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Poker News | World Poker News

Barack Obama – A Candidate With a Poker Background

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There are numerous candidates currently in the race for the presidency of the United States. Well, in fact, the Democrats and Republicans are still vying for their respective party’s nomination. As the caucuses and primaries are in full swing, the race is nothing if not interesting and wide open.

The candidates all have taken stands on various issues – from the war in Iraq to health care, from foreign policy and trade to education, and from immigration to the economy. The issues being discussed generally affect millions, if not all, Americans.

One topic has been absent from all candidates’ platforms, and that is the legality, regulation, and potential taxation of internet gaming. While this certainly doesn’t hold the same level of importance as something like health care or war, it affects hundreds of thousands of Americans.

One candidate – Ron Paul – has specifically addressed the issue of civil liberties and privacy rights, which in effect encompasses the issue of the U.S. government’s attempt to interfere with the right to gamble online. He also met with representatives of the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) during their Fall 2007 visit to Washington D.C. More can be read about Paul and his views here.

However, there is another candidate who has specific ties to poker and could be an advocate for players and fans of the game. Barack Obama has a long-standing passion for poker, and the subject is prominent enough in his life that CNN reported on it in an article on its website several months ago.

Obama began playing poker in high school with friends, though he often played with his grandfather at home. Then, during his years as an Illinois state senator, Obama spent countless hours playing poker with fellow lawmakers. Not only were Democrats and Republicans invited to play, but even lobbyists and other friends were welcomed to the table.

Obama was a founding member of the group in 1997, one that played a regular low-stakes game of stud, draw, or hold’em, though sometimes a hi-lo game was thrown in for good measure. Poker was the focus of the sessions, though beer and cigars were also a welcome distraction at the end of a long day in the legislature. The poker nights were often referred to as a “committee meeting” so as not to be disturbed. Though the law, at the time, prohibited playing poker for money, it was seldom enforced, especially when the stakes were low.

When Obama won his bid for a 2004 U.S. Senate seat, his poker buddies celebrated with him in a poker game that left Obama with an empty wallet, though his political aspirations would lead him to run for the highest office in the land only a few years later. Senator Terry Link recalled that night’s poker festivities, “We brought him down to earth real quick.”

Obama’s enjoyment of poker is something that he recognizes is enjoyed by many others. He told CNN in an e-mail, “It’s a fun way for people to relax and share stories and give each other a hard time over friendly competition. In Springfield, it was a way to get to know other senators – including Republicans.”

His opponents in the casual poker games say that he was a careful, focused player who had a solid poker face. He didn’t often bluff, and when he bet or raised, it could be assumed that he probably had a quality hand. He was also a very serious competitor – never taking it easy on other players or happy to lose to anyone. Senator Terry Link said, “He didn’t throw his cards or take a swing at anybody, but he wasn’t a happy person. He’s got that competitive spirit, no doubt about it.”

One of the players in the group, AT&T lobbyist Stephen Selcke also noted, “Barack was always focused on anything he did, but he would certainly engage in banter. Barack was one of the guys.”

And about Obama’s tight image at the table, Republican Senator Bill Brady commented, “I always used to kid him that the only fiscally conservative bone in his body I ever saw was at the poker table with his own money.”

When Obama took his place in the U.S. Senate, the regular game is said to have disintegrated into only an occasional game. And the players admit that they miss the poker nights but are happy to see Obama pursuing the run for the presidency.

Knowing that Obama has a competitive spirit at the poker table easily explains his intense presidential campaign. He seems to be confident of the cards he is holding, knows exactly what the odds are, and may even know what his opponents in the race are holding as well. His success thus far in the campaign, the win of the Iowa caucus and a close second place finish in the New Hampshire primary.

Whether Obama will step up and defend the poker players of America remains to be seen, but if he makes it to the White House, he’ll have to put his cards on the table.

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