The Advent of Online Poker

As is readily apparent from the opening episode, online poker plays a significant role in the world of Quorum: The Gambler’s Tale. But while our story is most assuredly a work of fiction, it does take place against the backdrop of real historical events — and while we take more than a few creative liberties in the interests of storytelling, I thought some background on its real-world underpinnings might prove illuminating.

Poker has historically been thought of as necessarily an in-person activity. At least part of the game’s allure has always been in the interactions between players, and popular wisdom holds that winning is less about the cards a player holds than it is about the ability to “read” the opposing players. And a game whose primary purpose is not just the activity itself, but the opportunity for camaraderie and personal engagement. The fact that it doesn’t require any specialized casino equipment — and doesn’t advantage a “house” over any individual player — makes it ideal for venues ranging from a casino operation to a friendly neighborhood gathering. So on its face, it seems an odd choice of game to transition to digital play (except perhaps as a learning exercise or a modest diversion), where the social aspect is removed almost entirely.

Still, there was at least some incentive for capitalizing on the game’s enthusiastic player base. Most people (at least in the American market) don’t live within range of a casino, making (legal) play options a fraction of what they could otherwise be. Moreover, traditional casinos were not especially interested in promoting the game, given its comparatively low margin compared with other games (even with a house percentage, or “rake”). And just about everyone knows how to play, at least in broad strokes, making it a potential draw for a large number or people of varying skill levels.

This last point actually led to another major (if largely unspoken) appeal: For those experienced players interested in making significant money playing the game, a larger player pool — especially one made up of capable but comparatively inexperienced players — could significantly expand the amount of “easy money” in play. Combine that with the increased rate of play online, where savvy players can play multiple “tables” at once, and the potential financial payoff for such players is substantially increased.

From the organizing site’s perspective, with revenue based on percentages of each game’s winnings, the massive number of potential tables in play made for a commensurately large revenue opportunity — as contrasted with live casino play, where physical space (and time) constraints limited such potential.

Early on, one of the biggest obstacles to setting up an online poker site was the questionable legality of such an enterprise. Given the differences in state laws (not to mention less-than-clear federal guidance), it was an open question as to whether such an operation would be on stable legal footing. Would a player physically located in a state where such games were illegal even be able to play on a site located in a state where it was legal? Or would federal limitations on interfering with interstate commerce render everything legitimate?

Another obstacle to establishing a credible online game — particularly where real money is involved — is the issue of trust. How could players know the systems running the game (not to mention the people behind those systems) were handling both the game and the players’ accounts responsibly?

Despite these obstacles, several entrepreneurs opted to give it a try. By establishing companies headquartered (even if largely on paper) outside the United States, they attempted to skirt around the ability of U.S. (or individual state) regulators to interfere. And by recruiting top-notch coders and slowly building trust in their computer systems, these sites gradually built up a significant player base, apparently outside the reach of American law.

The first major site to offer real-money play, PlanetPoker, debuted in 1998, endorsed by professional poker player and author Mike Caro. Despite early software issues, the site was able to keep its business by virtue of being (for a time) the only option available. That changed when a competitor, Paradise Poker, entered the market the following year, with improved software, more reliable servers, and a wider variety of poker variants available. But 2001 saw the biggest leap forward in terms of customer base with the launch of PokerStars and PartyPoker, both aided by widespread marketing campaigns (including television and print advertising). In 2002, PartyPoker instituted a tournament with a guaranteed $1 million prize, an absolutely unheard-of amount.

As a draw, online sites began offering “satellite” tournaments — games where in addition to taking the cash prize, the winner would earn a seat at a high-profile live poker tournament. This became a massive boon for the online poker industry when Chris Moneymaker won such a satellite tournament, and went on to win the Main Event of the World Series of Poker in 2003.

Other major players in the online poker world were UltimateBet (launched in 2001), 888 (2002, originally called Pacific Poker), Absolute Poker (2003), and Full Tilt Poker (2004). By this time, the marketing model for these sites was fairly well standardized, with professional poker players quickly aligning themselves with one site or another. In one case, Doyles Room, the site was inextricably tied to its namesake, poker mainstay Doyle Brunson. And in the case of Full Tilt Poker, professional poker players were not just spokespeople, but actual principals behind the site. Poker-themed television programs became synonymous with their online-site sponsors (and multiplied rapidly).

Online poker was now a reality. But in the years to follow, business would hardly be smooth…

~William R. Coughlan, writer/director of Quorum

Space Opera Done Silly

As mentioned earlier today, we’ll be appearing at this year’s Escape Velocity on Memorial Day weekend.

