I’ve been playing poker for a long time. When I was in college, I used to house a weekly poker night which became quite popular. We started by just having a handful of players each week but as word got out, more people kept wanting to pay. The buy in was just $20 but toward the end of my college career, I had to buy a few more poker tables because we had around 50 playing every Thursday. Actually had to have one of the tables outside because there was no room in the apartment for 50 people!
In addition to playing poker in college, I’ve taken a few trips to Vegas, both for business and pleasure and have spent a good amount of time at the poker tables. I know a gambler is never truthful about wins and losses but I can honestly tell you I’ve never walked away from a Vegas poker table with less money than I started. Poker has always combined two of my favorite passions. Mathematics and luck. But yesterday, something happened that I never expected. The United States has decided once and for all, that online poker is not for this country.
Not 24 hours ago, 11 people including the owners of the popular poker sites FullTiltPoker, PokerStars and AbsolutePoker have been charged on counts of fraud and money laundering by New York prosecutors. Some of the offenders have already been arrested and will be arraigned on Monday, while others, living outside of the US are being located. The US is working to have all parties extradited to NY as soon as possible. For now, all of the aforementioned poker sites have been shut down for US players and if you attempt to access one, you’ll see the following:
This also means that anyone with funds tied up in these sites will have to patiently wait for them to be returned (which is only a possibility). No withdrawals are being allowed from any of these sites and the US is actually looking to acquire $3 billion in illegally moved funds.
Needless to say, the online poker world is in total shock. Online poker has become a staple of many Americans, as you can regularly see big sites sponsoring commercials and players in the World Series of Poker. Even though a bill was passed in 2006 outlawing online gambling, poker was thought to have been excluded from the strictest definition of the law. Millions of Americans now have funds tied up on sites in which they cannot use or access and even though the poker world has made great strides to legalized online poker, this can only be viewed as a major setback (at least currently).
Let’s be clear here for a second. The reason these sites and individuals are under arrest is not because they were running a crooked game, or stealing money from anyone. The problem, in the eyes of US prosecutors is that these sites were defrauding US banks as well as taxpayers by skirting the anti-gaming laws in 2006. That law made it illegal for banks to participate in the transfer of funds for online gaming purposes. To get around that law, many banks would classify deposits and withdrawals as non gaming transactions. For example, if I were to make a deposit on PokerStars using my bank account, it might show up as “IntDrugStoresUSA”. Prosecutors also aren’t happy with some bank executives making deals with online poker sites in terms of future investments. All in all, NY prosecutors found a way to shut these sites down from US players for good, and they took it.
So what does this mean for US poker players? Well you can bet that if you’re playing on a site not mentioned above, that won’t last very long. You can also breathe easy, as no individual will be prosecuted for playing poker online. For now, it’s just time to sit back and watch the fireworks. Should the prosecution be a successful one, expect similar arrests in the online sportsbook world which would really shake things up. It’s important to mention that US lawmakers have been trying to legalize online poker for years, but have always been tripped up for one reason or another. Poker has always been seen as the good and kind side of gambling and the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) continues to lobby on behalf of the millions of people who play online poker in the US everyday. Even though recent events have all but killed off the game, they also bring this issue to the forefront so I expect to see a lot of news on this topic in the coming months.
Looks like it’s back to the good ‘ole days of home games and local casino’s and cruise ships.
Published or updated April 16, 2011.