerStars as well as your involvement in the World Series, you've had a chance to not only see the growth of poker but the emergence of a new type of player, these young players who are excellent, players like Jason Strasser, Jeff Madsen, and Jeff Williams. Do you think there is anything unique about them that didn't exist fifteen or twenty years ago?
Nolan: I've thought about these young guys, not any one player but collectively. The concern that I have is that their greatest strengths can become there their greatest weaknesses. Some of these guys who are so successful are very one dimensional people, and at the very least it is a big risk for them to be so successful at a young age. They think, they breathe, they live poker, they're fantastic at it, they have $500k bankrolls, but there is a risk that something is lost for them along the way. That doesn't mean that it is universal or that they are bad people, but there is part of maturing as a normal human being that is missed if you spend all of your time in front of a computer playing poker sixty hours a week, doing nothing else with your time.
CC: It's interesting, I know a couple of young players, Doug Kim who made the final table at the Main Event this year and Jason Strasser from Duke who did very well both online and at the World Series, who have moved away from poker in spite of their success. Doug started his new job in New York shortly after the Main Event was completed, and Jason made a lot of waves on the internet when he decided to pursue a job on Wall Street when he graduates this spring from Duke rather than head fulltime into poker.
Nolan: That's interesting, and I think you use two good examples of good role models. The problem is that there are many guys who take a bad path, have minor success, and then see their personal maturity and development stunted. I think one of the real problems with online poker is that it is antisocial, spending so much time at the computer. It insulates you from human contact, and I don't think that's positive. Some people fall into this trap where that becomes their entire life, and that's just a dangerous existence.
CC: Let's talk about the IUGEA legislation. It's been a few months since it was passed, and you've now had some time to consider it. What does the poker world look like to you?
Nolan: I've had some time to assimilate a lot of information, as well as talk to people that I respect a great deal in the industry, especially legally. Initially, I had a violent reaction to the legislation, and I still believe that online poker is seriously threatened. Online poker has continued, but what people don't realize is that Big Brother hasn't played his hand yet. When he plays his hand, he's going to be holding the nuts. He's got the power. Unfortunately, that's the problem. Financial agents working with the sites may be forced to stop their interactions; advertisers will be intimidated to stop accepting placements from online sites. They may go after players and front men for sites, those associated with online sites. I have nothing more than my own assessment, but this is what I fear will happen. Federal codes and laws don't sit on a shelf, that's not the way government works. They go straight to the Department of Justice, to the Attorney General of the United States, and they must act on these new laws. That is the unknown, how you get from Point A to Point B. If there was a groundswell of movement, if the Poker Players Alliance was spearheading this effort, maybe the legislation would be tempered. I'd be interested in what you see on the horizon, Craig. Strategically, what is the right play for the poker industry to take? Should we be fighting this as a carve out, that poker is a game of skill and should be excluded? Should we be mobilizing a grassroots force to interact with this new Congress? Should we just accept this and move on, because more legislation is in the pipeline? What is the +EV play here?
CC: I think a couple of things here. Unfortunately, I think the organizing of players here is a long-term strategy when short-term tactics are required. You look at the numbers in the PPA, and they are miniscule when you compare it to other large associations who lobby Congress like the National Rifle Association (NRA). With the NRA, you have a long history of understanding how Washington works, how to impact legislation both in Washington and in the local areas, how to organize and mobilize their constituency. The fact of the matter is that poker players in America are not fully embraced; these are fathers and mothers or sons and daughters who are engaged in a competition called poker that really is not understood very well by Mainstream America nor is it supported. It's a mysterious thing out in Suburbia, people don't know much about it. If you play live where I live for example, you can be arrested. For the politician, I don't think it is a fight worth fighting. It seems to only have a downside to support poker; it seems to be an issue which can only harm a candidate for the most part.
Nolan: Elections in America now come down to 40 percent of the electorate voting Republican and 40 percent voting Democrat, and it really comes down to what the 20 percent of unattached voters focus on in an election. The defeat of Jim Leach, a 30-year incumbent in the House of Representatives from Iowa, was absolutely tied to this issue. Here was a sponsor of the HR 4411, and grassroots poker players were instrumental in his defeat. He lost by three points, so this was a huge victory for us. You're quite right that this isn't a national issue, but I think seeing this happen to Jim Leach has to give us a great deal of encouragement.
CC: This legislation and online poker is almost a red herring. If you take a step back and look at this, this legislation is potentially the first significant internet content regulation for the United States. I know you've spoken about this as a civil liberty issue, but I'm surprised the internet economy hasn't been more aggressive at putting a halt to this legislation, companies like Yahoo and Amazon, much more than our little world.
Nolan: You nailed it. This is the beginning of attacking our use of the internet. I was extremely disappointed as I closely followed this legislation to find that eBay supported this bill. That to me is mind boggling. Internet rights, having the ability to use our computer as we like: that is something I would think all internet companies would agree with and join the fight. I was disgusted at the lack of support for our cause from online companies.
CC: A final question. One of the challenges for many of us is balancing poker with our relationships, especially those of us who are married or in long-term relationships. As someone who has been involved in poker for quite awhile as well as is married, how do you find a balance?
Nolan: That is such a great question; it really could be a stand-alone expose. Nobody really talks about it, but it's so important. I'm not sure how much I want to bore you with my own situation, but I will tell you I have gone through these same challenges. There are certain stages I had to go through. When I started going to Atlantic City frequently, it was tough. There was more money, more freedom, but less time with my wife. It's constantly walking this tightrope and not falling off. I remember a time when I wouldn't speak to my wife about poker because I didn't think she was interested, or I didn't want to say I'd lost $2,000. To me, $2,000 is a bad beat in a pot; to her, it is a set of new living room furniture. The way you look at money is different. I finally realized I was much more successful in my marriage when I communicated openly with my wife. "Honey, I have the Packers tonight +4, please cheer for the Packers," and now she has a rooting interest. I think getting your wife or significant other involved in having a rooting interest in your own ambitions, whatever they may be, is so important. If your spouse is not interested in what you do as a career, then you have significant problems. My wife doesn't really enjoy gambling. She's not opposed to it, but she just doesn't really enjoy it. I don't want to go to her and share bad beat stories. When I'm with her, I'd rather spend time focused on things she enjoys doing; I want to go to a movie or spend time enjoying nature. I want to do things completely apart from what I do professionally. I think it's important in walking the tightrope between poker and your relationships. When you are with them, you must be with them - mentally and physically.
CC: It's one of the problems with online poker. When you spend so much time in front of the computer, especially at times like nights or weekends when most play is available, it can be difficult to physically take the time to be with your family. What I hear from others is that when many people are with their spouses, it can often be difficult to focus on them and being involved with them, as well as just not enough time.
Nolan: It is a real problem for just about all of us involved in gambling. I will say that poker is probably the most time consuming of all gambling endeavors. In sports betting, if I like the Packers +4, I make my bet and that's it. I don't necessarily have to watch the game if I don't want to. When you play poker, you have a real time and attention commitment to the screen or to the game. I would also bring back something I'd purchased with my winnings when I came back from Atlantic City. Let your wife share in your success. I know we are very protective of our bankroll, if we have a bankroll of $10,000 and I made two grand this week, I maybe need to protect my bankroll, but if I spend part of those winnings to give something to her. It isn't a replacement for time together, but now she realizes that the sacrifices she makes also brings her some of the rewards. In a lot of guys I see, I don't see them doing things for their wives. I think your wife has to share in your success, I just can't see it any other way. It's funny; my wife doesn't gamble, but she knows every major poker player, she knows the industry, and I think she's interested in it because she's interested in me, she's invested in it.