Friday, October 13, 2006

Considering the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, Part III: Prophets and Profits

Crazy Ralph thinks we're all doomed . . . The picture there is of Crazy Ralph, of course. The one who runs around telling everyone in Friday the 13th “you’re all doomed.” He says he’s a messenger of God. Don’t know what made me think of him today.

Oh, right. Bush signed the Safe Port Act into law this morning. With some sort of internet poker thingy attached to it, I believe. (Although in the speech Bush gave upon signing the Act, he didn’t bother to mention the attachment.)

Anybody else hear anything about that . . . ?

It was two weeks ago today (or tonight) that the UIGEA was pushed through Congress. By Sunday, October 1st we had already heard that Gibraltar-based (home of Pacific Poker) had decided to disallow American players. In their statement, they said they would “continue to seek clarification of the overall U.S. legal position to determine whether and to what extent, if any, resumption of participation by U.S. customers is feasible.” However, they also stated that, at present, “no assurance can be given that this will be possible.”

On Monday, October 2nd came the bombshell from the highest-volume online poker site, Party Poker (whose headquarters are also in Gibraltar). They issued a statement explaining that “After taking extensive legal advice, the Board of PartyGaming Plc has concluded that the new legislation, if signed into law, will make it practically impossible to provide U.S. residents with access to its real money poker and other real money gaming sites.”

On that same day a statement from Nolan Dalla, then director of communications for PokerStars (headquarters on the Isle of Man), appeared over on Poker Player. In the statement, Dalla revealed that following the advice of his lawyer he had just resigned his position with PokerStars. He then analyzed the Act and speculated about its possible consequences. His outlook is especially bleak, and, given his affiliation with Stars, it appeared certain that the second-largest online poker site would be following Party’s lead.

By mid-week, CryptoLogic (of which Interpoker & Sun Poker are skins) was out. (CryptoLogic is currently run out of Toronto, Canada, though plans to move to Ireland in January 2007.) Their statement included reference to a new marketing strategy aimed at non-U.S. customers. “Since 2001, CryptoLogic has been shifting its business to Europe,” said their President and CEO. “While the new U.S. developments will be a challenge for the whole industry, our company’s diversification, strong balance sheet, thriving European customers and potential new business in emerging markets enable us to face the future with confidence.”

Cyprus-based Titan Poker also announced they’d be pulling out of the U.S. In an email to a customer, Titan’s poker room manager explained how they did well in France, Italy, and Spain, and how they already received 50% of their traffic from non-U.S. players. Other smaller sites (VIP Poker, CelebPoker, Bet Fred -- all located outside the U.S.) followed suit, similarly choosing to concentrate on non-U.S. customers. As the VIP Poker statement notes, “it is the view of the Board that following enactment of the Legislation it will no longer be appropriate for the Company to serve U.S.-based customers and that the Company should focus solely on its existing U.K. and Italian businesses.”

My impression is that for each of these companies the decision to pull out of the American market was primarily a business one, made more for financial reasons than out of apprehension that the American government would somehow be able to prosecute any of them. I’ve read rumors about Party’s CEOs wishing to be able to travel to the U.S. without having to fear they might be picked up by the feds as they deplane. PartyGaming earned $661.9 million during the first six months of 2006, a 51% increase over the same period a year ago. Party Poker alone brought in nearly $3 million a day to the company, with over three-fourths of players being U.S. residents.

It’s hard to imagine giving up such a huge part of one’s customer base simply to be able to visit America once in a while. Sure, there are some nice beaches and that Grand Canyon is something to see . . . but that’s a hell of a lot of cabbage. I think it much more likely Party and the other sites are thinking long-term here, willing here to take (an admittedly brutal) short-term hit in order to reassess and move forward.

(Incidentally, those figures came from the latest issue of CardPlayer magazine -- the one that arrived on my doorstep day before yesterday. Obviously the issue was printed and shipped prior to Sept. 29th. Seems almost quaint, now, to read such a celebratory article about PartyGaming’s seemingly-unstoppable growth.)

Other sites say they’re staying put. Full Tilt Poker, Absolute Poker, and Ultimate Bet -- all Canada-based -- are staying in. Bodog (licensed in Costa Rica, Canada, and the U.K.) will continue to take U.S. players. So will Planet Poker and Doyle’s Room (both headquartered in Curacao of the Netherlands Antilles). And, of course, PokerStars has also made clear its intention to continue serving American customers.