Last year, we did an adaptation of H.G. Wells’ classic War of the Worlds since it was the 80th anniversary of Orson Welles’ 1938 radio broadcast. It was great fun to update a radio adaptation to the present day and set it in and around Washington, DC.

This year, we were asked to once again pick a known work (as opposed to something original like Rogue Tyger or Quorum). However, the organizers also said that parody was an option and it’s the 40th anniversary of both the original Alien and the TV show Buck Rogers in the 25th Century

Ladies and gentlemen –and assorted aliens– get ready for
Nostromo 2: Electric Alien Boogaloo (featuring Chuck Codgers).

So, we’re still working on the script and this week someone posted a link to the full runthrough to Space Ace, the sci-fi themed sequel to the interactive animated video game Dragon’s Lair.

Beats having to cough up a whole lotta quarters to try and get through it all, right?

Anyway, it’s been a fun, silly inspiration as we continue to work on the script. More details to come as we get closer!

Join Us at Escape Velocity 2019

We got confirmation this week that we’ll be doing a live performance at the Museum of Science Fiction‘s annual science-expo-meets-pop-culture-convention, Escape Velocity!

Escape Velocity 2019 Promo from Museum of Science Fiction on Vimeo.

We don’t know the exact date and time of our performance –it’ll be sometime that Memorial Day Weekend– but the whole convention is a lot of fun.

If you’re going to be in the Washington, DC area that weekend, please come by National Harbor. We know that tickets are now on sale — and there’s a 30% off code (EV30) you can use through today, February 15th.

More details as we get closer to the event!

The Las Vegas “Underground”

In researching Las Vegas while writing Quorum, I was amazed to discover the existence of a hidden world beneath the city’s streets: the (officially) abandoned drainage tunnel network, which would prove critical to Jimmy and Peeps during their surreptitious return to the city. (Jimmy even gives a shout-out to one of several articles that introduced me to the subject.)

Originally conceived as a way to prevent flooding (which had become more common as Las Vegas construction intensified), some of the drainage channels date back to the mid-1970s. But the Hydro Conduit Corporation expanded the tunnels in the 1990s; the plan was to construct nearly 1,000 miles of tunnels over the next decades, but as costs increased, the project was scuttled. At present, there are about 300 miles of tunnels, out of about 450 miles of flood channels overall.

In 2002, murder suspect Timmy “T.J.” Weber used the tunnels in an attempt to evade police after murdering his girlfriend, a weeks-long manhunt that drew widespread public attention to the tunnels’ existence. This in turn prompted a series of articles on the tunnels — and the staggering homeless population that seek shelter there — by author Matthew O’Brien. O’Brien went on to write the book Beyond the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas, and launched the Shine a Light Foundation to help the underserved population of the Las Vegas tunnel system.

There are, in fact, hundreds of homeless people living underneath the brightly lit streets of Las Vegas. An entire neighborhood culture has formed, with residents helping each other and forming communication networks to warn against the very real danger of flash flooding. But as is unfortunately common among the homeless nationwide, mental illness and addiction are all-too-prevalent afflictions, and civil and police oversight is effectively nonexistent. The world beneath the city is truly a world unto itself, almost entirely divorced from that of the streets above.

Curiously enough, the idea of accessing the casinos directly from the tunnels is not a bit of creative invention. Though the casinos rarely like to draw attention to the fact, the reality is that many of these tunnel exits offer near-direct access (though they are also frequently protected by motion sensors). And many of the tunnel denizens do venture up into the casinos in a nightly attempt to scavenge unclaimed slot-machine winnings (frequently gathering an average of $50 per day).

The character of Crunchy isn’t modeled on any particular person, but is an amalgam of various people whose stories were brought to light by O’Brien and others. One thing that struck me was how so many of these people tended to remain (on balance) positive, despite their circumstances. How they worked to form a community rather than pursuing self-interest at others’ expense. In a story populated by nefarious characters and pessimistic outlooks, I thought it might be a welcome break to take a brief interlude, to focus on the positive in spite of apparent adversity. Crunchy may be downtrodden, but he maintains his sanguine perspective throughout his time with Jimmy and Peeps. And that may leave a lasting impression on Jimmy that will prove significant in his adventures to come.

~William R. Coughlan, writer/director of Quorum

Listen Online! JAT Chat # 4 – December 2018

We close our inaugural season delving deep into Quorum and giving you some bonus scenes you only heard part of!

