Monday, May 27, 2013

Shaking up the Establishment, Sitting in Limbo, and Fading the Valley of Death

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Covering the 2005 WSOP

In 2005, I did something groundbreaking that shook up the establishment. I moved to Las Vegas and live-blogged the 2005 World Series of Poker on my dinky little poker blog, Tao of Poker. Over the first few weeks of the 6-week long festival of poker, I built up a rabid audience. By the time the Main Event (for you non-poker people, the Main Event is the last two weeks of the WSOP and it's what you see on ESPN) rolled around, Tao of Poker's traffic was redonkulously sick. Looking back at those salacious numbers, it makes me dizzy and jealous. I caught lightning in a bottle. Tao of Poker became a purple cow. I was in Las Vegas for less than two months during the summer of 2005 and in that short period of time I went from an unknown writer to "that guy from the Tao of Poker."

The popularity of Tao of Poker helped me launch a career as a poker reporter and freelance writer, but it also made me the #1 enemy in the eyes of the (poker media) establishment. This was smack in the middle of the glorious poker boom which had blossomed to a billion-dollar global industry overnight. At the 2006 WSOP, rules were instated specifically to prevent me and any other upstart websites from getting those million eyeballs during the World Series. Yeah, I got cockblocked by The Man and the powers that be instituted an hourly update rule. I couldn't post updates more than once an hour or I'd get my press credential revoked. I bitched and moaned about the new Draconian rules for a few days, but then I stopped feeling sorry for myself and plotted a new game plan. I did what my father (a former U.S. marine) taught me to do in the face of adversity... adapt and overcome.

That silly one-hour update rule was in effect from 2006 onward and all it did was protect the financial interests of whatever big media octopus decided to buy exclusive coverage and strangle the rest of poker media with its slithery tentacles. A precedent was set. Those exclusive official outlets were exposed as greedy fat cats because it was all about monetizing their monopoly on traffic than actually covering the WSOP. And of course, the overworked and underpaid kids doing all the grunt work were compensated peanuts and they never shared any of the millions in advertising dollars (from online poker rooms on a spending spree). Over the years, the official update fat cats reaped mega-profits from their monopoly. They wanted all the traffic and all the money. They became ruthless bullies trying to enforce those bullshit hourly updates rules. When it came down to it, they were afraid of one guy with a laptop.

After the 2005 WSOP, I got pushed off to the fringes of the burgeoning poker media industry, which is kind of where I belonged anyway. I liked it all the way out on the perimeter. It gave me a better perspective on the entire industry. It gave me tons of freedom to say what I want. But mostly, it allowed me to experiment with different ways of covering the WSOP through photos, podcasts, and even Twitter. In the end, I worked out a generous compensation package as an "affiliate" and the online poker rooms I pimped out did not give a shit what I wrote about so long as the traffic was bountiful and I sent them new players.

By the time the 2011 WSOP rolled around, Twitter was ubiquitous and the technology improved so everyone had an iPhone. Anyone could update the progress of the tournament. Anyone. That hourly embargo on information was obsolete. The now-bloated bloated media giants had become slow-moving dinosaurs on the verge of extinction.

In 2005, I'm was just one guy with a laptop and that scared the fuck out of the establishment. Just think about that simple fact, and apply it to the global marketplace and you'll start to wonder why all the titans of industry (across the board in all sectors) are shitting bricks right now. The dinosaurs are about to get slaughtered because they are unable to adapt to the sobering fact that millennials "won't pay dick" for content. The entire paradigm is shifting in media and Hollywood and in the music industry. I have no idea where it will end up but a firestorm is raining down fire and brimstone and it will eventually scorch the entire landscape. This apocalyptic battle of old media vs. new media is on the cusp of a resolution. And when it's over, the paradigm will finally recalibrate. The future is not pretty and filled with unicorns and rainbows. It's going to be a bleak winter of discontent like the gloomy scenes out of The Road. I've seen the horrors of journalistic cannibalism, and it's only going to get worse.

Anyway... sorry for that tangent.

2005 was a fine year. In March of 2005, a Vietnam veteran turned photographer and his tech-geek son (Flipchip and Poker Prof) hired me to help them cover the World Series of Poker for their Vegas-centric website. I moved to Las Vegas and the rest is history. I parlayed that original gig into a regular column in Poker Player Newspaper, and from there, I was poached by Fox Sports, who was seeking poker content for their new poker section, which was only in existence to compliment their foray into poker-themed television programming. I started writing for a couple of magazines, mostly new ones that came into existence for the sole purpose to create advertising space for dozens of brand new online poker rooms.

By the time I arrived at the 2006 WSOP, money was literally falling out of the skies. But underneath all the glitz and glamor was the underbelly of Sin City. The poker industry and the online gambling world had a wild wild wild west mentality. It's where former gangsters and web geeks met at the crossroads of commerce. I wrote all about the height of the poker boom in my book, Lost Vegas: The Redneck Rivera, Existentialist Conversations with Strippers, and the World Series of Poker, which detailed my time in Las Vegas from 2005 through 2008, right at the apex of the financial crisis.

