The people of America are currently considering their choices for the United States presidency. Most are aware of the two well-known parties and their candidates – Hillary Clinton of the Democratic Party and Donald Trump of the Republican Party. There are others who will be listed on the November ballot from third parties, but the one who has been getting the most publicity of late is Gary Johnson, the nominee of the Libertarians.
Johnson is no stranger to the US presidential race. But most poker players would be surprised to know that he is no stranger to poker, either.
Running and Running
The former New Mexico governor (affiliated with the Republicans at the time) and longtime businessman ran for the Republican nomination in 2011 but failed to garner any support from that party. He then joined the Libertarian Party and won its nomination in 2012, but he received less than one percent of the total votes in the November presidential election. Not disillusioned with the 1.2 million votes, though, Johnson won the nomination again this year with running mate William Weld, former Republican governor of Massachusetts.
Facing two major-party candidates that the most disliked in recent history in Clinton and Trump, Johnson has been polling well, as the latest Rasmussen Reports poll from July 8 showed Johnson with nine percent of the national votes. The average of all recent polls gives him 7.3% of the vote.
Johnson may have spent some political years as a Republican, but his views on many issues veer toward those of most Libertarians. He is fiscally conservative and socially liberal, and his firmly believes in limited government where possible and a military non-interventionism policy.
One of his primary talking points in the 2012 election was on the issue of civil liberties. He believes the government is too involved in the private lives of individuals, whereas they should make most personal decisions for themselves. Those rights include abortion, all religious beliefs, and civil unions and marriage. As for the internet, he believes “there is nothing wrong with the internet that I want the government to fix” and that cyberspace is “one of the last refuges of freedom.”
Johnson’s 2012 platform specifically included this statement: “Online gaming should be legal for adults.” While his current stances on issues are much less specific on areas of personal freedoms and rights, his support of online and live poker in 2012 are quite telling as to how a Johnson/Weld administration would view the subject.
Freedom to Play Poker
When Johnson ran for office in 2011 and 2012, there was a concerted effort by then-US Representative Barney Frank and others to legalize online poker on the federal level. Johnson supported that effort so much that he visited the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas that summer, spending time talking to Americans at the Poker Players Alliance booth at the Rio.
At that time, I talked to him about his reasons for expressing any interest in poker, live or otherwise. “I think that poker is representative of dozens of issues,” he told me. “My passions are skiing and mountain biking, and of those types of issues, there are dozens that the government is trying to limit, such as mountain biking on public lands. People with passions are being excluded from their passions by a government that is supposed to represent our freedoms and liberties. Isn’t that what this country is all about?”
Johnson noted that online poker caught his attention when he discovered what happened to American players on Black Friday. He was appalled that millions of Americans were cut off from their money. “I think government would have a responsibility for online poker sites that were crooked, doing harm to those participating on the sites. But poker player to poker player? People are doing no harm to anyone else, just like smoking marijuana. These types of activities should not be crimes.”
When presented with the proposed bills by Frank and others, Johnson responded that he would “push administratively to the maximum as to what can be done. I can also promise that if legislation were to get passed, I’d be an active part of making sure the law is signed and implemented.”
At the time of this interview, the Poker Players Alliance was enthusiastic about Johnson’s position on the issue, as the candidate also had a portion of his website dedicated to the rights of poker players. The mainstream media was quick to pick up on Johnson’s support, too, with outlets like CNN covering the issue.
Johnson may not be a poker pro or the absolute best spokesperson for the game, but he is clearly the most likely of the 2016 US presidential candidates to support online poker and the freedoms it represents.