Smoking Aces – Poker’s Dramatic Rise in Asia

10 years ago, Poker in Asia was a virtually unknown commodity and you couldn’t pick out a poker player from a crowd. Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t play the game, or at the very least, doesn’t know how it works.

While it was popular across America — specifically in California — and some parts of Europe, poker remained in the dark among Asian countries. For a long time, land-based companies have expressed interest in pursuing the Asian market but have been largely unsuccessful in part because most of these countries – with the exception of Macau – banned any form of gambling. As a result, poker remained a Western game, completely detached from the East.

10 years later and it’s a different story altogether.

It’s no secret that poker’s popularity experienced an unprecedented surge with the introduction of online poker. Not only that but broadcasts of the World Series of Poker and the World Poker Tour introduced the game to millions of casual viewers.

But most importantly, poker’s introduction to Asia happened because the countries slowly began to open its collective arms to land-based and on-line gambling.

The allure of Asia as a poker crazy region comes as no surprise considering almost half of the world’s population can be found there. China and India alone comprise almost 2.5 billion people when combined and that’s not even counting Indonesia, Japan, and the Philippines — densely populated countries in their own right. With all these people starting to get familiarized with the game and the attraction that comes with it, it was only a matter of time before poker games and poker tournaments exploded in the region.

And now, to say that Texas Hold ‘Em, unquestionably the most popular type of poker, is being played everywhere is a vast understatement. Poker rooms are sprouting like full-blown seeds all over Asia. Macau, a baccarat-dominated country, is slowly beginning to experience the thrill that is poker. In recent years, it has hosted numerous poker tournaments including the Asian Poker Tour Macau 2008. Incidentally, the APT now has its very own poker room at the Galaxy StarWorld Hotel and Casino.

Even in the Philippines, poker is growing faster than you can say, “All-In!” The country has hosted its fair share of tournaments not the least of which is the Asian Poker Tour. As a matter of fact, the success of last year’s APT tournament – which drew well over 316 poker players from all over the world – has resulted in the APT holding another tournament to kick off its 2009 season. The Asian Poker Tour Philippines 2009 will be held from January 27 to February 1, 2009 at the Dusit Thani Manila Hotel and it is widely expected that some of the best poker players from around the world will participate in the event.

Asian poker players have also become instrumental in the propagation of poker in Asia. Some of the best poker players in the world, including Johnny Chan, Men “The Master” Nguyen, JC Tran, Nam Le, Steve Sung, Quinn Do, David Rheem and Kwang Soo Lee all trace their roots in Asia and their impact in the world poker scene hasn’t gone unnoticed.

With the meteoric rise of poker in Asia, it only seems inevitable that more and more of the future top players of poker will come from the region. It’s a testament to a game that only ten years ago was not even an afterthought. From the darkness of obscurity, poker has risen to become one of the most popular games in Asia.

With the way things are going, it’s a safe bet that poker is far from reaching its peak popularity and that’s good news, not only for Asia, but for the entire world.

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Speculating in Hunger – Are Investors Contributing to the Global Food Crisis?

Investment newsletters are now featuring headlines like “How You Can Profit from the Global Food Crisis.” The recommended investments include agribusiness stocks and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that speculate in agricultural commodities. These investments will no doubt do very well in the global food crisis; but before you put your money down, you may want to explore whether you will be helping to alleviate the problem or actually contributing to it. Do you really want to “invest” in starvation? In an April 23 article in the German news source Spiegel Online called “Deadly Greed: The Role of Speculators in the Global Food Crisis,” Balzli and Horning note, “Many investors . . . are simply oblivious to the fact that by investing in the global casino, they could be gambling away the daily food supply of the world’s poorest people.”

Jean Ziegler, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, has called the exploding food crisis “a silent mass murder.” In an interview in the French daily Liberation on April 14, he said, “We are heading for a very long period of rioting, conflicts [and] waves of uncontrollable regional instability marked by the despair of the most vulnerable populations.” He blamed globalization and multinationals for “monopolizing the riches of the earth,” and said that a mass uprising of starving people against their persecutors is “just as possible as the French Revolution was.”

In some places, in fact, this is already happening. In Haiti, where the cost of rice has nearly doubled since December, the prime minister was fired this month by opposition senators after more than a week of riots over the cost of staple foods. Violent protests over food prices have been set off in Bangladesh, where rice has also doubled; in the Ivory Coast, where food prices have soared by 30 to 60 percent from one week to the next; and in Egypt, Uzbekistan, Yemen, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Italy. In an April 21 Wall Street Journal article titled “Load Up the Pantry,” Brett Arends observed that the food riots now seen in the developing world could soon be affecting Americans as well. Rocketing food prices are not a passing phase but are actually accelerating. He recommends hoarding food – not because he is actually expecting a shortage, but as an investment, because “food prices are already rising here much faster than the returns you are likely to get from keeping your money in a bank or money-market fund.” Arends goes on:

“The main reason for rising prices, of course, is the surge in demand from China and India. Hundreds of millions of people are joining the middle class each year, and that means they want to eat more and better food. A secondary reason has been the growing demand for ethanol as a fuel additive. That’s soaking up some of the corn supply.”