 

 

 

Listen to the Episode! 

Shownotes

Length: 27:54

Rated AD-PG, so parental guidance is suggested.
We play some bonus scenes from Quorum, which includes some salty, but still broadcast acceptable language.

Rated AD-PG (Audio Drama “PG”)
Rating: AD-PG

Listen Live! JAT Chat # 4 – December 2018

Join us on WERA-LP 96.7 FM just about now (4:00pm ET)  we have our fourth and final “JAT Chat” of the year.

We close our inaugural season delving deep into Quorum and giving you some bonus scenes you only heard part of!

 

 

 

 

Listen to the Episode Live!

Length: 27:54
Rated AD-PG, so parental guidance is suggested.
We play some bonus scenes from Quorum, which includes some salty, but still broadcast acceptable language.

Rated AD-PG (Audio Drama “PG”)
Rating: AD-PG

The Main Character Influences of Quorum

The world of Quorum is most assuredly made up of fictional characters. While we have set the backdrop of our story against real-world events, our portrayal of those events is far from historically accurate. That said, if you find some of the characters in Quorum intriguing, you may also find enjoyment in some of the colorful characters making a name in the real world of professional poker.

Oddly, Jimmy Harmon probably takes his greatest influence from live players as opposed to online players. For one thing, in Quorum we would mostly be depicting live poker as opposed to online play, so it was important that he have a personality that could be compelling in that atmosphere. Daniel Negreanu’s amiability was a strong influence, as well as some of the showmanship of Antonio Esfandiari. Negreanu has an ability to project an uncanny ability to read opponents, and Esfandiari — often nicknamed “The Magician” — can perform some compelling chip tricks (something I often imagine Harmon doing on the side). And, of course, WSOP Main Event champion Joe Hachem’s outsized personality influenced Jimmy — a fact I wrote directly into the story with his less-than-successful Australian impression.

Peeps is an amalgam of several female poker players, all of whom are successful players, but are often relegated to being portrayed as good “women” players, with televised stories often playing up their ability to use their femininity as a factor (rather than merely acknowledging their table skills). Dual World Series bracelet-winner Jennifer Harman stands out, as do Annie Duke and Clonie Gowan, and even actors-turned-poker-players Shannon Elizabeth and Jennifer Tilly. She takes her crazy pattern-recognition skills from the aforementioned Daniel Negreanu, and at least some of her personality from Fiona Dourif’s portrayal of the holistic assassin Bart in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.

“Big Mike” Dalton actually adapts characteristics from a number of old-school poker players, the group of long-time pros who continue to garner respect across the board. Doyle Brunson has always been a personal favorite, someone who truly exemplifies the idea of the old poker pro (right down to his ubiquitous cowboy hat). And it may be the hat, but I also drew influence from Chris “Jesus” Ferguson (whose card-throwing skills I loved watching) and poker legend Amarillo Slim. Brunson also stands out in having managed to parlay his live success into a modicum of online-play respectability, a trait that Dalton attempts to emulate. Dalton’s influence in both online play and televised poker most closely mirrors that of Howard Lederer, who frequently guest-starred on the Learn from the Pros show (which was a thinly-veiled promotion for the Full Tilt Poker site) and Gabe Kaplan (yes, Welcome Back Kotter’s Gabe Kaplan), who hosted the cash-game show High Stakes Poker.

Wiktoria Sałkiewicz isn’t directly influenced by anyone in the poker world, but came about as a result of my research into Las Vegas history and its various criminal power brokers over time. While the Italian mob is most frequently depicted in popular media, I found several instances of smaller groups — still often bound together by ethnic ties — which wielded influence in smaller spheres. The Polish mob was not particularly influential in Las Vegas (other than the Polish heritage of mobster Meyer Lansky), but that led to the notion that someone of a less-prominent “family” might be more likely to survive the string of anti-crime initiatives over the decades. Similarly, making her a woman in not one but two male-dominated professions (organized crime and the casino business) made for a much more compelling character history.

Of course, none of these characters are direct counterparts to any real-world personalities. But after watching dozens (if not hundreds) of hours of televised poker, and delving deep into the history of the city surrounding the game, I wanted to acknowledge at least some of the significant personalities who all-too-often outdo those of the fictional world.

