Holman W. Jenkins Jr.

The Forsaken ‘Fizzbin’ Folderol

This week’s lesson in how the mainstream looks down upon poker players as being so stupid they need to be protected from themselves comes to us from no less a place of starched collars and TimesNewRoman characters than the Wall Street Journal.  On Christmas Day, WSJ columnist Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. served up the latest load of fumigatible fudge, “D.C. Plays Fizzbin with Online Poker“.

WSJ columnist Holman W. Jenkins Jr. demonstrates his lack of knowledge about what poker really is.

WSJ columnist Holman W. Jenkins Jr. demonstrates his lack of knowledge about what poker really is.

Subtitled “How to make the poor pay for the welfare state: online gambling”, Jenkins’ treatise is an anti-gambling screed dressed up with attacks of greedy governments, all done to victimize those poor souls who just don’t know any better.

Meaning us.

The background here is the recent demise of the Reid-Kyl online poker bill, which in reality was an anti-gambling bill fitted with a narrow online-poker carveout in an attempt to drum up some support.  Jenkins cites every political faction involved in the bickering over R-K as being greedy, self-serving people who are just part of a government that’s really just a facade for organized crime.

As Jenkins put in in his opening, “Many modern economic anthropologists would tell you that the state begins as organized crime, dividing up rackets and controlling turf.  Case in point… online poker.”

That’s where the Fizzbin comes in, that imaginary card game made up by Star Trek’s Captain Kirk in a popular episode wherein an isolated, growing humanoid culture was polluted by an earlier mission which left behind a single book about Chicago mobs of the 1920s.  Trekkers will remember that in the episode, the highly imaginative population then built an entire culture around the book, which included plenty of cards and guns.  Kirk saves the day (of course), in part by inventing an imaginary card game called “Fizzbin”, in which he modifies the rules with every hand to steer the outcome his way.  The local rummies fall for it.

Jenkins ties his metaphor back to his premise in the following way, but he just can’t help taking a swipe at poker players themselves as he does it:

“The Kyl-Reid bill, as Captain Kirk would quickly suss out (aided by the deductive powers of Mr. Spock), was destined instantly to become a bone of contention among the various gangs jostling for a piece of the online poker action.

“The state lottery commissioners and governors opposed the bill because it would prevent them offering an array of tantalizing new online games to suckers, er, citizens of their states.”

Yeah, sometimes the players are suckers.  Sometimes they’re not.  It’s for damn sure Jenkins wouldn’t know the difference.

What we do know, however, is that he wants it all stamped out, somehow, someway.  This is your poppa’s right wing talking.  Jenkins indeed cites the ongoing, problematic remissions process involving US victims of Full Tilt, stating that for most of these players, they probably won’t get their money back anyway, and that the government plans to keep it. Writes Jenkins, in the piece’s most troublesome paragraph:

“Some of these funds were supposed to reimburse the ‘victims,’ U.S. poker players who had money in their accounts when the sites were shut down. But so cumbersome and legalistic is the process created by Justice that many lawyers say they don’t expect their clients to find it worth the trouble or legal fees. Justice may end up keeping much of the loot itself under asset-forfeiture rules.”

Really?  No one’s even seen the process yet, and Jenkins apparently bases his view on the statement of a single player’s attorney who went ahead and filed a civil action against those involved.  The reality is that since the details of the remission process haven’t been released, no one can say how cumbersome it will be.

Indeed, Justice could have kept all the money they seized from NETeller, too, but they didn’t.  After a significant amount of time, that money was released to players.

It’s been much longer in regards to Full Tilt, but a part of that is that there have been competing claims against Full Tilt’s assets to consider as well as ongoing civil and criminal complaints.  Jenkins’ assertions just don’t hold a lot of water, even if his statements about politicians being greedy pigs do go without saying.

And yet you might have overlooked the kicker in reading: “Some of these funds were supposed to reimburse the ‘victims,’ U.S. poker players who had money in their accounts…”

That’s “victims”, in scare quotes, in the original.  Which means that Jenkins thinks that poker players aren’t victims at all, but rather a class of people he considers inferior, perhaps even deserving of what’s been happening to them, both in regards to Full Tilt and to the Reid-Kyl games.

See, those primitive culture inhabitants Kirk fooled with a made-up game of Fizzbin were really just a bunch of dummies.  That’s the real metaphor Jenkins is trying to hammer home: In his view, all poker players are stupid, and since they’re stupid, they have no right to decide themselves whether online poker offers palatable entertainment value, for the cost, for those who choose to take part.

The same cultural anthropologists that Jenkins cites in his blasts at government would also tell you that gambling is an essential element of what makes us all human.  No to mention that this guy is writing from the offices of a news outlet centered on legalized gambling, that being the stock market.

Somehow, the guy just doesn’t get the fact that the rules for his own Fizzbin game just don’t add up.

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