Friday, April 22, 2011

MORE ON THE POKER SITUATION

I have had a chance to calm down and take a sober second look at the whole poker situation in the wake of the US Attorneys' indictments of PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute/UltimateBet.

I think it is fair to say that this has been an eye-opener to a lot of online poker players about some of the shady business practises of the big poker sites. The sites are accused of setting up phony companies that purportedly sold jewellry and golf balls and using those as fronts to move poker money around. Well, if it's true that's bank fraud and money laundering, and these guys deserve to get the book thrown at them. I think there isn't much sympathy for these companies from a lot of poker players if this is what they were up to.

But here's a question I have. If the USA had a regulated environment where online poker was legal, would we even be seeing this sort of alleged criminal activity? I don't think so, and that's what bothers me about all this -- the United States would rather pass laws like the UIGEA and crack down on online poker instead of set up a system where people could operate online poker businesses according to rules and licensing requirements, a system where taxes are collected. Poker players have been supporting this idea for a long time.

If you had a system like that set up, people could deal only with legitimate, law-abiding online poker operators, and then the crooks and scoundrels would all be out of business! But that's too simple a solution for these folks in power down there, who would rather hand down indictments and shut down online poker sites instead of create an environment where it could legally operate and where taxes on winnings could be paid.  

Anyway, the real losers in all this are the online players, particularly everyone who plays professionally or relies on poker for an income. Now people are contemplating their options, like moving to Europe or Costa Rica or the Bahamas. Or why not even move to CANADA, where even PartyPoker is still in business? (PartyPoker left the USA market when the UIGEA was passed in 2006.)

Also getting hit are your favorite poker shows on TV and some established poker tours backed by these online sites. The PokerStars-backed North American Poker Tour is cancelled completely, and the just-announced Onyx Cup that had been backed by Full Tilt is also cancelled. ESPN has cancelled all its NAPT coverage and all PokerStars-backed programming, as well as some World Series of Poker reruns, but apparently they are still going to cover the WSOP later this year. Also gone is PokerStars' The Big Game which ran on FOX, along with the Million Dollar Challenge. Also, the Game Show Network has cut back its poker lineup and is now running High Stakes Poker only on a single night, Saturday. Chances are good that show will play out the string and be cancelled. Also facing uncertainty is the future of Poker After Dark on NBC, a show owned by NBC but backed by Full Tilt. The problem for all these poker shows is that their entire sponsorship and in many cases ownership is under indictment and kicked out of the country. A lot of poker media people are now out of work as well.

In a nutshell, this is a complete disaster for poker in the USA and for the US economy. Nice going, US government. And people wonder why the economy is no good there.

This week there was a deal reached between the Justice Department and both PokerStars and Full Tilt to allow them their .com domains back for the sole purpose of refunding the money of all the US players. So maybe they'll be able to compete at the World Series after all. Still, this really has been a devastating last week for the game, and a turning point of sorts. The "Poker Boom" is over - it's the end of an era. I've gone from being outraged about it to being just sad.

Then again, why should I complain? I live in Canada where online poker is still in business. Party on, dude. 

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