~William R. Coughlan, writer/director of Quorum

Listen Online! Quorum – The Gambler’s Tale: Outstanding Debts, Part 10 of 10

Quorum: The Gambler’s Tale — Outstanding DebtsProfessional poker player Jimmy Harmon’s time in Las Vegas has been anything but routine. A bomb set by a henchman named Watson — ostensibly in the employ of Las Vegas gangster Wiktoria Sałkiewicz — has apparently led to the death of Harmon’s friend Will Archer. 

Harmon meets with Las Vegas detective Ben Marshall, but neither come away with any real answers.  

Soon after, Sałkiewicz herself places doubt on the idea that she instigated the bombing, and hints that a consortium of hotel buyers may truly be behind it. 

But before Wiktoria can elaborate, they find themselves under attack by mysterious gunmen, identified only by their driving a black Hummer.

After evading the attackers, Harmon and fellow gambler Rachael “Peeps” Leblanc head out of town, only to follow another clue leading to the body of a dead prostitute half-buried in the desert.

Tracking the unfortunate woman’s path back to the Lyon Majestic Hotel, Harmon and Peeps discover a secret witness, Peter Sokolov, being guarded by what are * apparently federal agents, as well as a cache of documents hinting at a major operation.

Harmon makes his way to the Remington Hotel, only to discover his role model “Big Mike” Dalton, part owner of online gaming site All-In Poker, has been deeply involved in the past week’s activities — though the veteran player was unprepared for the latest turn.

Aided by the Hummer-driving gunmen who earlier attacked Wiktoria, Big Mike hustles Harmon out to the Remington Hotel parking garage, only to run up against both the ominous federal agents and the Las Vegas Police — led by detective Marshall.

Cast (in order of speaking)

Announcer: Marsha Rehns
Jimmy Harmon: Cameron McNary
Det. Ben Marshall: Nick DePinto
Wiktoria Sałkiewicz Lydia Kraniotis
Peeps: Yasmin Tuazon
“Big Mike” Dalton: Joel Snyder
Nicky Morris:  Ricardo Padilla
Wilmer Crick: Christopher Walker
Newscaster: Bob Hurley
Detective Betty:  Kim Davenport
Mr. King: Pete Papageorge
Mr. Queen: Joel Snyder
Ms. Rook: Faith Potts
Mr. Bishop: Brian Crane
Ms. Knight: Anna Fitzgerald
Secret Dealer: Anna Coughlan

Crew

Recorded at WERA-LP 96.7 FM Radio Arlington
Supplemental recording at Tohubohu Productions in Burke, Virginia
Music by Brooks Tegler
Dialogue and sound effects editing, mastering and final mixing by William R. Coughlan
Production support by Anna Coughlan and Kim Davenport
Produced by Bjorn Munson
Written and directed by William R. Coughlan

Music Selections

Early in the Morning
composed by Clyde Hunt
performed by Brooks Tegler’s Hot Jazz
from the album And Not Only That!
Amazon | iTunes | CD Baby

Listen to the Episode!


Length: 28:48

Rated AD-PG (Audio Drama “PG”)Rated AD-PG, so parental guidance is suggested
Contains uses of JC’s name in vain, “son of a Bitch,” gun-play, horrendously unsafe driving, and some deep, deep conspiracies.

Listen Live! Quorum – The Gambler’s Tale: Outstanding Debts, Part 10 of 10

Tune in, right about now (at 4pm ET), as listen as our hard-boiled crime saga comes to a pulse-pounding conclusion! (at least this season).

Quorum: The Gambler’s Tale — Outstanding DebtsProfessional poker player Jimmy Harmon’s time in Las Vegas has been anything but routine. A bomb set by a henchman named Watson — ostensibly in the employ of Las Vegas gangster Wiktoria Sałkiewicz — has apparently led to the death of Harmon’s friend Will Archer. 

Harmon meets with Las Vegas detective Ben Marshall, but neither come away with any real answers.  

Soon after, Sałkiewicz herself places doubt on the idea that she instigated the bombing, and hints that a consortium of hotel buyers may truly be behind it. 

But before Wiktoria can elaborate, they find themselves under attack by mysterious gunmen, identified only by their driving a black Hummer.

After evading the attackers, Harmon and fellow gambler Rachael “Peeps” Leblanc head out of town, only to follow another clue leading to the body of a dead prostitute half-buried in the desert.

Tracking the unfortunate woman’s path back to the Lyon Majestic Hotel, Harmon and Peeps discover a secret witness, Peter Sokolov, being guarded by what are * apparently federal agents, as well as a cache of documents hinting at a major operation.