Like the sites that say they are shutting out American players, these sites also speak of having spoken with lawyers who have advised them that for all its bluster the UIGEA cannot touch them. PokerStars declares the Act “do[es] not alter the U.S. legal situation with respect to our offering of online poker games.” Ultimate Bet says it is their “strong belief that poker is a game of skill and therefore is not encompassed by this law.” Full Tilt also claims “online poker is not encompassed by this new legislation” and promises they “will continue to lobby for an express carve-out for online poker and for your right to play a truly American game from the privacy of your own home and computer.”

While I certainly don’t believe we’ll be seeing any sort of “carve-out for online poker,” my impression is that these sites who have chosen to stay the course are -- as we sometimes say in poker -- at least playing their hand correctly. Doesn’t mean they’ll win, of course. But they are right, in my opinion, to call the U.S. government’s big bet here. No reason to fold just yet. Nor do I think American players need necessarily worry too much about the short-term (i.e., the next couple of weeks). Their money is safe, I believe, particularly in these established sites. And the UIGEA does not in any way suggest that players could ever face the “criminal penalties” outlined toward the end of the Act (i.e., fines and five-year prison terms).

Nevertheless, all the fuss does make it slightly more challenging to concentrate at the tables. I've read a few threads on the 2+2 Forums where folks are describing how uncertainty about the future of online poker is starting to affect their games. Can’t say it has specifically bothered me as yet, although since I have cashed out most of my money (leaving only enough in Stars and FTP to play my usual $0.50/$1.00 limit games), I do feel as though many of my options (including moving up in stakes any time soon) have been taken away at present. As wrote about in the last post, I do think this Act is going to create more hassles -- and perhaps some unexpected surprises -- for American players over the coming months.

It's a little like having Crazy Ralph constantly circling us on his bicycle, telling us over and again how the site were on has a “death curse” and so forth . . . . Sure, we all know he’s bonkers. According to the locals, every time that loony gets drunk, he gets his calling . . . .

Still. Be nice to play a few hands without all the drama.

Image: still from Friday the 13th (1980), Amazon.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Considering the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, Part II: Eliminating the Middle Man

To sum up the previous post, then . . . (1) Congress identifies several activities as examples of gambling (or a “bet or wager”) in the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, including “a game based on chance”; (2) No matter how much skill is involved, poker is always going to be regarded by the powers that be as “a game based on chance” and, therefore, a form of gambling; (3) I agree that poker is gambling, though I don’t agree that it should be made illegal (online or elsewhere).

Reading the analyses, surfing through the forums, and listening to the podcasts, one starts to realize a lot of people are simply echoing each other. A common refrain is that laws about online gambling have not changed here; rather, the Act simply outlines ways to enforce existing laws. I think that is mostly true, but not entirely. The fact is, while this reference to “a game based on chance” might seem innocuous at first glance, it does bring poker into the discussion. I. Nelson Rose claims that “The Act does not expand the reach of the Wire Act.” Allyn Jaffrey Shulman says “The new bill does not make online gaming illegal where it was not illegal before.” I believe both are underestimating the significance of this new, expanded definition of “bet or wager.” Those who are going to enforce this law -- and perhaps even those who interpret the law in court -- are going to include poker as an example of an activity prohibited by the Act.

As bad as that seems, what the Act says about actually enforcing laws prohibiting online gambling is even more worrisome. The UIGEA outlines measures to make it very difficult for American players to transfer money to and from online poker sites located outside the United States.

The Act outlines the responsibilities of “designated payment systems” (meaning banks, credit card companies, or any other money transfer system). These systems are here given 270 days from the date the bill is signed to implement measures to stop money from going to online gambling sites. Just how banks and credit card companies can monitor every single transaction in this way is unclear -- many observers have noted how impractical it would be to do so. (In truth, few Americans were sending money directly from their banks or credit cards to online poker sites anyway -- I certainly haven't been -- so this provision shouldn’t have much effect.)

The Act also speaks of “financial transaction providers” and places a similar onus on them not to help facilitate the transfer of money from Americans’ bank accounts to online gambling sites. Here the Act is referring specifically to third-party vendors like Neteller and Firepay. Rose wonders why such vendors -- all located outside of the U.S. -- would feel any obligation to comply with U.S. regulations. Shulman makes the obvious point that the U.S. government cannot arrest anyone in another country who breaks a U.S. law. Nevertheless, Firepay -- run by Canadian-owned FireOne -- has already announced that ten days after Bush signs the Act into law, they will no longer allow U.S. consumers to transfer money to or from online gambling merchants.

