Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Black D-Day Hate the Government Friday

That right there encompasses about 95% of the blog post titles I have seen coming out of anyone associated with our little corner of the internets over the past few days. Too many people have asked me in shock about my thoughts on this whole online poker mess, so I guess I'll bite the bullet and write a little bit about it here.

I have to say, the degree of shock out there about the events of last Friday is what is really shocking to me, much moreso than anything else involving the entire regulation of online poker in the U.S. I mean, what did you think the UIGEA meant, exactly, if not that at any time when the government decides to get off its ass, it can and will put a stop to these companies out there that are flagrantly violating this country's laws. This is not to say that the playing of online poker has been illegal by you and me over the past few years, but I do not and did not think at any point over the past few years now at least that the poker sites, and of course whatever methods they were using to transfer funds to and from my accounts to theirs, was anywhere even close to legal. And you know what?

Neither did you.

That's right, I said it. You knew since the moment the UIGEA was passed that it was no longer legal for any poker site to transfer funds to or from an account of a U.S.-based player. Oh, you might have blocked it out over time, or convinced yourself through the amazing power of denial that only the human brain is capable of, that the UIGEA had only been a farce, that it wasn't a "real law", or that somehow the lack of enforcement over the past few years meant that the government did not have any way or any desire to effectively enforce this particular statute. But unfortunately, that ain't the way the law works most of the time, and it turns out that wasn't what was happening here either. In fact, it appears from a quick read of the indictments that were handed out on Friday that the feds have actually -- and totally unsurprisingly -- been building their case against these guys going back to the time of passage of the UIGEA, and in some cases probably even earlier than that.

And let's not lose sight of those indictments here, either, by the way -- what these complaints allege is some pretty damn nasty behavior by the guys in charge at stars, full tilt and UB. I mean, without going into the boring details, this goes far beyond simply continuing to process financial transactions with U.S. players in violation of the UIGEA after it was passed. According to the indictments, these guys actually "bought" a few failing institutions in the wake of the financial crisis back in 2008 on the cheap -- in some cases for a $20 million or $30 million "investment" which saved the otherwise failing institution -- and then essentially kept these dying banks afloat, more or less expressly for the purpose of processing UIGEA-prohibited online poker funds transfers with U.S.-based players. I mean, think about that for a minute. These guys were having problems finding payment processors willing and able to give the middle finger to the U.S. government a few years ago in the wake of the UIGEA's passage, so what did they do? They created their own payment processors by "saving" banks that were otherwise about to fail, and then keeping them afloat for the primary purpose of effectuating their knowingly illegal transactions. That is some heavy duty shit right there, and my initial reaction is that, absent some more facts that I admittedly know nothing about, those allegations sound pretty damning to me, of the individuals involved, and of the poker sites in general who allowed such activities to be pursued in their names and in their interests.

So these guys sure sound guilty to me, and I can't really say that I am even a little bit surprised that there were illegal and/or dubious shenanigans going on at all times with these entities just to be able to have a constant way to thwart the authorities and the UIGEA for the better part of three or four years. And as I've said above, I don't really think anyone else out there for the most part thought this was all legal or legit either. We just didn't care. We, as a group, decided to take our chances. Sure, there were things we could do to help minimize the risk to us -- chief among them, never, ever ever keeping more than a small amount of funds on any online poker site at any time at any point ever again -- but ultimately, we were all taking a risk, one that we didn't just think might not be totally on the up-and-up, but one where we actually all knew beyond almost any shadow of a doubt that the principals involved were using shady and illegal means to circumvent the provisions of a law that every one of you out there reading this knew was passed just a few short years ago, and was aimed directly at this little online poker thing we all like to do from time to time.

I guess what I'm trying to say here is a couple of things. For starters, this day had to come. Had to. HAD TO. There was no way it wasn't ever going to come, and finally, this past weekend, it did. But there was in my mind already no way that we were just going to be able to keep on keepin' on, playing online poker, transferring money into and out of a system that itself pretty clearly violates the UIGEA, and where in fact as it turns out that the founders of such systems had deliberately spent money for the express purpose of acquiring the ability to violate the law in ongoing fashion, ad infinitum once the U.S. government passed a law specifically proscribing such activities. I laugh at anyone who says that poker is a game of skill and not "gambling" in some form -- the role of luck in this game, and probably even moreso in tournaments than in cash games, pretty much eliminates any ability in my book to possibly argue that the statute does not apply to online poker. So yeah, while others seem generally to be utterly shocked and appalled by what happened last Friday -- and many of you sound to be downright angry by the weekend's events, but don't count me among them. I am not surprised, this occurrence did not shock me in any way, and to the extent that there would be any anger on my part -- there isn't really -- that anger would have manifested itself three years ago upon the passage of the UIGEA. But there's no anger today, which just seems weird and misplaced to me. The online poker you've all been playing has been straight-up illegally run for the past three years, and there was never any doubt about that fact. Just because the government finally got around to enforcing this rule this week, that decision itself does not cause any increased anger coming from me. In a sick way, I actually support it. I mean, not having the freedom to decide to play online poker kinda sucks I guess, but once the government took the step of creating a law to prohibit such activities, I think not enforcing the laws we have on the books is pretty much the wrong answer for where our government should be.