Harmon makes his way to the Remington Hotel, only to discover his role model “Big Mike” Dalton, part owner of online gaming site All-In Poker, has been deeply involved in the past week’s activities — though the veteran player was unprepared for the latest turn.

Aided by the Hummer-driving gunmen who earlier attacked Wiktoria, Big Mike hustles Harmon out to the Remington Hotel parking garage, only to run up against both the ominous federal agents and the Las Vegas Police — led by detective Marshall.

Cast (in order of speaking)

Announcer: Marsha Rehns
Jimmy Harmon: Cameron McNary
Det. Ben Marshall: Nick DePinto
Wiktoria Sałkiewicz Lydia Kraniotis
Peeps: Yasmin Tuazon
“Big Mike” Dalton: Joel Snyder
Nicky Morris:  Ricardo Padilla
Wilmer Crick: Christopher Walker
Newscaster: Bob Hurley
Detective Betty:  Kim Davenport
Mr. King: Pete Papageorge
Mr. Queen: Joel Snyder
Ms. Rook: Faith Potts
Mr. Bishop: Brian Crane
Ms. Knight: Anna Fitzgerald
Secret Dealer: Anna Coughlan

Crew

Recorded at WERA-LP 96.7 FM Radio Arlington
Supplemental recording at Tohubohu Productions in Burke, Virginia
Music by Brooks Tegler
Dialogue and sound effects editing, mastering and final mixing by William R. Coughlan
Production support by Anna Coughlan and Kim Davenport
Produced by Bjorn Munson
Written and directed by William R. Coughlan

Music Selections

Early in the Morning
composed by Clyde Hunt
performed by Brooks Tegler’s Hot Jazz
from the album And Not Only That!
Amazon | iTunes | CD Baby

Listen to the Episode LIVE!

Length: 28:00

Rated AD-PG (Audio Drama “PG”)Rated AD-PG, so parental guidance is suggested
Contains uses of JC’s name in vain, “son of a Bitch,” gun-play, horrendously unsafe driving, and some deep, deep conspiracies.

Poker on Television

Poker has been televised in one form or another since CBS started airing the final table of the World Series of Poker in the late 1970s, but the appeal of these shows was limited, as viewers had no idea what cards the players held, and there were limited options for real-time on-screen graphics, making it difficult to follow the action.

Those limitations changed in 1997 with the advent of the “hole-card camera,” a camera positioned underneath the table that captured the player’s hands. The cameras came about in Europe, and were first used on the British poker show Late Night Poker. But their potential was truly realized after filmmaker Steven Lipscomb produced a documentary on the World Series of Poker for the Discovery Channel, and the network saw substantially higher-than-anticipated viewership.

Using these hole cams as a critical building block, Lipscomb worked with others to develop the World Poker Tour, a televised series of poker tournaments produced independently and adopting a sports-television style. The show premiered in 2003 on the Travel Channel, and was the network’s highest-rated television program to date. ESPN’s World Series of Poker broadcasts fully incorporated hole cams that year, along with improved graphics and a live-sports feel. Coincidentally, that year also saw the Main Event win of amateur player Chris Moneymaker, inaugurating the so-called “poker boom.”

In addition to the regular World Series of Poker broadcasts (hosted by Lon McEachern and Norman Chad) and World Poker Tour shows (hosted by Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten), a number of shows became staples of the televised poker scene. Here are just a few representative examples of shows that most heavily influenced the fictional shows we portray in Quorum:

  • High-Stakes Poker: A GSN show in which invited players participate in a cash game (or “ring game”) rather than in a tournament format, hosted by A.J. Benza and Gabe Kaplan across most of its run.
  • Celebrity Poker Showdown: A Bravo program where poker-playing celebrities (as opposed to professional players) compete for charity, hosted primarily by Dave Foley and Phil Gordon.
  • Learn from the Pros: A Fox Sports Net show sponsored by online poker site Full Tilt Poker and hosted by Chris Rose, in which a guest poker pro (usually Howard Lederer) would provide tips and tricks, illustrating points with scenes from actual hands taken from televised poker tournaments.

Part of the appeal of many of these shows was not just the game play itself, but the array of colorful characters, many of whom would clearly exaggerate their personalities for the camera. As televised poker became more widespread, opportunities for corporate sponsorship abounded — and one’s ability to attract an audience became just as important as (if not more important than) one’s skills at the table. Many of these sponsorships (both of individual players and the shows themselves) came from online poker sites — which naturally led to a seismic shift when the poker landscape changed in 2011…

~William R. Coughlan, writer/director of Quorum