So, like many of you, I too went through an “I’m gonna be a poker star” phase. A phase wherein Rounders was my favorite movie. I played for hours at a time, and my wife hated it. It was a thrill to win a freeroll tournament, beating thousands of other players and raking in a whopping $15. I was on my way to being the next Johnny Chan!
I never deposited any real money though. I was always too chicken. I bet Johnny was in the beginning too.
But today, I found out my “chicken-ness” may have been a good thing.
Apparently the executives for three of the top online poker sites were indicted on fraud and money laundering charges today. Pokerstars, Full Tilt, and Absolute Poker are now on the chopping block for allegedly pretending the money that US players deposited was used to make phony purchases from faux vendors that they owned, in order to skirt US banking laws.
Here’s some quick background info. on how the laws of online gambling work in this country.
There’s a little thing called the UIGEA, or Safe Port Act of 2006, which limits online gambling activities. How keeping ocean ports safe has anything to do with internet slot machines, I have no idea, but that’s how we roll here in the States. Anyway, what UIGEA does is disallows US banks to process payments either to or from online gambling sites.
Since 2006, poker lobbyists have argued that poker is a game of skill (I can attest to this), not chance, and therefore should not fall under UIGEA’s guidelines. Many of our nation’s top lawyers agree with this statement, too. But there are people in Congress who don’t. Thus, the LAPD-style, Rodney King-reminiscent arrests today.
That last sentence may or may not be true. I watch a lot of COPS. Clearly, I am easily confused.
This being said, under the law, it’s unclear whether or not it is legal for US citizens to gamble online. It’s still up for debate.
Considering all of the above info., here is where things get a little wonky.
The United States was sued by Antigua in 2007 for violating a World Trade Organization treaty they had with the country, by not allowing people in the US to access their online gambling sites. Antigua said that it wasn’t fair that people in the US could gamble in casinos, but not patronize their businesses by gambling online. Japan and the EU were kinda PO’d about it too, because they also run online gambling websites that people in the US weren’t supposed to access.
Here’s the kicker: Antigua won. The World Trade Organization found that the US had acted illegally.
Yet here we are in 2011, with a failing world economy, and we are actually arresting the people who run the most profitable online poker sites in the world. And these sites are operated off-shore. It’s not like there’s some dude who runs a multi-million dollar online poker site from his mom’s basement in Rhode Island.
I visited each of the three sites, and instead of the homepage, there’s big, bold print from the FBI and DOJ, stating that the domain names had been seized. And anybody who bets online could be arrested too, the notice menacingly conveyed. The FBI and DOJ logos were proudly displayed at the top, you know, to make it official.
I just tried to access the sites again a minute ago, but they’ve been taken offline.
What gives them the right to do that?
“Well, they were laundering money and defrauding banks…”
Nope. I don’t think they were. They didn’t have to. There are plenty of online processors that aren’t based in the US, that processed US credit cards without a second thought. The money was then transferred from them to the poker sites, so the player could fund his/her account.
There is, however, something I forgot to mention.
The government is also suing these three sites for $3 billion.
“And he picked up his hammer and saw.”
The government wouldn’t infringe on the rights of its citizens for mere money. Would it?
It’s not just the money. It’s money and control. It was illegal for them to stop us from patronizing those sites, so they found a way around it. The people who had money in their poker accounts don’t even know if they will get it back.
The government is trying to bluff their way into a settlement, and show us citizens just who has the power to say what’s what. If this case goes to court, the poker boys are gonna win. Antigua did.
And Poker Stars, Full Tilt, and Absolute Poker have way more money than Antigua.