That’s the rationale published in the Journal of Wall Street, the financial community that brought us the housing bubble, the derivatives bubble, and now the commodities bubble, producing the subprime crisis, the credit crisis, and the oil crisis. The main reason for the food crisis, says this author, is that the Chinese and Indian middle classes are eating better. Really? Rice has been the staple food of half the world for centuries, and it is hardly rich man’s fare. Moreover, according to an April 2008 analysis from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, food consumption of grains has gone up by only one percent since 2006.

That hardly explains the fact that the price of rice has spiked by 75 percent in just two months. The price of Thai 100 per cent B grade white rice, considered the world’s benchmark, has tripled since early 2007; and it jumped 10 percent in just one week. The fact that corn is being diverted to fuel, while no doubt a contributing factor, is also insufficient to explain these sudden jumps in price. World population growth rates have dropped dramatically since the 1980s, and according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization, grain availability has continued to outpace population. Biofuels have drained off some of this grain, but biofuels did not suddenly happen, and neither did the rise of the Asian middle class. If those were the chief factors, the rise in food prices would have been gradual and predictable to match.

Another explanation for the sudden jump in grain prices, not mentioned by this Wall Street Journal writer, is suggested by William Pfaff in the April 16 International Herald Tribune:

“More fundamental is the effect of speculation in food as a commodity – like oil and precious metals. It has become a haven for financial investors fleeing from paper assets tainted by subprime mortgages and other toxic credit products. The influx of buyers drives prices and makes food unaffordable for the world’s poor. ‘Fund money flowing into agriculture has boosted prices,’ Standard Chartered Bank food commodities analyst Abah Ofon told the media. ‘It’s fashionable. This is the year of agricultural commodities.’”

The “hot money” that has fled the collapsed real estate bubble is now moving into the commodities bubble, and that includes food. “Hot money” is an influx of speculative capital in search of high rates of return, quickly moving from one market to another. It moves, however, not because the products are better (the traditional justification for price-setting according to “free market forces”) but because the speculative “spread” is better. Money is invested not in making real goods and services but simply in making more money. Food prices are being driven by speculators, and today that includes ordinary investors like you and me, who can now gamble in agricultural futures through ETFs that have opened up a lucrative market formerly available only to big investment players.

Conventional economic theory says that prices are driven up when “demand” exceeds “supply.” But in this case “demand” does not mean the number of hands reaching out for food. It means the amount of money competing for existing supplies. The global food crisis has resulted from an increase, not in the number of mouths to be fed, but simply in the price. It is the money supply that has gone up, and it is investment money in search of quick profits that is largely driving food prices up. Much of this seems to be happening in the futures market, where fund managers seek to maximize their profits by using futures contracts. Balzli and Horning explain:

“The futures market is a traditional tool for farmers to sell their harvests ahead of time. In a futures contract, quantities, prices and delivery dates are fixed, sometimes even before crops have been planted. Futures contracts allow farmers and grain wholesalers a measure of protection against adverse weather conditions and excessive price fluctuations. . . . But now speculators are taking advantage of this mechanism. They can buy futures contracts for wheat, for example, at a low price, betting that the price will go up. If the price of the grain rises by the agreed delivery date, they profit. Some experts now believe these investors have taken over the market, buying futures at unprecedented levels and driving up short-term prices. Since last August, this mechanism has led to a doubling in the price of rice.”

The authors quote grain wholesaler Greg Warner, who says what is happening now in the grain futures market is unprecedented. “What we normally have is a predictable group of sellers and buyers — mainly farmers and silo operators.” But the landscape has changed since the influx of large index funds into the futures market. “Prices keep climbing up and up.” Warner calculates that financial investors now hold the rights to two complete annual harvests of a type of grain traded in Chicago called “soft red winter wheat.” He calls these developments “stunning” and points to them as “evidence that capitalism is literally consuming itself.”

