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Jennifer Newell recently wrote a piece discussing whether there should be ethics committees in poker. While such a question was spurred by the recent return of Chris Ferguson and Howard Lederer to the 2016 WSOP, those posing that question may not be considering the complexities of such an endeavor.

Read Jennifer’s Article Here: Should Poker Create Ethics Committees?

Personally, I lean more towards not using ethics committees in the game simply because of these complexities. While I am not going to argue against these committees, today I will give you a few reasons why solving problems in the poker world isn’t as simple as setting up ethics committees.

Do We Punish Past “Crimes” or Future “Crimes”

One of the first questions I want to know is whether we are punishing future offenses or whether we are going ex post facto on the poker community with bans.

If we are talking about setting up these committees because we want to punish Chris Ferguson and Howard Lederer, it would seem that we want to punish them for a crime that is already passed and that has been settled in a court of law.

Related: What Will a Chris Ferguson Apology Accomplish?

If so, we are setting a dangerous precedent for the poker world. Just how far back do we go with punishing poker players? Do we just go back to Black Friday? Maybe just to the Poker Boom because that is the point most of us start caring about poker.

Or maybe we go back through history and review the past of all poker players. Where is the starting and stopping point for this?

What Types of “Crimes” Do We Punish?

When this type of topic is discussed, it is usually out of the need, or rather the desire, to punish a particular person(s) for a particular offense. In the case of the original article, we are focusing a lot on Howard Lederer and Chris Ferguson and their involvement with Full Tilt Poker.

An ethics committee will not focus on just a single person or “crime” but is supposed to be taking a worldview on the game. As such, what types of crimes do we punish? Let me list a few crimes and you tell me whether they deserve a ban, fine or what?

  • Online “cheating” (multi-accounting, etc)
  • Public representation of a company that cheated players out of millions (ala UltimateBet)
  • Verbal abuse , physical abuse or rape of women
  • Inciting violence against another member of the poker community
  • Angle shooting in poker
  • Collusionary throwing a poker tournament
  • Cheating in live poker tournaments
  • Cheating in online tournaments (collusion, Trojans, etc)
  • Cussing out a security guard / member of WSOP staff
  • Breaking a dealer’s hand at the poker table
  • Carrying or using drugs in a live event
  • Urinating at the poker table
  • Never repaying debts owed to other poker players
  • Getting drunk and acting a fool (property destruction, annoying players, abuse to players or patrons, etc)

Everything just listed is an example of things that have happened in poker over the years. Some of you know of some of the specific incidents tied to each and others you are probably asking “which time.”

So what do we punish? Which “crime” is worthy of a ban? And again, if we punish one, do we punish all that have done the same in the past or do they get a pass if they keep their nose clean?

Who Makes the Rules?

This is the question I am interested in learning the answer to if another ethics committee ever forms. If a group such as the WSOP, WPT or Global Poker League decides to form a committee, where do they pull the members from?

My personal belief is that such a committee be a diverse group with few representatives from the company actually forming the committee. If the WSOP is forming it, I don’t want it primarily run by Caesars employees. The same is true of the WSOP or GPL.

I’m not saying include someone or a couple of people from the group. However, I believe that the group should be diverse and come from multiple areas of the poker world. Include representative from every area from players to media to industry pros to even dealers.

If you want a committee that’s “fair and balanced”, then you can’t just pull in a bunch of employees and tell them to govern the poker world.

Not All Bans Need to be Lifetime

It is my hope that any future ethics committee will use discernment in judgment when handing out bans. Furthermore, it is my hope that they will consider various ban levels depending on the offense committed by the individual.

There are some instances where a lifetime ban would be instantly warranted, such as the case of Russ Hamilton. Can you find me 10 people that know poker and can really disagree with that point? Some offenses are slam-dunk bans and should remain so.

However, what about the case of Sam Panzica and other players like him? While complete details have yet to be revealed on the situation, his offense is hardly on the same level of Hamilton, Ferguson, Lederer or others. A lifetime ban in this instance seems excessive and it is my hope that a committee offers a punishment more fitting of crimes.

Next, there should be an appeal process for most all offences. Furthermore, these appeals should not be based solely on the discretion of one individual and based solely on the incident that happened. Players should be allowed to appeal their decision before a review panel and offer evidence that they have corrected the behavior that resulted in their ban.

I’m going to use Antonio Esfandiari as an example. Let’s say that the committee bans him from the WPT for life for his incident at the PCA. Antonio could later appeal and explain the situation and what he did to correct his behavior afterwards. He could then bring in witnesses or testimony to prove that he has been a model player since that incident. The committee could then decide to allow him back in on a probationary basis and if Esfandiari has no further incidents during that time, the ban is removed.

If criminals in our justice system are allowed appeals and possible parole (depending on the crime), then why can’t we use the same principles regarding a lifetime ban?

Poker World Will Be Split on a Committee

Ultimately, the poker world will be split on the issue of an ethics community if another is ever formed. When the EPL formed one, there were many that questioned why the EPL was qualified to judge the poker world. I expect we will see a lot of the same if a group like the WSOP ever goes the route of trying to administrate ethics on the poker community.

Many in the poker world see themselves as mavericks or free spirits and do not feel they should be bound by many of the same rules as the rest of the world. That’s why some player the game. Poker gives you a freedom that you don’t get in other professions and one of those is that you’re not bound by many of the same rules as “society.”

Granted, some of that freedom is merely “perceived” as we all know that there are limits to what a poker player can do without getting in trouble. With that said, while there are players that call out for bans of certain players for their offenses against the poker community, there are others that would proudly tell such a committee “you’re not the boss of me!”

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James Guill

James Guill began his poker career in 2006, spending two years traveling the US tournament circuit. Since 2008, he has covered the game extensively for some of the biggest names in the industry. When not writing about the latest poker news, he can be found hunting for antique treasures in Central Virginia.

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