There is no reason, Pappas insisted, why this "great American tradition, played around the kitchen table," should now be suspect because it is played in cyberspace.
The Poker Players Alliance - a lobbying group that claims 800,000 members, representing the interests of more than 15 million Internet poker players in the United States - is fighting a law Congress passed last fall that restricts online gambling. It also is lobbying for two measures that would exempt poker from the law or from new regulations concerning Internet gambling.
Girding for battle, Pappas left no card unturned. He flew in top poker pros Chris Moneymaker, Vanessa Rousso, and brother-sister stars Lederer and Annie Duke - legends of the felt, all - to visit with 45 members of the House Judiciary and House Financial Services Committees, which will consider the new bills.
On Tuesday night, the organization hosted a packed reception in Rayburn that included eight House members for food and drink and a chance to pick up bluffing tips from the pros.
Yesterday, Pappas played his ace. He staged a panel discussion called "Poker, Public Policy, Politics, Skill and the Future of an American Tradition," featuring such worthies as Harvard Law professor Charles Nesson, antitrust litigator Kenneth Adams, poker stud Lederer, and Harvard law student Andrew Woods, founder of the Global Poker Strategic Thinking Society.
"This is an example of an abuse of law," said Nesson, who knows about such abuses, having defended Daniel Ellsberg in the Pentagon Papers case. Poker has advanced from the days when Las Vegas "was designed to attract the seals so that the sharks can chew them up," he said.
Someone in the SRO crowd asked: "Why should I have the right to go online and lose my shirt?"
Nesson, clad in a black T-shirt emblazoned with the words "Gay? Fine by me," responded that "freedom is a special thing. It has to be used responsibly. That's what we learned in the Sixties."
"I want to teach poker to kids," he continued. "I think poker has tremendous educational utility for kids. It's a great family game."
Woods, of the newborn global society, raised the ante.
"Poker . . . develops cognitive abilities," he said. "This is a game that is helping students continue to learn. They are developing the mathematical skills and psychological abilities they need to succeed.
"Poker is closer to chess than it is to other standard casino games," Woods concluded.
How is it possible to change the legislative zeitgeist for Texas hold 'em? Adams, the Washington litigator, mused that constituents must be aroused.
"Maybe they are just two-issue voters, maybe it's abortion and Internet gambling," he said. "Can we create a group of single-issue voters on gambling who will tell congressmen to support them?"
Lederer, his card-room pallor turning whiter, said: "I just don't believe that this issue is so important to those that might have abortion as their issue."
Pappas, sensing that the crowd was being dealt a mixed hand, looked for a rallying point. He said the existing law - "misguided and overly restrictive" - had "awakened the sleeping giant of poker players."
Nesson laid the cards on the table.
"Poker," he pronounced, "is at the tipping point."
Contact staff writer Steve Goldstein at 202-408-2758 or email@example.com.