Saturday, October 11, 2008

Poker and politics

A week or so ago, after the first presidential debate but before the veeps traded winks and gaffes, I sat down at the poker table next to Lynn, a 60s-ish regular player who always wears an oversize Barack Obama campaign button. Well, I said, how do you think he did?

She knew immediately that I was talking about Obama's performance in the debate and didn't miss a beat.

"He was OK," she said, "but I think it was a missed opportunity."

That had been my take too, just as a nonpartisan political reporter type, and I was struck that a true-believer fan would reach the same conclusion.

Our little exchange -- and that's about all there was to it -- touched off a few minutes of political table-talk, which is unusual in a poker game. At one point, a bit later, someone called the dealer Wilma by name but sort of mumbled it.

"Did you call me Obama," she asked. "Am I that bad?"

That led to a few oohs and ahs and a cross-examination of Wilma, who reversed course and said she liked Obama a lot; in fact she had just registered for the first time in her life so she could vote for him.

A few minutes later, as the conversation continued, Wilma seemed a bit embarrassed about having revived the topic.

"I'm probably going to get in trouble," she said. "They tell us there are three subjects we're not supposed to talk about: politics, religion and ... I can never remember what the third one is."

At that, a 20-something kid -- kind of an angry-looker with a little hipster stache/beard and barbed-wire tats on his biceps -- volunteered the missing subject. "Prolly women's rights," he said, and he got up to go have a smoke.

Uh, that would probably qualify as politics, I said as he walked away. Wilma, nervous: "Yeah, that wasn't it."

Whatever training the dealers get, this week the players again had politics in mind. Or at least the economy. In one game I asked my casual friend Stan, a financial adviser, how the market collapse and bailout were likely to affect his business. "People are nervous," he said. "I think it'll be good for business; everyone wants a new financial adviser. In fact, I should be at the office right now instead of playing cards."

That prompted a bit of speculation around the table about the economic elasticity of the casino biz. "This place is recession proof," someone said. "No matter how bad it gets people will think they can get lucky and win it all back."

Nods of agreement. Tales of woe. Someone mentioned the progressive bad-beat jackpot in the poker room, now up to an enticing $40,000 or so. The middle-aged grouse in Seat 9 looked at the number flashing on the screen and shook his head.

"Even if I won it," he said, "it wouldn't make up for what I lost in the market this week."

Everybody sighed. I was having a losing session, and after a couple of big winners got up and cashed out it seemed like everyone else at the table was stuck.

I have an idea, I said. At the end of the night let's see if Congress will pass a new bill and bail us all out.


Rita said...

I like your idea for congress.

Casinos will probably bail out the government some day.

kateco said...

Recession-proof: casinos and bakeries. There's a business opportunity in there somewhere. Anyway, the m&m biz section is on the rise. Thanks for the cool posts on the subject of my total obsession, the GEM. Hey look, the Dow is up 580. I think I'll buy a chocolate covered doughnut and a lottery ticket today. Keep the financial news coming - k.