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Poker players are a varied and interesting bunch. The few scoundrels among poker’s ranks are perhaps to be anticipated as an inevitable part of a game where big money is won and lost. But what of those acting as paid ambassadors of the game? Do they do a good job of representing the better side of the game – the sportsmanship, the cerebral battle of wits, emotional control and endurance? 

The community certainly identifies its fair share of rogues among the poker pros and the lack of responsibility shown by some is a hot topic. Phil Hellmuth and several other big names continued to endorse Ultimate Bet long after it was shamed by systematic cheating. Former Lock Poker pro Jose “Girah” Macedo admitted cheating to the online community, losing his sponsorship shortly afterwards.

Then there’s Full Tilt Poker.  Ferguson and Lederer, two formerly successful poker pros who once pulled the levers at the worlds second biggest site, successfully traded on their images for years before a surprise sting from the US Department of Justice exposed their financial risk-taking to the detriment of thousands of poker players worldwide.

Speaking out

PokerStars sponsored pro Daniel Negreanu knows all too well how the actions of his fellow professionals affected the image of poker. In his video blog last week he singled out the event that has probably done more damage to poker than any other. Negreanu spoke out strongly against the actions of Howard Lederer, Chris Ferguson and Ray Bitar in the Full Tilt fiasco, suggesting that their decision to continue accepting deposits after poker’s Black Friday left the company broke was criminally irresponsible. It is perhaps a relief to the thousands of players persevering in a tough online poker environment that some of the game’s big names are willing to talk about the rights and wrongs of recent events. The communities ire towards the way Full Tilt was operated can certainly not be overstated.

One could argue that we should cut the ordinary sponsored pros some slack when things go awry. As a rule, they cannot be expected to have any say in the day to day business operations of a site. But perhaps the act of becoming sponsored (and who by) is something that deserves more scrutiny. With the Everleaf network recently being added to the list of sites stung by the US Department of Justice and then falling unnervingly silent about player funds, are poker pros less inclined to sign with sites that continue to accept US players? That is not the obvious trend. Consider Lock Poker, one of the rooms sharing the US facing Merge poker network. On Thursday they added two more pros to their already diverse, international, big-name roster.

Calculated risk

One might suggest that seasoned Internet poker players – especially those based in the US – are justified in taking a calculated risk by depositing on one of the remaining US facing sites. It’s their money. They play with money they can afford to lose and do not want to give up a passion they have already invested significant amounts of time in. But the act of lending ones name to a site, of endorsing it, implies trust in the security of player funds. Moreover, the people that really look up to the big name poker players are often relative newcomers to the game, the players with less sense of the risks involved and the political situation.

If explicitly legal internet poker is on the horizon in the US then its professionals might better serve the community and themselves by speaking out for the players affected by recent turmoil, representing them in the media. The poker community looks up to its high-rollers not just for what they have achieved, but also for the values they represent. By attaching themselves to poker rooms in a precarious legal situation they surely walk a fine line with regard to their reputation.

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Craig Fulton