One thing that I am utterly, hopelessly shocked about is the stories that are coming out of people having huge portions of their bankroll, their assets, or just generally large amounts of money in the U.S. locked up in the big online poker sites. It's been said elsewhere and there's no need to spend a lot of time working this up again here, but suffice it to say, I also can't find a lot of anger or sadness with respect to those people who are being affected by this weekend's big move by the DOJ. Did people learn nothing from the Neteller fiasco? I simply cannot even begin to fathom what goes into anyone in the U.S. making such a decision with respect to a big chunk of change. I've spoken to some people who argue that their specific account history on these sites enables them to, by not ever making a withdrawal to a specific address or account, retain some level of anonymity with respect to ever having engaged in online poker in the U.S. over the past few years, but ultimately I'm just not feeling that one, as anyone we know who the government really wanted to "prove" played online poker, I suppose they could do that pretty easily. And these sites already have your name, address and other information about you, so there's not really the kind of anonymity I think most people would like to think. And thirdly, I should mention, I see no reason at this point to be scared about the government trying to prosecute me, personally, for my actions with respect to online poker since the UIGEA was passed. So far as I can tell, the poker sites were flagrantly violating the UIGEA, and the financial institutions involved with them seem as if they were clearly in violation as well, but I still haven't seen anything to suggest that the act of playing online poker as a user over the past few years has been against the law. Anyways, all I'm trying to say here is that, not only do I feel a lack of surprise or pity for all those out there who got themselves into a situation where they are reliant on online poker for some major portion of their livelihood, but, try as I might, I just cannot find understanding of anyone who is now in a "Neteller II" situation with some big portion of their money or their poker bankroll now unable to be accessed, and I do not in any way think that those people somehow "got screwed" by the government. Those people might have screwed themselves at this point, but I can't pin that one on the government, as tempting as it might be. With all the work I have done to ensure that I have never, ever ever had more than a few hundy on any online poker site since the very moment that the government screwed us with the Neteller situation -- and most of you have no idea how difficult it has been to constantly be making tiny deposits and tiny withdrawals from the system for years on end for someone who plays the dollar volume that I have run through the major poker sites over the past few years -- anyone who chose to follow a different strategy, in my mind has done so at their own risk, and not a very informed or well thought-out risk at that.

One thing that occurred to me that I had to look into was how the big sites have had to completely change their guarantees on these mtts as a result of the huge drop in traffic stemming from this weekend's events. I don't recall what I saw on pokerstars, but for example I noted that the nightly 9:30pm ET 50-50 tournament which is so named because of its 50k guarantee to go along with just a $50 buyin, is now no longer the "50-50". Now it is simply "the 12.5k guaranteed". $12,500 guaranteed, from what used to be 50k guaranteed up to just a few days ago, and what managed to pull in over 200k in prizes during full tilt's recent "double guarantees" week, now down almost overnight to just 12.5k guaranteed. So that right there is a drop of roughly 75% in the guaranteed prize pools these sites are offering today, and I noted generally the same factor in most of full tilt's other tournaments. Suffice it to say, traffic at a site like full tilt has been absolutely devastated by the U.S. government actions. One thing I am very curious about is the upcoming FTOPS abillion that was scheduled to run this month -- I am wondering if those guarantees are staying the same as well? As of the other night, for example, the FTOPS Main Event was still listed on the poker client as $7.5 million guaranteed tournament as of right now. Hmmmmm. I know they have made this thing multi-entry, but 7.5M guaranteed? That's an awful lot of players for a 4pm ET tournament in a few weeks that cannot include any U.S.-based participants. Something tells me that full tilt's FTOPS guarantees are soon to fall as well, which will only further hurt the site that we as bloggers have come to love and use the most among the major online poker clients, but who probably stands to lose the most as well from the loss of U.S. players.

So I guess overall, it seems to me that my reaction to this whole business of the past weekend is far less severe, less concerned, and just generally less upset than most of the others I see out there. I think my objectivity and my certainty that this day would inevitably come from the moment the UIGEA was passed contributes to much of my ability to have this outlook on the online poker prohibition in the U.S., but I also think there is another aspect that also helps make this all seem much easier to handle to me -- online poker is a tremendous grind, if done correctly, and not one that is generally positive all the time, or even close to all the time. Frankly, as an mtt grinder, I have written here what, 8500 times over the past few years, about how frustrating this game is, about the ridiculous beat I took after running so deep and playing so well. How many times have I gone off on an insane rant because of some thoughtless play that some douchebag made against me and then got rewarded for? Or the unbelievable suckouts late in the game that knocked down my Tournament EV for a given mtt from 10k to just $800 or $1500 or something similarly undesirable to me. Or the unbelievable clown who cost me 8 grand by calling my preflop reraise with 75o and then flopping the stone nuts against my pocket Kings. Or the monkey-calling window lickers who chase at horribad pot odds at every flush they see or every inside straight they get. And what about all those late-tournament eliminations where I called down some loser with just his AK unimproved on the flop, only to see him nail his Ace on the river to steal thousands from right under my nose? Not even to mention all the KK into AA hands, all the dominating hands beaten repeatedly for huge pots allin preflop, all the stupid fucking bullshit that I and anyone who does what I do has run in to a million billion gillion times over over the past few years. Focusing on mtt's with rapidly increasing blinds and antes, as opposed to flat cash-game structures for the most part, only makes this frustration level all the worse, exponentially so I am sure, as people are constantly getting caught with their pants down, pushing in with short stacks and not even top pair to show for it.