What about investing in agribusinesses such as Monsanto, which have promoted the “Green Revolution” through the bioengineering of foods and the production of GMO (genetically modified) seeds, synthetic fertilizers, and herbicide and pesticide sprays? Won’t these corporations, at least, help to alleviate the global food crisis? To the contrary, critics say these businesses too are just driving food prices up. Monsanto’s patented GMO seeds have been genetically engineered so that they cannot reproduce but must be purchased every year from the company. Small farmers who have fallen for the hype of greater productivity and subjected their land to these seeds and chemicals have found that not only have their yields been reduced but that the land will no longer bear anything except GMO seeds. Farmers who can no longer afford the seeds are priced out of the market, handing monopoly control over to the agribusiness giants that can then raise prices to whatever the market will bear; and in the case of food, it will bear a lot, right up to the point of slavery. As Henry Kissinger once famously said, “Who controls the food supply controls the people; who controls the energy can control whole continents; who controls money can control the world.”

What can you invest in, then, that actually would help relieve the global food crisis? One possibility is local organic farming. “Community-supported agriculture” (CSA) is a model of food production, sales, and distribution aimed at increasing the quality of food and the care given to land, plants and animals, while reducing losses and risks for producers. A variety of CSA systems are now in use worldwide, allowing small-scale commercial farmers and gardeners to have a successful, small-scale closed market while providing their customer-members with a regular delivery or pick-up of healthy local produce. The USDA provides a list of CSA addresses and websites.

That still leaves the problem of speculation in food futures. How can parasitic profits to non-producing middlemen be eliminated while still protecting farmers? The futures market was first created for farmers, who needed to be able to lock in a price today that would cover their costs and return a reasonable profit later. One interesting proposal is to return to the policy of “farm parity pricing” enacted during the 1930s. It ensured that the prices received by farmers covered the prices they paid for input plus a reasonable profit. If the farmers could not get the parity price, the government would buy their output, put it into storage, and sell it later. The government actually made a small profit on these transactions; food prices were kept stable; and the family farm system was preserved as the safeguard of the national food supply. With the push for “globalization” in later decades, farm parity was replaced with farm “subsidies” that favored foods for export over local markets. They also favored large corporate farms engaged in chemical farming over sustainable farming, forcing thousands of family farmers out of business. Farm parity pricing could help, but a complete solution to the problem of global inflation would require an overhaul of the private central banking system that has created one bubble after another for the last century. (See E. Brown, “Market Meltdown: The End of a 300 Year Ponzi Scheme,”, September 3, 2007.)

If you want to invest in the commodities boom without driving up the global prices of food or fuel, buy gold.

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The History of Online Sports Betting

Man, by virtue of his instinct to survive, is naturally a gambler. Given the risks of living day-to-day life, it was considered an act of skill to stay alive until the sun sets, especially during the Stone Age. As the human race began to develop systems that would facilitate the physiological need of survival, the gambling instinct that was inherent in man did not dissipate. Rather, it became stronger with the passage of time.

The gambling instinct, simply put, is displayed early into the history of human civilization. The Romans were notorious for their fierce and unforgiving gladiator matches, which were mainly violent at least and visceral at best. By 80AD, the emperor Titus then conducted the first official ceremonies at the Colosseum, and thus the festivities had begun. Slaves were pitted against each other in mostly battles to the death, and sometimes against wild beasts as well. Spectators relished the thought of betting on their favorite gladiator, hoping that he would live to see the end of the glorious battle.

But as time progressed, the violence of the human sport had proved to be too much for some, and gambling has been reduced to animal fights. Of course, this has been around even before the human blood sport of gladiators, but they had become highly popularized in certain parts of Europe -particularly Spain, Portugal, the United Kingdom, France, and even some parts of Asia such as the Philippines and Indonesia. Among these fights were bullfighting, cockfighting, and fox hunting.

As European influence spread more and more all throughout the continents of the world, the thrill of betting soon became a worldwide phenomenon. Gradually, the hunger for the sight of blood was soon surpassed by the promise of amassment of wealth. The stakes were high, but made more appealing by the rise of establishments such as casinos. Betting was never more enjoyable.

But alas, the collected momentum of sports betting was halted abruptly by the coming of the two World Wars since activities such as race meeting and lotteries became severely restricted. Its return only came in the mid-1950s and soon flourished again.

Not to be outdone, sporting events still remained strong in gambling circles, as events such as horse races, basketball matches, and baseball games just seemed to beg for more incoming bets. The rise of communications technology also facilitated the development of sports betting, with phone betting becoming an attractive option to those who live far and away from the games. Companies such as Intertops in Antigua started this as far back as 1993.

When the Internet finally came out for public access and personal use, the betting world evolved into a more closely-knit community. Globalization served its purpose in connecting the world in ways previously thought inconceivable -after all, who would have thought that you can bet on a game halfway across the world with such ease? In 1996, a company in Gibraltar called Microgaming took advantage of this trend and began developing software for use in other gaming companies all over the world. Others soon followed suit, and thus online sports betting as we knew it was born.