I wrote Lost Vegas as a cautionary tale. Millions of suckers bought into the American dream and the mythological notion of Las Vegas. They all took their shots... and missed. The house always wins. All of those gigantic gaming empires were amassed due to the unrealized dreams of broke-dick gamblers. Even for the few success stories, it was only a matter of time before their life leaks got the best of them and Sin City swallowed them whole.

After covering the World Series every summer since 2005, I took last summer off. During the 2011 WSOP, I was involved in a nasty car accident and I took that as a sign from God to get the fuck out of Las Vegas. I needed a break but I couldn't persuade myself to leave the circus. The universe made the decision for me and I hobbled away from a popular website. It was either the best decision I ever made, or I was committing blog-suicide.

After moving to San Francisco with my girlfriend and taking time off from the grind, I realized that was not mentally and physically prepared for another grueling summer in Vegas and made the wise choice to sit out and let the Tao of Poker go dark. You can't phone in a ginormous seven-week assignment like the WSOP and that's what would have happened if I took the money to return into the belly of the beast. Instead of compromising the quality of content on Tao of Poker and undermining my own integrity, I made the best possible choice I could make under those circumstances. I put Tao of Poker on indefinite hiatus.

There's a huge misconception that I hate poker and hate the WSOP. It's the complete opposite. I love poker and I'm eternally grateful to the WSOP. I have too much respect for the game of poker and the rich history of WSOP to do a half-assed job covering it. If anything, I hated myself more than anything else. The enemy is me. I loathed the metamorphosis that had turned me into a hollow shadow of someone I once knew. I'm surprised it took so long for the circus to corrupt me, but when we fall... we fall hard. I had succumbed to the dark side of the force (addiction is a son of a bitch) and needed to walk away from everything in order to pull myself out. Like I wrote last week in Speed Men, if I needed a crutch to stay on the field and cover the WSOP, then I shouldn't be there in the first place.

No one walks out of the Valley of Death. That's why it's fucking called the Valley of Death for a reason. I got lucky twice. I struck gold with Tao of Poker and in the process I got sucked into a vortex of the "heart of darkness", but I somehow found a way out and bolted to preserve my own sanity. I hope that if/when I return, that I can find the same way out again. If not, then once I return... I'm back in forever. No one walks out of the Valley of Death two times. No one.

I thought I would be back to writing half-baked tripe on the Tao of Poker by now and hoped the political climate would have improved by this summer, but it's still the same gridlock and in many influential circles online poker is still considered an outlaw pursuit (on the federal level) by the knuckleheads in DC. That's changing. Slowly. Even the puppets cannot resist change. The dinosaurs have been paying off the shifty-eyed shysters and snake-oil salesmen in DC to keep online gambling illegal (save for online betting of horse racing... ah, behold the deeply entrenched old boys network and the magic of "carve out legislation"). But all those old patrons are quickly dying off, which is why the racing industry has warmed up to online poker. It's not a question of "if", it's more of a matter of "when." Sportsbetting and online poker will eventually be legalized in America. It's just taking much longer than anyone wants to admit. Red tape is red tape. State rights vs. federal rights is a fucking nightmare and has been a struggle since the Founding Fathers sparked incendiary debates about it while designing the foundation of America. Then again, had the rebellious colonies lost the Revolutionary War, then we'd all be subjects of the British Crown, which legalized both sportsbetting and online poker. God save the Queen.

For now, the online poker world in the USA is caught in a murky grey area. It reminds me of that scene in The Great Gatsby when they are driving through the valley of ashes.

* * *

I'm sitting out the 2013 World Series of Poker. I was offered gigs to cover the WSOP for other sites, which I respectfully and politely declined. I even got a generous offer to reboot Tao of Poker. I could use the money, but I'm conflicted about returning to Vegas for another seven weeks of self-inflicted torture. I might be back next year... if the timing and price is right.

If you enjoyed Tao of Poker over the years, then head over to Bluff Magazine. They have my exclusive poker content and my archives can be found here. Last year Bluff launched a kick-ass mobile app, so you can read the current issue of the magazine on your hand-held devices.

If you're a hardcore poker junkie and seeking out some of the best and most comprehensive WSOP coverage this year, then check out updates from my colleagues on Bluff's website ( and follow them on Twitter (@BluffMagazine).

In the meantime, if you're looking for a poker fix, then purchase Lost Vegas. It's available on Nook and Kindle, and if you're a Luddite, you can even buy a physical copy. Not only to you get to read about the poker boom and the dark side of Vegas, but you get to support an independent writer in the process.

I'm just a guy with a laptop, who once shook up the establishment. I'd like to keep doing that, so please buy my books.

1 comment:

  1. The WSOP Couch Tour 2013 won't be the same. Thanks for the years of coverage, and making something so boring (a poker tourney) into something I looked forward to reading daily (WSOP updates). Someone needs to pick up the slack on the favored segment, "Which famous pro did I piss beside at break?"