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Poker player behind Goodman recall says it’s not matter of politics

Updated May 16, 2020 - 10:20 am

Doug Polk emerged as a prominent voice in the poker world over the past few years.

He won millions of dollars and built a large following on YouTube, where he dispensed poker advice and took on controversial topics with humor and sometimes combativeness, sparring with other big names in the game.

Now he’s trying to make that voice heard across Las Vegas as he spearheads a campaign to recall Mayor Carolyn Goodman over her response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Polk, a 31-year-old Henderson resident, has little political history and is a registered nonpartisan. He said in an interview that he was moved to act after Goodman’s appearance with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on April 22. The issue, Polk said, is not that Goodman wants to reopen Las Vegas’ economy, it’s that she revealed herself as unfit for office.

“I think some people are turning it into, like, liberals want to stay closed and conservatives think we should open it back up,” he said. “That’s really not what this is about. The issue here is having an incompetent person who is just out there saying things that are ridiculous and with no regard for the health of their constituency.”

“When I saw (the Cooper interview), it was just so ridiculous that I just felt like I had to do something,” he said.

Working with Cloobeck?

The Review-Journal spoke with Polk on May 9. On Tuesday, the Review-Journal reported that Stephen J. Cloobeck, one of the biggest Democratic donors in the state, would lend his support to the recall, including likely paying workers to collect signatures for the recall effort.

Polk declined a follow-up interview about Cloobeck, but said via text message Thursday: “We have new information and people that are getting involved, and I don’t want to say much more until we get things squared away.”

In the May 9 interview, Polk said there are reasonable arguments to make to reopen the economy, but Goodman did not make those.

In the interview with Cooper, Goodman said Las Vegas should be used as a control group to test whether social distancing measures were working and suggested that businesses that reopen and are hit hard by virus outbreaks would simply be swallowed by competition.

Polk said he also took issue with her assertion that she might have already had coronavirus in January, before the disease is believed to have spread widely in the U.S., and that she seemed to show more concern for casino owners than their employees.

Polk has until Aug. 4 to collect 6,745 valid signatures from registered voters who participated in last year’s municipal primary election, according to City Clerk LuAnn Holmes. The figure is based on 25 percent of voter turnout in that election, where Goodman cruised to a third and final term ending in 2024.

If enough valid signatures are collected by the cut-off date, it would trigger a mayoral recall election.

Polk is encouraging people interested in the effort, especially people who are eligible to sign the petition, to contact him through the website RecallCarolynGoodman.com (or LVrecall.com).

Goodman has said of the effort: “You know, this is America. That’s his choice. Everybody’s entitled to their own political opinions.”

A star on YouTube

Polk isn’t a household name throughout Las Vegas, but he is arguably one of the most famous poker players in the world — or, he was, until he announced his retirement from the game last year.

He has won three World Series of Poker bracelets and has amassed more than $4.5 million in earnings in WSOP events, including a victory in the $111,111 buy-in High Roller for One Drop in 2017 for $3.69 million.

Overall, he has won $9,454,008 in tournaments around the world, according to the Hendon Mob Poker Database.

Besides his results, he gained fame through his successful YouTube channels, one discussing poker (Doug Polk Poker, 290,000 subscribers) and one for cryptocurrency (Doug Polk Crypto, 174,000 subscribers).

However, he announced in March that he would no longer post videos on those channels and would focus on a general interest feed. That channel, Doug Polk, has more than 40,000 subscribers. Most of the videos focus on issues related to the pandemic, but he has also posted videos about sports and video games.

Polk also continues to operate the poker training site Upswing Poker.

Political bystander

Polk has largely not been active in politics. He said he moved to the Las Vegas area when he was 20 and has spent the past 10 years focusing on his career as a professional poker player. (He said he also lived for a time in Boulder City and went to schools there in the sixth through ninth grades.)

Clark County documents show that he voted in the 2016 and 2018 general elections, but not in the off-year municipal elections. As a registered nonpartisan, he was not eligible to vote in primaries.

He does not appear to have donated money to any state or federal races, according to campaign records.

Polk confirmed that 2016 was the first time he voted and that he had not voted in any of Goodman’s elections. He said he generally leans Democratic but could see voting for a “sensible moderate Republican.”

He said that despite not being politically active for most of his life, he has always been interested in politics, and he plans to run for office one day — though not right now.

Polk’s YouTube video on the Goodman recall concluded with a faux campaign ad for Polk for Las Vegas mayor, running on the campaign pitch “I am not Carolyn Goodman.”

Despite that, he said in the interview that he did not intend to run against Goodman if the recall petition is successful.

“If somehow the opportunity arose where it made sense to do that, I would consider it,” he said. “But that’s really not the goal here.”

Tough road ahead

Polk said he knows that securing the signatures for the recall will be difficult during the pandemic because rules stipulate that signatures must be attained and witnessed in person.

Polk said May 9 that he had received more than 600 emails from people interested in the recall effort. He posted on Twitter on May 10 that 49 valid voters have contacted him through email and another 10 from other avenues. He also tweeted that, “We have created a script to crosscheck form submissions vs the voter registry, in order to streamline the process for signature validation.”

Updated numbers were not available.

“It’s very hard. I expected that,” Polk said in the interview. “… I imagine when this is being checked, there are going to be people that want us to fail, so I want to make sure that we do everything completely correct.”

Whatever the outcome, Polk said he was proud to give residents a chance to have a voice.

“It’s going to be up to people in the valley,” he said. “If they care about this, if this is something that matters to them, then this is an opportunity for us to make something happen with getting the mayor recalled. If not, then so be it.”

Contact Jim Barnes at jbarnes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0277. Follow @JimBarnesLV on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writers Rory Appleton and Shea Johnson contributed to this story.

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