Jason Somerville Interviewed About Online Poker on CNBC

Renowned Twitch poker streamer Jason Somerville appeared on CNBC’s “Power Lunch” this week to discuss the legalization of online poker in the United States with co-anchors Tyler Mathisen, Brian Sullivan, and Melissa Lee. It was a short segment, just a few minutes long, which proved to not really be enough time for Somerville to properly make his points.

Jason Somerville at the tables

Jason Somerville at the tables

It was not exactly Somerville’s fault that he did not have time to make detailed arguments, as the segment was dominated by Rev. James Butler, the Executive Director of the California Coalition Against Gambling Expansion. Mathisen began the interview by asking why Butler and his cohorts were against online poker and while Butler mentioned the social and moral costs, he focused on the alleged economic costs of online poker. He said “studies indicate” that there is a “3 to 1 loss” for states and governments that use online gambling as a way of raising revenue. When asked to elaborate on where that loss comes from, he said it was the result of unemployment, homelessness, crime, and other social ills that result from gambling.

Mathisen further asked Butler if there is evidence of increased crime from online gambling, as opposed to illegal gambling that one might find in underground card rooms and the like. Butler said that those situations are more “internationally” based and again stated that it has been found that online gaming leads to increased crime. At no point did he cite actual statistics or specific studies.

Butler next mentioned that beyond crime and social problems, online gaming hurts the economy because it does not have the same “economic multipliers” as retail, manufacturing, and other service industries. And even if he is correct on that (it does make some sense), who cares? Why should the government ban an industry just because one might consider discretionary spending on gambling to be a waste of money? We all waste our money all the time. It’s our money, we can spend it on whatever we want, be it a night out at a restaurant, 200 Pokeballs, or in a five dollar Sit-and-Go.

Somerville finally got a chance to speak after that, confirming Mathisen’s point that many countries already regulate online poker. Somerville said:

Online poker exists in a regulated environment in the majority of other countries around the world. And it’s great to see states like New Jersey take a forward thinking approach on this: taxing and regulating. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are already playing online poker, but they’re playing on unsafe, unregulated sites where they don’t know the games are square and they don’t know their money is safe.

I, personally, have lost tens of thousands of dollars on unregulated online poker sites that have just vanished in the middle of the night, so I say I think it’s the government’s responsibility to tax and regulate….

Mathisen cut-in, asking Somerville if he was being responsible by playing at those sites, to which Somerville responded that he didn’t have a choice. When Mathisen said he had the choice not to do it, Somerville answered:

Sure, but the sites offer and they come off as being reputable, but actually they’re not, you know what I mean? Sites like PokerStars, which is most licensed and regulated online poker site in the world, they are pushing for these regulations, so that we can make sure that there’s no underage play, that there’s no problem gamblers playing; we want to track those. The unregulated sites, they don’t care if someone’s losing their house or if they’re playing underage. They’re just there to make money. So I think we should take…the government’s perspective should be to tax and regulate.

The Reverend then put forth the usual anti-poker argument, saying that the government should protect people from illegal sites by making them legal, but by blocking people from playing on them. Of course, what he fails to see (or admit) is that by instituting are regulatory and licensing scheme, players would be much more protected than they are now.

Sullivan asked Butler why the government should tell people what they can or cannot spend their money on, and somehow Butler actually tried to argue that the government should protect people from themselves by banning online gambling, not realizing he just made the argument for regulation.

As Butler kept talking, the Mathisen tried to get a word in, but Butler went on and on. The camera actually cut to the studio for a moment allowing viewers to see Sullivan look to his left – where Somerville was sitting – and throw up his hands in what looked to be frustration.

Somerville got the last word, explaining that he has had to travel to Canada to play poker (his profession). He concluded by saying:

I hear from these Americans saying, ‘Why can’t I play a one dollar buy-in poker tournament from the comfort of my home while I’m able to be on horse races, buy lottery tickets, play daily fantasy…’ Why is poker not being treated the same way as those other industries that we’re taxing and regulating?

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