When i received this message and even read it on the manilapoker online group forum, there was one thing that really stuck out like a sore thumb, and it just bothered me a lot. First of all, i dont know why "raids of illegal poker games" were mentioned, as it had nothing to do with the PBT at all. For whatever reasons the PBT is going to be cut short, i dont see the connection between them and "illegal" poker games. It just didnt connect. Correct me if i'm wrong, but that statement, to me, sounded like a threat, like it was meant to instill fear into the "illegal" organizers. I might be jumping to conclusions, but i'm just going with my gut on this.
I have nothing against the PBT and i'm really sad to see such an excellent tool to promote the game and expose it to the general public being cut short for whatever reasons. Why would pagcor want to shut down the PBT? It is no threat to their poker room, since the PBT doesnt even play for money! PAGCOR is really making a big mistake if it is true that they are really the ones responsible for the end of the PBT. I cant see the logic in PAGCOR shutting them down.
But my real topic is the "illegal poker games" statement.
Now, what makes a poker game "illegal"? Actually, any gambling game played outside the watchful eye of PAGCOR is considered illegal. Your home games are technically illegal as long as it is played for money. Yeah there is that one-table rule that most people use as a defense, but really, this is the Philippines. It doesnt really matter. If you got raided for your pusoy games or whatever, chances are, you were not in good terms with the local authorities or you got someone in the higher ups upset about something. Perfect example, BBC. If not for the politics involved in that place (the tabloid articles, the building owner with the multiple NBI cases), we would still probably be playing in that place, or at least it would have now improved and maybe moved to a better venue.
The sad truth of the matter is, if Erap wants a regular mahjong game where millions are at stake on every round of play, the authorities will not do anything about it. If a gambling lord just pays the right amounts of money to the right people in power, they can run their games all they want. If a regular home pusoy game played for hundreds of pesos in my barangay gets raided, it was most likely because that game organizer got into a fight with a barangay tanod or a police officer who decided to get his revenge by sending them to jail.
Now other than the isolated case of BBC, no other poker game, regular or otherwise, has been under any threat whatsoever from PAGCOR, even the worst-raked and shadiest games in town. Right now, dozens of poker clubs with regular games are getting ready for their weekly tournaments or even just their regular ring games. Small stakes, big stakes, name it, they have it. The logic is very very simple. Why would PAGCOR waste their resources on something so petty?
The underground scene is the place where the casino builds their player base. Without it, they probably couldnt fill up two tables at the ACF. A lot of the players who now play in the casino started out in the underground scene, and most of them still play in the underground rooms too. It is simply human nature to seek out new players to play with, and new environments to enjoy the game in. It is also a breeding ground for new players who will "graduate" to playing in the casino after they feel they have honed their skills enough to really put their money at stake in the big games. No matter what legal technicalities are involved, the underground scene is vital to the growth of Philippine Poker.
Know what? Ninety percent of these "illegal poker games" are run not by sleazy gambling lords, but by the players themselves, and most of the time, they just play for small stakes, ranging from 200 to 600 buy-ins that last them the whole night! Very few cater to the high stakes players, and if they do, it is because there are just some high profile individuals who don't want to be seen inside a casino. The majority of the underground scene today is catering to the new blood, the players who are not ready to play in the casino, but are willing to try the game out in a friendly atmosphere where their pockets wont get hurt by the stakes. A lot of them are also just a gathering of friends who don't want outsiders in their games too.
Another thing is, for some reason, the underground scene is simply more informed about proper rule sets, structures, game formats, and the like. For some reason i cannot comprehend, it is these "LEGAL" poker games that seem to not know what the heck they are doing! Just look at the PPT debacles, or the all-in festival tournaments organized by the "legitimate" organizers, or the 10K-max buy-in at the 20-40 ring game at the ACF. As a player, you'll find more quality games in the underground scene, pure and simple.
Why is the underground poker scene thriving so much, while it seems like the "legitimate" games are so messed up and are having trouble even just getting players to come? I believe it is because of the very simple fact that the so-called "legal" games are organized by businessmen with one priority: profit. Compare that to the underground scene, where the games are fueled by nothing more than the love of the game. Yeah i'm sure game organizers make money in the underground scene too, but for most of them, that is just a bonus. The first priority of these people is to promote the game and enjoy playing the game among peers.
The harsh reality is, yes, it IS illegal to gamble for money anywhere outside the jurisdiction of PAGCOR. But if you play poker, you know for a fact that poker players do not consider the game as a gambling game. (that argument has been discussed over and over again, so no need to elaborate.) Just make sure you know what you are getting into when you play in the underground games.
I hope that loose statement from the PBT guys didnt make any of the home tourney organizers and regular weekly small stakes games players scared to go and play in their games. I suggest that underground game organizers just keep it small and simple, so as to avoid any conflict with authorities or the like. We dont really know if the threat of raids are real, if it has any teeth so to speak, but it is better to be safe than sorry. Dont be too public about it, and keep it inside your circle, and make sure the people you invite do not have hidden agendas.
In the end, it will be the poker community who will decide on the fate of the poker scene in the Philippines. If anybody with any authority on this matter will be reading this, i hope they understand that if they kill the underground scene, then they are killing the roots of the poker community, and if you kill the roots, you kill the entire thing. I'd be more than happy if they go after those undeground games run by shady characters without a shred of moral fiber, but i suggest they leave the small, friendly games alone.
In the end, everyone will benefit from the growth and eventual explosion of the poker phenomenon in the Philippines.