Is the Dealin' Done?

I used to be a news-aholic. That’s easy in Israel. Throw a stone and you’ll probably hit a reporter. Not recommended, though. You might be shot by a trigger-happy soldier. But, I digress.

I say it’s easy, because there are news shows from 5pm to 9pm, and then 10:30 and afterwards too. Tons of news on the radio. On the net. We’re swamped with news.

And I used to work at a major daily newspaper (Ha’aretz). Let me tell you, I was hooked back then. But it was part of my job. I had to. I never, ever, missed the main news show at 8pm. Never.

poker-sidebar1But now? Now I’m glued to a different show, and it starts at 7:30, and goes on untill 9. That’s right. You guessed it. The World Poker Tour. I started watching the World Poker Tour about six months ago. Since then I’ve started to play online poker, tried to decipher my first poker book, and have lately spent every other Wednesday night at a Tel Aviv bar playing Texas Hold ’em. It’s cool. I pay 20 shekels, play against 20 or so other people around 3 tables, and the winner at the final table gets a bottle of whiskey. So far, I’ve only made it to heads-up…

But I can’t tell you which bar it is. Because gambling is illegal in Israel. And I like the guys who own this place, they’re nice kids, so I won’t ruin it for them (I know the cops read my blog on their doughnut break. Actually, I have no clue what cops in Israel eat on a doughnut break. Burekas?).

Israeli governments have consistently opposed opening a casino and legalizing any sort of gambling in Israel, even though on any street corner you can play the lottery, scratch chance cards the whole day, and bet on fixed soccer matches. So, what have Israelis done who despite that want to feel some green felt under their fingers? Before the Al-Aqsa intifada they used to buy chips in the casino in Jericho. When it got too scary, they started flying out to Turkey and Romania. And nowadays they keep their fingers crossed that the campaign to open a casino in Eilat isn’t some sort of bluff.


Billy Baxter

But what I really wanted to talk about was a recent court ruling from March 23. In another blow to the local poker scene, the High Court of Justice dismissed an appeal by the Israeli Poker Association to hold a Hold ’em tournament in Tel Aviv. The IPA claimed that Hold’ em is a game of skill – not chance. Pretty straightforward argument, when you think about it. I mean, look at all those poker shows on TV. They have the same sharks reaching the final tables each time – and trust me, they’re being dealt the same cards as everyone else. But the honorable judges would hear nothing of it.

But elsewhere, courts have been more understanding to Hold ’em. Probably the most famous case in this matter is that of Billy Baxter, who stood up to the IRS – and won. In 1986, the IRS ruled that Baxter’s $1.2 million in gambling winnings from 1978 to 1981 was “unearned income”. Under the tax laws back then, “unearned income” was taxable at the maximum rate of 70 percent. Baxter believed that he should pay the same tax any other athlete pays for his winnings. In his ruling, the judge said, “I find the government’s argument to be ludicrous. I just wish you had some money and could sit down with Mr. Baxter and play some poker.” He ruled that the government give Baxter his money back – with interest. Baxter won the subsequent appeals, as well. Poker players in the States owe Baxter a lot. More than a lot.

I’ve been thinking lately, with everyone talking about Wall St and what not. Isn’t it strange how we let young whippersnappers gamble with our pensions, lose it, and then get bonuses for that “great job” they did? Or How Madoff can gamble 50 billion dollars of other peoples’ money? Or how Israeli tycoons won’t sell their yachts and jets, but at the same time don’t want to give bond holders their money back on time? But me, I have to sneak out in the dark to play some Hold ’em? Where’s the justice? And where’s our Baxter?

P.S. Don’t ask me how I played last night. I made a mistake and chose to watch Israel lose to Greece. Pathetic. Trust me, I’m gonna write about these guys….


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