It’s been over a month since the Department of Justice seized five domain names and more than 75 bank accounts in 14 countries utilized by the biggest companies in online poker: Full Tilt Poker, Absolute Poker and PokerStars. This was only the beginning.
Still reeling from the loss of the Big Three, the online poker world recently received another bad beat. On Monday, May 23rd, the Department of Justice seized ten more domains and issued three indictments. Players are referring to this day as “Blue Monday.” One wonders how many more colors will be used before the DoJ is finished with the crackdown.
The DoJ seized a combination of poker, sportsbook and bingo domains, effectively touching the entire gambling community, from yuppies to grandmothers and everyone in between. Their targets included TruePoker.com, Bookmaker.com, 2Betd1.com, Funtimebingo.com, Goldenarchcasino.com, Betmaker.com, Betgrandesports.com, Betehorse.com, Beted.com and DoylesRoom.com.
Texas Dolly proved he is still one step ahead of the competition, as he cut ties with the website just days earlier: “Reluctantly, I have decided to terminate my endorsement contract with Doylesroom.com. It pains me to leave at this time. I have aspirations of reentering the online poker business when the United States Government passes legislation, that officially legalize online poker sites.”
A New Hope
The key to saving online poker lies in regulation. Online poker will never operate in the same facet that it did before Black Friday. The latest attempt comes from Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), who is planning to introduce legislation that would legalize and regulate online poker.
Barton hopes to move the bill through the House Energy and Commerce Committee in the near future. Barton is working closely with the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) to draw up provisions that would grant online players the ability to play online poker, while still adhering to the government regulations and safety restrictions for underage gambling.
Barton believes the current law is unenforceable, and he condemned the government for targeting the deposits made by players. Players’ funds have been locked in their online poker accounts during the ordeal until recently, when PokerStars began allowing American players to withdraw their money following an agreement with the federal government to return its dot-com domain. Players must withdraw their entire balance. Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker are still in negotiations with the Justice Department.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Read (D-Nev.) is said to be very interested in crafting legislation with PPA executive director John Pappas. The PPA has met with more than 100 House members to round up support for a bill.
Republican John Campbell argues that legalizing and regulating online poker would create jobs in the U.S. while protecting players at the same time.
However, it’s not so much that online poker itself is targeted; it is the illegal payment processors used by the companies. The always-crafty Department of Homeland Security created a fake payment processing company called Linwood Payment Solutions. In 2009, they processed more than 300,000 transactions totaling more than $33 million. Linwood processed payments for the companies named in the indictment, as well for the Cereus Poker Network, which includes Absolute Poker and UB Poker.
Poker players struggling to make ends meet
In the wake of the online poker crackdown, many online poker players who depend on the game for their livelihood and that of their families face a harsh reality.
Although the grand majority of Americans saw this as a prohibition on their casual pastime, players like Brian Mogelefsky, who two years earlier left the mortgage company he ran with his dad, now must find a way to make ends meet for his wife and two children. Mogelefsky was enjoying a profitable year in online poker, and was on pace to make $80,000 to $90,000.
“If I was single and on my own it would be a lot easier to deal with, or if it was just like a hobby. But it’s my wife and my kids who depended on me – that’s why it really hurts,” Mogelefsky said.
According to John Pappas of the PPA, roughly 50,000 full-time poker players depend on online play as a major source of income, and they are still wondering if they will ever get the thousands of dollars that are stored in their online accounts.
Players like Mogelefsky understand the risks and condemnation that come with online gambling. Opponents argue that poker can’t possibly be termed a “job,” as the possibility exists to lose hundreds or even thousands of dollars in a day. This is made even scarier by the fact that these players have families to support.
But any full-time poker player will attest that poker is a game of skill, not luck, and that making a steady income is the result of years of study. Now it’s up to legislators if these players will ever be able to make a living from online poker. What are your thoughts? Do you think online poker will be legalized in the United States?