I guess what I'm saying is, online poker hasn't exactly been all honky-dory for me as far as life experiences go. I mean, I've had some amazing, incredible life experiences that are sort of directly a result of my playing online poker, but those experiences -- going out for a trip to Vegas every year, trying to make a run at the WSOP, playing alongside all the pros I see on tv all the time every year -- I can continue to have whether or not I am permitted to log in to some obscure website hosted out of the Isle of Man in the evenings. But let's look at what other "benefits" online poker has brought me, that I am supposed to be so upset about it now being taken away from me by my government. It's been what, five or six years of constant heartache, annoyance, and anger. Repeated disappointment. Immeasurable frustration resulting from having so little absolute ability to control the outcome of my performance in these tournaments. And let's not forget, the countless hours -- literally, thousands, over the past few years -- of sitting in front of my laptop, all alone, late at night, hurting my back, getting out of shape, staying up too late, I could go on and on and on. Truth be told, I've gotten a lot out of playing online poker which is why I have continued to do so over the past several years -- mostly in the form of cash I have won, and the incredible feeling of personal achievement that comes only from a big poker tournament win that is really the reason why I play this game I think when it comes right down to it -- but the game as a whole, and its widespread availability to me thanks to the wonders of the internets, has brought along with those few positives about a thousand other negative outcomes for me along the way, ones that I have spent literally years writing about, venting about, and just generally going crazy with rage about, both in my blog, to my friends, and in the chatbox of just about every version of every poker client I've ever downloaded. And again, try as I might, I just can't feel very bad to have had what has been a generally annoying -- albeit profit-generating -- practice for me over several years now taken away from me. Yes, I made some money playing online poker to be sure, but at what cost? Becoming an angry, frustrating, bad beat-telling, jaded, pessimistic, out of shape, overtired night-owl loner? Choose me!

Something will probably come along sooner or later to replace the online poker options removed from all of us U.S. players a couple of days ago. Or maybe it won't.

Given the overall effect on my life from playing this game on the internet over the years, I just can't get all up in arms about this in any event. Online poker, you just weren't that good to me in the end.

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6 Comments:

Blogger jamyhawk said...

I call Bullshit.

You have tainted your view based on today's glasses.

Yes, there were negative aspects of it, but I believe the thrill of the hunt, the sport of the kill, and the profit all outweighed the negatives.

And you would still be playing today had nothing changed on Friday.

I agree we all knew this was coming. No one could expect that the government was just looking the other way as all this activity directly violating the laws was going on.

But I think you are lying to yourself to say that online poker has made you "an angry, frustrating, bad beat-telling, jaded, pessimistic, out of shape, overtired night-owl loner".

I've gained not only a tremendous amount of poker experience that I carry over to the live games, but I've also made some tremendous friends all over the country, made enough money to consider it a part time job, and overall enjoyed the hell out of playing online from the comfort of my own home.

Really, I'm surprised and disappointed by this post.

4:43 AM  
Blogger ethan said...

If you're a US player concerned about your bankroll, send an email to usplayercashout@gmail.com to learn about your legal options.

We're licensed Los Angeles attorneys. Your email is confidential.

12:18 PM  
Blogger Steven said...

hoy...thanks for that rant....i agree...we will all live healthier and longer for what happened..

3:32 AM  
Blogger golden said...

Took the words right out of my mouth. I felt a little bit like a monkey was taken off my back last Friday. And thats after cashing out more than $4500 the last 70 days, and depositing $1400. I made good part time cash, but now I'm looking forward to a few months, years, of doing something else.

6:25 AM  
Blogger jlzinck said...

Best opinion on this whole situation I have read.

GREAT post!

11:31 PM  
Blogger Donnie (aka Shadowtwin) said...

I actually started distancing myself from online poker when the initial law went into effect just because it seemed so sketchy the hoops you had to jump through to transfer money in or out of the sites (that's why you haven't heard from me in several years). I do just want to say though that I think criminalizing online gambling because some people can't control themselves and manage to piss away junior's college fund isn't necessarily the best practice.

If I throw on my tin-foil hat I can't see any difference between this act and, say, making it illegal to own knives because some psychopath in Illinois stabbed his girlfriend.

Nonetheless, I did know that the law was serious when I saw the lengths that had to be gone to in order to circumvent it, and I quit moving money just because I didn't want to become like the bunch of people that were initially indicted before the Napster shit hit the fan.

4:04 PM  

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