I was driving home from work on Friday when I got the text:
pokerstars execs indicted
domains seized by fbi
I didn’t believe it at first. But I checked the news and sure enough, the day that online poker players had always feared was finally upon us. The government had shut down the three biggest online poker sites, effectively ending online poker in the U.S.
While online poker is perfectly legal in most countries, it has been a gray area in the U.S. since 2006, when the SAFE Port Act was passed. It was mainly about port security, but an online gambling measure was added at the last minute. It essentially said, “Well, we don’t know if online poker is legal, but if it’s not, then it’s illegal for banks to process transactions for poker sites.”
Some poker sites stopped accepting U.S. customers altogether. Others were willing to let them play, but the problem was how to get money into their accounts. Since most payment processors didn’t want to get involved in this legal gray area, the poker sites had to find people who would. And they figured that as long as they were forced to do something a little bit illegal, they might as well do something a lot illegal.
That amounted to bank fraud and money laundering. The funny thing is that that’s really all this is about. No federal court has ever ruled that online poker is illegal.
I can’t really defend money laundering, but the government could just fine the individuals responsible instead of shutting down the whole industry. Really, the same government that couldn’t be bothered to prosecute the perpetrators of the financial meltdown has decided that they’re not going to let people play cards?
Looking at the tables on PokerStars, I see players from Russia, Chile, Argentina, Taiwan, Canada, China, Australia, Portugal, Spain, Poland, Israel, United Kingdom, Germany, Greece, New Zealand, Mexico, Ukraine, Costa Rica, Colombia, Brazil, Serbia, Czech Republic, Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Estonia, Denmark, South Korea, Norway, Honduras, Paraguay…basically the whole world, except the United States.
Why don’t we have the same rights as people in these countries? What happened to the land of the free? Regardless of whether you happen to like poker, this is not a good precedent. Millions of people have lost a beloved hobby, and some people have lost their dream job.
What’s the point of trampling on this harmless pastime? The government couldn’t stop alcohol, and they can’t stop poker either. They’re just going to push it underground, missing the opportunity to regulate and tax it.
I’m going to go to work tomorrow (if software development is still legal), punch my time card and make a living without poker. Yes, I’ll survive, but the roses will smell a little less sweet, knowing I’ve lost this shot at the American Dream.