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Online Poker News Archives - December 19, 2004

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Copyright 2004 The Washington Post

The Washington Post

December 19, 2004 Sunday
Final Edition

HEADLINE: A Whole New Ballgaming; Cross Baseball With Poker, and What Do You Get? The D.C. Cards

BYLINE: Paul Farhi, Washington Post Staff Writer


   Empire Poker Stadium?

   Empire Poker Park at Anacostia Yards?

   "The Poke"?

   With a deal to bring Major League Baseball to Washington apparently cratering last week, a civic-minded and no doubt extremely respectable Internet gambling company has stepped forward to try to save the day. Empire Poker, which describes itself as "North America's leading online poker site," said late last week that it would provide up to $500 million to prevent the would-be Washington Nationals from becoming the Lame Ducks. The company would finance the team's move from Montreal to a new District stadium.

   All the company wants in return is naming rights to the team's new field. And the exclusive right to all the signs inside the stadium. And, um, one other little thing: It wants to put Internet kiosks throughout the stadium so fans can play electronic poker before, during and after the game.

   So, Washington would get baseball and hot dogs and box seats . . . and Texas Hold 'Em?

   Bingo, says Ron Burke, the company's top marketing executive: "If you turn on the TV, you'll see poker being played more and more. It's become a lot more mainstream. It's like the national pastime." He adds, "The exposure [of the stadium name] would be good for us, and the city would have baseball."

   Not to pull a Linda Cropp here, but there might be a few flaws in this plan.

   For starters, Empire isn't exactly forthcoming about the sources of its money ("We're private," says Burke). And while we're not lawyers or anything, we do recall that it's against the law to set up an online gambling business in the United States. That would explain why "North America's leading online poker site " is not actually headquartered anywhere near North America. Empire is based in Cyprus.

   Empire hasn't heard back from baseball or city officials yet. But it's questionable whether Major League Baseball or the District government will want to get into business with a gambling company, let alone one headquartered somewhere in the Mediterranean (besides, the District has a lottery, so it already has its own gambling business, thank you).

   Baseball is a little sensitive about anything that even hints of betting.
Would-be Hall of Famer Pete Rose is banned from the Hall of Fame because of his fondness for gambling; Las Vegas is a long shot for getting a major league franchise for the same reason. Baseball is as likely to allow fans of the national pastime to play electronic poker between innings in the nation's capital as it is to allow them to bat cleanup or pitch long relief during the World Series.

    On the other hand, you have to admire the entrepreneurial spirit behind the offer. That is something we could use more of in the fractured negotiations between the multimillionaire monopolists of Major League Baseball and the ambitious political operatives of the District of Columbia.

    Surely, the power of the private sector, or maybe just the fundraising prowess of a good PTA chapter, can be unleashed to raise the $140 million the D.C. Council says it needs before it will approve a stadium deal. In that vein, we have a few helpful suggestions:

   * Who says monuments can't be sponsored? We can do it without raising the hackles of "purists" who will complain about "commercializing" our sacred "national heritage." We'll be gentle, we promise. So: The Lincoln (Savings) Memorial. The Jefferson (Pilot) Memorial. The World War II(tsie Roll) Memorial.
. . . You see where we're going here?

   * The inauguration. Do we really need another one? We just had one four years ago, and it's the same guy as last time. How about just having a nice little party with cold cuts this year and donating the rest of the money to the stadium effort?

   * Revelations that opponents of a publicly financed stadium were supported, in part, by the owner of porn shops and adult theaters in the District suggests the need for payback. If every fan donated to the stadium fund just what he spent at a strip club last week . . .

   * Red-light cameras are a profit center for the District. More cameras, more profit. How many intersections are there in the District?

   * Sell naming rights to the Potomac and Anacostia rivers. Those are really old names, anyway. Besides, the rivers are just kind of sitting there now, not doing much.

   * Mayor Anthony Williams is a very high-profile figure. For the right price, he could rent a little bit of that profile (think of those ad-plastered NASCAR drivers' suits). How much for a bowtie with your company's name on it?

   * The Red Line? The Orange Line? Such uncreative names. We can do better. Or should we say, Home Depot, Time Warner and Hooters can do better.

    If all else fails, Major League Baseball's wealthy owners could simply bribe a few politicians. It would cost a lot less than $140 million to get their way.
Isn't that the way every other industry in town does it?

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