So . . . we have some poker sites still in operation. Full Tilt Poker made a statement they would remain in the game even after the Act becomes law. Poker Stars finally made a similar announcement last night. And Neteller has also said that since "it is currently unclear . . . how a European company, with no assets, presence or employees in the U.S., would be affected by this bill," that for them it shall be "business as normal."

So we’re okay, right? Business as normal, right? Shuffle up and deal . . . !

Hold on. There’s one other nasty little passage in this here Act that may prove to be the fly in the ointment. That mean little subsection about “interactive computer services,” a.k.a. Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

In part (c) of section 5365 (“Civil remedies”), we learn that federal agents can force ISPs to block access to online gambling sites, and even access to sites that link to online gambling sites. There it says the responsibilities of ISPs will be limited to “the removal of, or disabling access to, an online site violating section 5363 [i.e., an online gambling site], or a hypertext link to an online site violating such section.” It also says that the Act does “not impose any obligation on an interactive computer service to monitor its service or to affirmatively seek facts indicating activity violating this subchapter.” In other words, unlike banks, credit card companies, other “designated payment systems,” and even some “financial transaction providers,” the Act does not say that ISPs are going to have to police themselves. Nor does it say the ISPs are liable at all if their patrons are accessing such law-breaking sites.

Now on the face of it, this might seem harmless. ISPs don’t have to block sites unless the feds tell them to. So why should we worry? I can think of two reasons.

For one, the feds may well start telling them to. Again, a federal agency may have an easier time herding cats than tracking down each and every ISP hosting a site linking to an online gambling site. But given the letter of the law, I would not be at all surprised if we start to hear of some instances of this enforcement occurring. And woe to those of us affected.

Secondly, should the feds exert enough pressure on ISPs, we could possibly see some police themselves even though they haven’t been ordered to do so. This would be a most unfortunate turn of events. This might seem unlikely, but it wouldn’t be that different from what we have already seen with several poker sites (e.g., Party Poker, InterPoker & other Cryptologic sites, 888, Sun Poker, Titan, etc.) and now even a popular third-party vendor (Firepay).

I envision very little (really, no) recourse for the online player who suddenly discovers he cannot access his favorite online poker site. I also see the potential for problems for those who operate as affiliates to poker sites, and even sites like this one that provide links to online poker sites. If the ISP hosting this blog was told by federal agents to pull the plug on Hard-Boiled Poker -- or if the ISP decided to do so on its own -- there’s not much I could do about it. (Except perhaps go all "hard-boiled" and no "poker" . . . .)

Taking the law at its word, I will be able to link to sites like Interpoker and Party Poker that refuse U.S. customers, but if I were to link to any of those section 5363-violating sites like Full Tilt and Stars, my hosting ISP could be told to (or decide on its own to) block access to my site. Ironically, I could only link to sites where I cannot play, and not to sites where I do.

Eliminating the middle man like this is actually a common plot element in hard-boiled fiction. Usually sets up larger, more direct showdowns between the hero-shamuses and the villains later on. It won't take long, I think, after tomorrow's signing of the bill for us to see how effective this tactic will be for the feds. Then we'll see some real fireworks, perhaps even in the courts . . . .

Hopefully all of my fretting here is needless. But, like I said, we’ve seen some pretty extreme -- and utterly unexpected -- reactions already. In my final post considering the UIGEA, I want to address some of these responses -- the different ways poker sites have reacted to the passage of the Act and its imminent signing.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Considering the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, Part I: "A Game Subject to Chance"

Previous iterations of the UIGEA contained a section designed to update the 1961 Wire Act. The 35-year-old law specifically prohibits anyone from taking sports bets over the telephone (or “wire communication facility”). That law refers to “bets and wagers” both in a generic way and with regard to a “sporting event or contest.” My understanding is the law is also primarily aimed at folks who try this sort of thing across state lines. In other words, once the Wire Act came down, the poor sap in Idaho who routinely called in his football bets to Vegas was no longer able to do so.

There are two ways the old Wire Act doesn’t quite address online poker. One, it isn’t clear whether the internet is to be understood as a “wire communication facility.” Two, it has yet to be determined in a court whether “bets and wagers” includes something like poker. According to Allyn Jaffrey Shulman of CardPlayer, a case was brought before a District Court judge back in 2001, and that judge determined the Wire Act in fact did not apply to online gambling (including poker).

