Poker face: Former Ky Treasurer revels in big win at the table

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by Joe Arnold

WHAS11.com

Posted on July 13, 2012 at 5:18 PM

Updated Sunday, Jul 15 at 7:41 PM

LEXINGTON, Ky (WHAS11) -- Sitting in a conference room of his downtown Lexington law office, former Kentucky State Treasurer Jonathan Miller speaks freely of something that would have complicated his earlier political aspirations.

"This is not something I could do while I was in public office," Miller concedes, "No question. We're a conservative state."

But after Miller spent three long days in Las Vegas last week, what happened...  didn't stay in Vegas.

Now, five years after leaving elected office, the former head of Kentucky's Democratic Party is comfortable sharing his once secret, save for several close friends, hobby.

"I've been in public life for a little over a decade, and there has been nothing that I've ever done that has received as much popular support," Miller said, "as winning at a card game."

Not just any card game.  The former treasurer plays poker. 

And on July 4-6, Miller advanced to the final table of the World Series of Poker.  Out of 4,620 players who plunked down $1000 to enter, Miller finished eighth, pocketing $69,896.

"I was trying to convince these people what a naive bumpkin I was from Kentucky, and I was just here for fun," Miller smiled.  "And I think that really helped because sometimes I would go 'all in' and they would think, 'That guy is silly, I'm going to call him.'  And I had aces and I had him beat."

Click here to read Jonathan Miller's blog about his World Series of Poker experience

Though polls show Kentuckians approve of casino gaming, Miller said it is politically unrealistic for an elected leader in Kentucky to enter a poker tournament.

"Particularly if he was the state treasurer in charge of taxpayer dollars out in Las Vegas betting, gambling money," Miller laughed, "probably wouldn't think too highly of it."

Yet as Miller advanced to the finals, the political ranks back home cheered as the news spread via twitter and facebook.

"The funny part is, I'm in a business - used to be in a business - where I was desperate to get public support.  And this time, I'm just sitting at a card table. I've never had more public support from Democrats and Republicans."

Yet Miller says he's still done with politics.

On his website - The Recovering Politician.com - contributors include 20 other former elected officials.

"They're interested in what politicians - who now can be honest about the issues - have to say about the system," Miller explained.

Miller is also a co-founder of the post-partisan group, No Labels.

"I've joked that the state treasurer has given me good management skills and being in politics has led me to sit at a lot of tables with liars and posers," Miller said.  "But, truthfully the ten years I've spent going out in the state and meeting people, all different kinds of people, has taught me a whole lot about what people think and what they're thinking about and what they care about."
 
"And I certainly think that that kind of intuition about what people are thinking was very helpful with poker."

Miller acknowledged that it takes skill to win at poker, but "the most important thing about my success was pure unadulterated luck. I mean, when I needed to have a good hand, I got a good hand."

Down to his last chips, Miller went "all in" on a weak hand known as "the Jackson 5," a Jack and a five.

"It's a pretty crapp-- pretty lousy hand," Miller caught himself.  "I won it.  And the next hand I got while I'm stacking chips is sevens, a pair of sevens. Any pair is pretty good so I went all in.  And so I had this big mass of chips and I'm not going to play it, and it's two Kings."

He had sat out 95 percent of the hands dealt to him, demonstrating patience learned in political trenches. 

"When you're in a debate, the last thing you want to do is lose your temper," Miller said.  "I've been trained to take a bad beat, a bad hand and try to forget it."

In the span of three hands, Miller was suddenly the chips leader.  The progressive liberal embracing an uber-conservative game plan, aggressive when he needed to be.

"I stuck to my strategy. I stayed conservative.  And the luck panned out," Miller said.

Miller said he is tithing, or giving ten percent of, his $69,896 in winnings to his temple.  The remainder is dedicated to college savings for his two daughters.
 

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