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Roberto Luongo and the poker problem

Considering his NHL career, Roberto Luongo(notes) seems like a natural card-player. He usually wears a deceptive poker face through harsh times. He leaves the gambling to other goalies. And when the chips are down, he's been known to cash out — like those three games in Boston during the Stanley Cup Final.

Turns out Luongo does fancy himself a poker player, having played in the NHL Awards poker tournament two years ago. Seizing on this, the B.C. Lottery Corporation partnered with the Vancouver Canucks goaltender this season to promote their PlayNow.com legal online poker games — including the chance to play Luongo at the virtual card table when he's online.

But where Roberto Luongo goes, criticism of some sort inevitably follows — sometimes even from his own fans. In this case, it's not giving up goal-line scores or losing in the clutch — it's "endorsing something that is potentially dangerous," according a psychological counselor who trashed the B.C. Lottery campaign and Luongo's involvement.

This isn't the first time the BC Lottery has partnered with a hockey star. In 2006, Wayne Gretzky offered Scratch & Win game winners a day with The Great One. (Yes, we know: You'd figure it'd be Mrs. Gretzky that would be into the gambling campaign.) Net proceeds were donated to a number of different charities.

Here's Luongo's ad for the poker game:

Harmless?

Hardly, according to psychological counselor Candace Plattor, an addiction specialist who lambasted Luongo on CBC News:

"He's endorsing something that is potentially dangerous," psychological counsellor Candace Plattor told CBC News Monday. "People don't take this seriously enough. It is potentially dangerous. He may as well being saying to people, to kids, 'Sure, go and smoke.'"

Plattor, who specializes in addictions counseling, said Luongo's endorsement is not appropriate role modeling for fans.

"I'm very disappointed that he would do this," Plattor said. "I think he doesn't have his facts. I think he might have made a really poor choice."

Luongo responded:

"It's poker, it's one of my passions," he said Monday. "It's a great endorsement and this site is licensed by the government and so it's really exciting for me."

Since Plattor focused on the "kids," let's talk about the kids.

According to Chris Fairclough, communications officer for BCLC, you have to be 19 years old in B.C. to play the lottery. As for minors following Luongo to the poker site, Fairclough said, "There are very strict registration guidelines. In order to register to play on the site, there's a credit check and a number of responsible gambler features," he said.

"No system is impossible to break, but there are some effective [preventative] tactics on our website."

Turns out the "kids" are actually going to benefit from Luongo's "potentially dangerous" card-playing.

Playnow.com announced this week that the Roberto Luongo Charity Poker Classic will take place on Nov. 14. Proceeds from the poker tournament will be donated to the Canucks for Kids charity. It's estimated that more than $30,000 will be raised from the event.

What about the message it sends about Luongo putting poker before hockey, huh? Well, not quite, according to Fairclough: "Luongo's hockey schedule comes first and foremost. PlayNow.com does not interfere with his hockey schedule."

What about Luongo and the NHL's stance on gambling? Please recall the Mats Sundin Pokerstars.net affair (as painful as recalling Mats Sundin(notes) may be for Canucks fans). The NHL's main concern is with any "outfit or competition that involves handicapping or predicting the scores of its games." Luongo is endorsing the lottery.

So in summary: Luongo can't win. (No, not just in Boston.) He turns his passion for poker into a paid endorsement that also benefits charity, and he's accused of placing cigarettes in the mouths of babes.

Such is life for Roberto Luongo; the kind of guy who shows up at the table pockets stuffed with kings and aces, only to find out that the game is actually "Go Fish."

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