Table Talk: Poker Hangs on to “Sex Sells” For Dear Life

cards in back of jeans

I’m going to need something heavy this week, possibly a scotch, neat. If the bartender brings me something girly with an umbrella, I’m going to flip out.

I have heard the phrase “sex sells” enough times in the past week to turn my brain to mush, all in response to last week’s two columns about sexism in poker. While I tried to point out that sex sells is sexist and that it is antithetical to the image that poker tries to portray as an anyone-can-play game, most popular cop-out used by several men in the industry.

Sex sells. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Fight a different battle. It’s just the way it is.

Scraaaaaatch. Remix! Sorry, folks, but I wasn’t raised that way. When something is inherently wrong and screams of inequality, I cannot and will not let it go.

Women in poker are taught from the earliest experiences in poker that we need thick skin to handle the industry, whether as players, writers, or otherwise. We need to suck up the insults, let the sexist comments roll off our shoulders, and simply play the game despite any pushback we may receive. That was the way it was when women sat down at the table in the decades before us. However, it is 2013, and it shouldn’t still be that way. We have to change it, or the men who run the poker media will continue to use “sex sells” as an excuse and a theme by which to sell this game to a male audience.

On the exact day last week that the second of my two-part column was published, I received a blog post update from the World Poker Tour, courtesy of my blog feed. “Come Sail Away With Us,” it read, which led me to believe it was simply a grammatically awkward invitation to a poker cruise. It was that… and more. The photos of two of the Royal Flush Girls greeted me when I opened the blog post, each of them posing in skimpy bikinis and looking sexy.

“This is what Jeannie and Danielle will be wearing on the WPT Cruise, departing from Port Canaveral, Florida on September 8. What about you?”

The only other information given in the blog post was that cabins are limited, booking is available now, and you can vacation with the WPT Royal Flush Girls, Mike Sexton, and Vince Van Patten, the latter two of whom will not be wearing bikinis. Oh, I get it. Hahaha!

It is unclear if it is a poker cruise or one in which the Royal Flush Girls will model their beachwear. It is also not certain if the Royal Flush Girls will also bring regular clothes on the ship or wear the bikinis the entire time.

Several days later, the reliable WPT presented another blog post entitled, “WPT Seminole Hard Rock Showdown: Royal Flush Girl Games.” Ah, this is where we find out the real purpose of the Royal Flush Girls after all these years. The video clip begins with four of the “girls” in robes, and music accompanies them as they slither out of the robes to show their bikinis and then their modeling poses in front of fountains. Then they played games, including beach volleyball, in which the “girls” bounced around in their bikinis, once even running into each other in the sand and accidentally hugging. Oh, those silly girls!

As a person who used to work for the World Poker Tour more than a few years ago, this entire marketing scheme saddens me beyond belief.

And to top off the week of sexism in poker, wrote a news blurb about Team PokerStars Pro Celina Lin winning the first event of the Macau Poker Cup series that kicked off last week. The article on this website gave Lin the recognition deserved, as well as others who won the first events. But the site, despite its properly accolade-filled article about Lin, titled it “Poker Babe Celina Lin Wins 4th Macau Poker Cup Title.” Hello, 1990s poker!

Today, when a poker pro suggested on Twitter that an online poker website consider Playboy model Sara Underwood for a sponsorship, complete with her empty Hendon Mob results list, I asked the purpose of signing her. I received answers that dealt with men who like to watch porn to help with poker tilt and imagining women like Sara on their laps while they play. Comments from males in the discussion also included bra sizes, the suggestion that I needed to get laid, that I needed to take a “chill pill or Midol,” and more references to “boobs sell” and “sex sells.” While this was intended to be in “all in fun,” as I was told, it was a perfect example of how the subject of sexism in poker is still – in 2013 – not taken seriously.

So, I ask, is the poker community going to take this seriously? Or are the women of poker going to be shoved aside and dismissed when their opinions contradict the status quo?

I will keep outing sexist articles and instances in poker as long as this open-minded website allows my column to go forward. But I’m going to need men and women of poker in my corner to make a difference.

I’m also going to need a lot more liquor. Keep the bar open!