John Pappas Leaves PPA as Group Ponders Shift in Focus

Updated: February 8th, 2018 by Haley Hintze

Poker Players Alliance Executive Director John Pappas will be leaving that role at the end of February, according to a statement issued by the PPA yesterday. Pappas’s departure after more than ten and a half years represented United States-based poker and online-gambling interests comes as the PPA itself continues to ponder a shift in its primary topical focus, to include sports-betting legalization matters that have taken a prominent role across the US.

First, there’s the Pappas departure and what it means for the lobbying group, which is based in Washington, DC and describes itself as poker’s leading grassroots lobbying force. Pappas’s exit comes amid a continuing financial squeeze for the PPA, and there’s at least the strong whiff within yesterday’s PPA press statement that the two are connected.

Pappas came to the PPA back in 2007 after spending a handful of years with another DC-based lobbying entity, Dittus Communications, and he’s likely going to reemerge in those circles a month or two down the road. Being a career lobbyist (as Pappas surely is) also means that he’s something of career mercenary as well.

Dedicated, career lobbyists don’t come cheap, and the PPA’s own resources have been dwindling for several years. The group claims over a million poker players as members but membership is free, and was obtained in large part through membership drives supported by US-facing online sites Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars roughly a decade ago.

The original Full Tilt Poker collapsed long ago, amid executive-level fraud and the 2011 Black Friday crackdown. That left PokerStars as the sole significant corporate sponsor for the PPA, which worked out well as long as Stars had reason to keep making that lobbying buy. That’s been less and less in evidence over the past couple of years; between Stars failure to gain reentry in the US anywhere besides New Jersey and the corporate troubles of Stars’ own parent entity, formerly known as Amaya, that lobbying money might be drying up.

If so, then it could explain Pappas’s apparent jump to greener pastures. His role as the PPA’s Executive Director will be filled by the current PPA Vice President, Rich Muny. And that returns the PPA closer to its poker roots as well. Before Pappas came on board, the PPA was a much smaller operation founded and created by some of the people associated with Card Player Magazine.

But is poker still willing and able to financially support the PPA? Last year, the group broached the topic of expanding its lobbying reach, to include sports gambling and all forms of online gambling as well. Such an expansion would open up the group to more sponsorship opportunities but might necessarily include a watering-down of the PPA’s focus on poker. Name be damned, though: the lobbying group’s long-term financial survival might well depend on it, and with that re-focus in mind the PPA has already established an online landing page dedicated to sports-betting concerns. The group is also planning an e-mail survey effort to better gauge its membership’s interest and support for sports betting-related efforts.

Pappas won’t be a part of that in any event, though laudatory quotes abound as he exits stage right… and that means probably in the political sense. Here’s what PPA board member and Poker Hall of Famer Linda Johnson had to say:

“John is a tremendous leader and a true professional. Under his guidance, PPA has emerged as a policy advocacy and grassroots powerhouse in Washington D.C. and in state capitals across the country. For almost a decade, he has been the political voice and face of the poker community and regulated internet gaming advocates. He leaves the organization in a strong position to continue to ensure that consumer voices drive the internet gaming debate.”

VP Muny, who will soon assume Pappas’s executive-director role, sounded similar notes:

“I am honored that the PPA Board of Directors and the poker community have entrusted me with this role, and I join my fellow board members in thanking John Pappas for his decade of outstanding leadership in the fight for poker. I look forward to leading the poker community in this fight, building on the terrific successes of 2017.”

Pappas himself offered a quote as the verbal hugs continued. Said Pappas:

“There has never been greater momentum than right now for the advancement of sensible internet gaming policy in the U.S. Whether lawmakers are considering poker, casino gambling or even sports betting, a strong and organized grassroots effort will be critical to legislative success. I am proud of the work I have done with the PPA board of directors and the amazing PPA staff to bring us to this point. I will miss working for the poker community on a day-to-day basis, but I am confident that the PPA will continue its great work with Rich Muny at the helm.”

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