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Sports Gambling – What’s the Big Deal?

If you are a sports fan, odds are pretty good that at one point or another you have engaged in some form of sports betting. You may have been involved in a fantasy pool, you might have bet a beer with a buddy, you may even have placed a couple of bets on the outcome of the Super Bowl or March Madness.

Although sports gambling is so common it is almost natural (in fact, it has been a part of human culture for as long as sport itself), the fact is that many forms of sports gambling we engage in are actually illegal. This is particularly true if you live in Canada or the United States.

The big argument against gambling on most sports in these countries is a belief that betting on sports has the potential to undermine the integrity of the game. Although in the past this tended to hold true with all sports, today it is more an issue with minor sports and collegiate level athletics than the professional leagues.

The reasoning for this, of course, is fairly straightforward. Athletes who are receiving little or no money for playing their sport are more susceptible to bribes from individuals with a vested monetary interest in the game they are playing. When you are playing for nothing but the joy of it, the offer of a few thousand dollars to throw the game can be very tempting. Sports history is rife with examples of athletes both minor and pro who have succumbed to this temptation.

Legalities aside, it is fairly obvious that sports betting is still a major part of our culture. In fact, it is quite rare to hear of circumstances in which anyone beyond those directly involved in the game even get in trouble for engaging in sports betting. Those involved would include coaches, officials, and players, rarely those betting on the game itself.

In fact, you could say that sports gambling is pretty much an “open crime” these days. Odds and money lines are posted on all the major sports channels, and bookmakers operate online with relative impunity. There are little or no efforts to stop mass betting on sports, which seems to indicate that sooner or later the laws prohibiting the activity will be done away with for good.

In the meantime, though, if you want to get a piece of betting action on a sport but want to stay well within the law, there are a couple of ways to do it. Let’s take a quick look.

o Pari-mutuel betting: There are certain sports in which the government actually endorses betting. This type of betting is known as pari-mutuel, or revenue shared, gambling. Strictly regulated, it applies only to dog and horse racing, and jai alai. All of these events are quite short, and therefore harder to rig when it comes to results. And, the government gets a cut of all bets!

o Go to Vegas! Nevada is the one state in which sports betting is legal and practiced as well. Again, who knows the real reasons, but there are Nevada bookies ready to take bets from people all over the country.

o Go online: In most of the rest of the world, sports betting is regulated and not seen as a problem. That means that thanks to the Internet, people from North America can place their bets with well known bookies the world over. Bookmakers out of Vegas, the United Kingdom, Indonesia, and any number of other countries have a presence online. Just make sure that they will take your money; some are leery of American bettors do to the government’s ambiguity on the issue of sports gambling.

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The Best Way to Make Money Online Is to Double the Value of Your Profits

A lot of people start to make money with their website, and there’s nothing like that feeling of finally seeing it trickle in, but they just feel like it’s not quite enough. When you see results, you want to turn and focus your energy 100% into your business—and indeed, that’s the best way to make money online.

But in America or Europe, even a couple thousand dollars doesn’t feel like quite enough to live a comfortable life. For many, that may be all they can currently generate from their internet endeavors. There’s one way you can double the value of your money, and I personally think it should be considered by anyone who doesn’t have anything tying them down and wants to live the IM dream.

Move overseas… Now.

It’s really as simple as that. So many people wait for the day when they are rich and famous to go live their dream lifestyle when the truth is that even $1000 per month can make for an extremely fascinating lifestyle in countries like Thailand, Indonesia, The Philippines, and Malaysia. Many countries in South America are just as cheap.

How do I know this for sure? Because that’s exactly what I did when I started building an online income. In fact, before I even knew anything about internet marketing at all, I sold everything I owned and headed overseas. My furniture, my truck, my kitchenware, everything. That’s how convinced I was that I was smart enough to pursue and succeed at this online thing.

And it worked.

You don’t have to take the gamble I did, but come on, if you have already begun building a decent income, then just do it. The best way to make money online is to do it from paradise. Live by the beach, go scuba diving when you want to, and spend your evenings grinding out your online living. Try not to spend too much time at the bars or the money can go quickly, but everything else in paradise is dirt cheap.

And there’s nothing like in the tropics to keep you motivated, no one wants to go home once they’re here. In my opinion, waiting for retirement is insane. Especially considering the fact that if you keep after your online business and start making some serious cash, you can save up a lot of money for the future because you’re living on so little.

My question for you is, if you’re single and have nothing keeping you in the West, why the heck not? Leveraging currency differences really is the best way to go about making money online.

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