SBD/March 2, 2011/People and Pop Culture

Catching Up With Professional Poker Player Annie Duke

Duke sees online poker being fully regulated in the next five years
ANNIE DUKE in recent years has developed into one of the faces of professional poker. Long known among the sport's ardent followers, Duke gained mainstream attention during her appearance on NBC's "Celebrity Apprentice" in '09. Duke now is going all in for her latest venture, teaming with JEFFREY POLLACK and MICHAEL BRODSKY to form Federated Sports & Gaming. She will serve as Commissioner and Gaming Exec VP for the new league, which is designed for only the best in the game. Duke recently chatted with Staff Writer Theresa Manahan to discuss her new venture, online poker and DONALD TRUMP.

Best celebrity poker player
: TOBEY MAGUIRE
Longest amount of consecutive time you have spent playing online poker: Six hours

Word association:
Favorite hand: Aces
Donald Trump: (laughs) I can’t say the first thing that comes to my head. Can’t say the second thing either. … Hair.
Best poker room in Vegas: The Bellagio, but it will be the Palms now that we are partnered with them.

Q: How will you determine who is in the league or not in the league?
Duke: We took a combination of looking at what somebody’s overall lifetime performance in terms of things like how much have they earned in their career, how many major titles have they won, you know the same kind of thing that you would look at in terms of other individual sports. But then we also look very carefully at what have they've been doing recently. It’s a combination of overall lifetime performance as well as performance in the past few years.

Q: Can the market bear another poker tournament series?
Duke: I think that, first of all, when you look at, for example, recent entries like the NAPT that are thriving, I think that the answer is yes across the board. But I think this is the kind of entry that the market not only can bear but really needs. We’re really filling a white space that doesn’t exist right now. Right now what you have is a lot of tournaments that essentially go on the idea that anybody can play poker and so as long as you have the money, you can plop your money down and play. They have these very large fields and that’s exciting in itself. But in the same sense that in golf, while everybody can play poker, they also have this amazing forum and platform for the best players in the world to compete against each other and people really enjoy watching that on TV. We think there is a place for that in poker, and that doesn’t exist right now.

Q: Does televised poker change the game?
Duke: I think that it hasn’t changed the game that much. I think that what has changed the game a lot is online poker and just the amount of data and hand experience that the younger players are able to work with. I think that that has been a lot of a driving force to the change, and very good changes in the game.

Q: What is the biggest misconception about the poker industry?
Duke: I think in a lot of ways people still think about poker the way that -- at least JOAN RIVERS expressed that she thought about poker in “The Apprentice,” that I was on with her -- which is I think they sort of have this old view of it’s like men with cigars or they are not real people or these are people who would be otherwise not good in business. They are not necessarily mainstream. And when you actually look at the top poker players, you’re talking about people who are real eggheads for the most part. Like in the best sense of eggheads. These are people who could go out and be incredibly successful on Wall Street. Many of them are college educated, they are all very, very intelligent people, they tend to be very thoughtful people, and they are also incredibly generous people.

Q: Do you see online poker becoming fully regulated in the next five years?
Duke: I actually do believe it will be, because I think that it’s necessary. When you’re looking at something that doesn’t do direct harm to anybody, and that’s clearly the case with online poker -- particularly in the case of poker because it’s a skill game and really shouldn’t be viewed as gambling -- it’s clearly not doing any direct harm to anybody. … When you look at harm to society issues, the addiction rate for alcohol -- which we have decided doesn’t work if you prohibit it and it’s better to regulate it -- are literally tenfold over the kinds of addiction rates you get from online gaming. Given that it’s pervasive, we might as well protect the consumer, and we might as well enjoy the revenue benefits.
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