Monday, April 18, 2011

The View Of Canada's Shorts

There was, to put it in the most understated way possible, an interesting development in the poker world on Friday. Online poker in the United States, for all intents and purposes, was shut down. I doubt anybody reading here needs the details, but here's a summary for the 3 people who MIGHT not actually follow both poker and this blog.

Bank fraud, money laundering, and illegal gambling operations - three charges brought against 11 individuals, including the founders of Full Tilt and Poker Stars. The .com domain names of Tilt, Stars, and Absolute/UB seized by the FBI and DOJ. These sites quickly blocking all US players from playing real money games to try and cover their asses - too little, too late.

Here in Canada? Annoying pop-up warnings and e-mails from the site to tell us that US players are screwed but we're fine, and to download the software from the sites if we're having problems updating.

AA can still get cracked by JQo AIPF on the first hand of a SnG too. So that hasn't changed.

I, unlike seemingly 90% of the poker players out there, am not a lawyer. These days, I'm barely a blogger. But still, I've already surpassed the 140 character limit of Twitter.

In short - this sucks. You already know this. For most of my friends in the poker world, this is a minor inconvenience. Their hobby has been relegated to casinos, card rooms, and home games. For some though, this is a blow to their livelihood. A handful write for, or even run, major poker news sites and blogs. Some are employed directly by the sites that are facing these legal challenges. I send good vibes and best wishes your way, as it's about all I can really do.

For the sites themselves? I feel little pity. If these charges are true, they blatantly broke the law, and did just about the stupidest thing they could have if they had any hopes of legally running their operations in the States.

As has been stated by people closer to this than me - the online poker rooms aren't the issue here. The fraud and laundering are, and they're HUGE. The PPA's statement the other day was so full of stupid it hurt my brain - this has nothing to do with the validity of online poker, but the ways these sites circumvented the law to get their money. Tilt and Stars are doing the right thing by stating their disappointment and otherwise keeping their traps shut.

Does anyone else recall during the Netteller debacle that one of the major concerns of the anti-online-gambling proponents was that they had no control over where the money flowed? Money laundering, fraud, and terrorism were all invoked as the specters faced by those who supported these sites. Well guess what? You've proven them right on two of those counts. You've added fuel to the righteous fire of those paid by the horse racing and anti-gambling lobbies. You've made it much harder for poker to get the status it deserves as a skill game. You're Capone being taken down for tax evasion.

But it will still happen. It just won't be via Tilt or Stars or UB. MGM Poker, WSOP Online, WynnPoker - these will be the clients you'll have available to install. Possibly powered by Zynga. Why? Because these are big US corporations that will say "Look at what we already do! We run casinos across the country and are good corporate citizens and provide American jobs that can't be moved offshore, and you already have all our tax numbers." The government will take it's sweet time deliberating and finessing and wringing of hands about the poor addicts who will gamble away their children's tuition and the milk money, but eventually, in a couple years or so, will allow these good American companies to set up shop online. Maybe with their new identity ecosystem. One ID, multiple sites. Maybe Party comes back a bit after that, with the argument that they obeyed the laws and are publicly traded in a trustworthy country like Great Britain.

If we see anything faster than in 2 years from the casinos? It will raise my suspicion that the casinos had a hand in this. They might not be run by the mob anymore, but that doesn't make the casino business any less dangerous to deal with. The stakes are just much higher.

And maybe, a decade or so down the road, some descendant of Tilt or Stars shows up in Canada's pants again. Humbled, chagrined, and under a heavy yoke of regulation and watchdoggery.

Poker is legal in the States. They'll find a way to put it online legally. More importantly, the government will find a way to make money off it.

In the meantime, there will be lots of satellite stories to follow over the coming months - pros, affiliates, the World Series, and plenty of fear and drama.


SirFWALGMan said...

You can not be too surprised.. I mean how did you think that the sites got money to American players once the bank ban's went into effect? Obviously they had to siphon them out into accounts that were not flagged as poker..

Astin said...

I'm not surprised at all. Every time I deposited on Tilt, it was a different company that charged me - and it's legal up here. But just because we all knew it was happening doesn't make it less stupid or damaging.

jamyhawk said...

What a bizarre situation though, that it went on for so long. You would think it would be clear: It's legal or it's not.

Instead, it was always there on the fringe. Talked about on blogs, forums, and even TV. But yet it was still unclear: are we ok to play online poker or not?

Now, there are so many people affected by this, it becomes a very sad story, instead of just an interesting one.

Astin said...

I think of it almost like speakeasies during prohibition. It was no secret they existed. Their locations and passwords weren't really hard to find. But the police let them run except for the occasional example being made or bribe being missed or becoming too mainstream.

Eventually, the cause of these illegal joints was removed - booze was made legal again. I expect similar for poker.