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Is Random Drug Testing Too Far?

14 September 2011, By:
The Epic Poker League has made headlines recently thanks to its official Code of Conduct and its efforts to "improve the image of poker."
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The Epic Poker League has made headlines recently thanks to its official Code of Conduct and its efforts to "improve the image of poker."

The EPL is striving to become a professional league much like the PGA, NFL and MLB.

One thing all of those professional leagues have in common?

Random drug testing.

In this week's Poker Junkie Op-Ed, Compncards explores whether poker leagues should have random drug testing.

How Far Are We Willing to Go to Improve Poker's Image?

The Epic Poker League's recent handling of situations involving Chino Rheem and Michael Divita started me thinking again on the issue of random drug testing in professional poker leagues.

I'm not just talking the EPL, but also the WPT, WSOP, PPT, EPT, etc.

There are numerous high profile poker leagues, and all with some type of television exposure.

Anyone that is reasonably educated in the realities of the game know that drug use is not only common, but generally accepted by many poker players.

The problem lies in the fact that poker players are not the ones that drive ratings and, ultimately, advertising dollars and corporate sponsorships.

These are the entities you have to convince that poker is a safe and fun environment.

Poker is trying to work its way to major corporate sponsorship and has had a bit of success in the past. The WSOP is a prime example with major sponsors like Planters, Hershey's, Miller Lite, etc.

However, will those sponsors be so willing to put their dollars in the pockets of poker leagues when a good number of their players are regularly on some type of illegal drug?

Clean Living vs. Cheating

I solicited feedback on this issue on Twitter to see what players and fans thought on the matter and BJ Nemeth had his customary well-thought-out response on the matter.

BJ pointed out that most leagues have drug testing not to encourage clean living but to eliminate cheating.

BJ's point, at its core, is 100 per cent accurate - at least on paper.

For the most part, the purpose of most major sporting leagues' anti-drug policies is to discourage the use of performance enhancing drugs.

However, there are also instances where players have been fined by their teams and the league for other behavior related to alcohol or other drugs that are not strictly performance enhancing.

Why is this? Image.

Professional sports leagues have an image to uphold. The players are representatives of both their team and their league.

When they screw up, it reflects on the league as a whole.

Poker Leagues Wouldn't Dare Take That Step - Would They?

The general consensus from those I polled on Twitter and those I spoke with in private feel that poker leagues would risk losing a major portion of their participants if they chose to take this step.

One professional player outright told me that any league that chose to take such a drastic step would likely fold.

Sadly, I have to agree with that pro's take, at least in the current poker climate.

While it is true that not every person in a league would be tested right away, I do think that too many would choose to not play in a league over giving up smoking their pot or whatever recreational drug that they choose.

What if Players Received Guaranteed Money?

Notice how I said "in the current poker climate."

Why do players in other leagues make the decision to follow their league's anti-doping policies?

Because they will get paid. Either give up pot for a few months or years, or miss out on millions in guaranteed money.

Money is a powerful motivator. If professional poker players got the type of guaranteed money that other athletes receive, chances are you would see poker players a little more willing to show up.

If Joe Pothead was getting guaranteed money from either sponsors or a league independent of an online poker site or other poker entity, Joe Pothead would become Joe FourFlush.

Leagues Too Dependent for Testing to Happen

In the end, poker leagues are too dependent on the players to ever take a step such as drug testing.

They need the rake generated by the players in the tourneys and any subsequent cash-game action they participate in.

Such a relationship makes enacting a policy that would guarantee a mass exodus of players idiotic.

If poker ever gets to the point where players just show up and play without putting up their money like in the PGA, they could take this step.

He who controls the money sets the rules.

And right now, the players control all the money.

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