With his sober blue suit and quiet way of talking, Andy (The Rock) Bloch might easily be mistaken for a smooth Washington lobbyist were it not for his tell. On his lapel is a red-white-and-blue ribbon speckled with tiny spades, diamonds, hearts and clubs. Bloch, 38, holds two engineering degrees from MIT and a law degree from Harvard. But he makes his living playing cards, and he was in Washington to improve the odds that Congress would lift its year-old ban on Internet poker.
Bloch was one of about 80 players who attended the first ever "DC Fly In," sponsored by the Poker Players Alliance, which boasts 800,000 members, has former New York Senator Al D'Amato as its chairman and distributes papers and articles that explain in some detail why "poker is good for you." This year alone the Alliance has anted up nearly half a million dollars in campaign contributions. Most of the players who came to town want Congress to license and regulate companies that host poker games online--a move, they note, that would actually raise money for the Treasury. John Pappas, the group's executive director, says online poker could generate from $2 billion to $3 billion in tax receipts. Not many special pleaders on Capitol Hill have that card to play. Several lawmakers, including Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank, are happy to respond with pro-gambling bills.
Bloch met with congressional aides, attended a capacity-crowd "policy forum" and got a few hands in too. He and some of the other player-lobbyists turned up at the National Democratic Club after a long day of walking the halls. At one table they held a clinic for beginners. At another they staged a no-limit Texas Hold-'em shoot-out while fans watched and some lawmakers joined in. "It was just with play chips," said Bloch. "But then, whenever I'm at a poker table, all the chips are play chips."