Nonetheless, the Attorney General’s office of these here United States continues to maintain in a blunt, non-specific way that the 1961 Wire Act indeed makes online gambling illegal. And when they say gambling they mean poker, too. Incidentally, the Attorney General -- Alberto Gonzales -- is the government’s legal advisor. He is part of the executive branch of government. That’s the branch that enforces the laws (not like the legislative branch that writes the laws, or the judicial branch that interprets the laws). Even though the Attorney General often has a lot of influence over how laws are interpreted, he doesn’t get to interpret them.

Back in 2003, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft sent his deputy assistant, John Malcolm, over to the Senate to tell them that online gambling was a problem, particularly because it made it easier to launder money. According to Malcolm, the growth of online gambling sites (including poker sites) represented a “great concern to the United States Department of Justice, particularly because many of these operations are currently accepting bets from United States citizens, when we believe that it is illegal to do so” (emphasis added). The Attorney General's office can "believe" whatever it wants to about how to interpret a law, but in reality the courts get to decide such things.

When the UIGEA was revised late last week and rammed through Congress, the section attempting to update the Wire Act (to include transactions via the internet and to revise “bets and wagers” to include other kinds of gambling than betting on sports) was removed. What was left behind does include vestiges of that section of the Act, including a passage early on that defines a “bet or wager” as “the staking or risking by any person of something of value upon the outcome of a contest of others, a sporting event, or a game subject to chance.”

So the version of the Act that passed through Congress doesn’t exactly take care of the whole “can we regard the internet transactions the same way we regard transactions made over the telephone” question. (Although its references to “interactive computer services” does address this issue -- more about that in the next post.) However, this version does contain this somewhat tangential reference to other kinds of online gambling -- which, depending on your point of view, may or may not include online poker.

Some groups -- such as the Poker Players’ Alliance -- continue to argue poker should not be regarded as “a game subject to chance.” On their website, the PPA insists poker is “a skill game.” Indeed, over on the 2+2 Forums there was an inspired post and discussion hoping for a “poker carve-out” in a lame duck session of Congress that would make an exception for poker.

Nice idea. Ain’t gonna happen, though. The fact is, the authors of the Act and (many of) those who voted for it are thinking primarily here about online poker. They unflinchingly see it as “a game based on chance.”

This is the only part of the Act with which I agree.

I’m not saying I like it. Nor am I saying that the Act does an unambiguous job of amending the definition of “bet or wager” to include poker. But I have to agree that poker, while a “skill game,” is also most certainly “a game based on chance.” How about a quick for instance . . . ?

Last Friday, late afternoon. I’m sitting in the BB with ThJc. (Again, 6-max limit HE, $0.50/$1.00.) First two players fold, the cutoff limps, and the button raises. The SB folds. I call the raise, as does the limper, so we’ve got three to the flop ($3.25 in pot).

The flop comes QhJs Tc and the action is on me. Big Slick may be lurking. (I’ve written before about players making “the Big Slick assumption” about preflop raisers.) Or a set of queens. Actually, though, I’m thinking I’m probably good here . . . for now, anyway. The button has shown he’ll raise from late position with less than premium stuff, and the limper has been gunning for almost every pot. I check it, the limper bets, and the button just calls. The button could be slowplaying something big. Or not. I check-raise, figuring (1) I’m probably still good, and (2) if I’m not, I might be able to determine that right here. The limper calls, then the button reraises. Uh oh. Hello Big Slick. I call, as does the limper, so now the pot is $7.75.

The turn is the 9h, a card I did not want to see. Even before the limper bets and the button raises, I was certain I was no longer in front. Now I’m caught in the chip sandwich -- if I call, I’m probably looking at more raises and ultimately putting in four bucks to see that river card.

Now I am capable of folding a hand like this, but this time I decided to chance it. That’s right. I made a conscious decision to continue with a hand where I knew I was an underdog and did not have pot odds on my side. I’m hoping for a jack or ten on the river -- four measly outs (and, in fact, I can’t be certain any of them actually give me the nuts). As I suspected would happen, the betting was capped on the turn, so I ended up contributing $4.00 into what had now ballooned to an $19.75 pot. Playing like a donk here, odds-wise, since I’m taking an 11.5-to-1 longshot while getting not even 4-to-1 on my money.

The last card came . . . Jd. Sweet sassy molassey. Your humble donkey bet out, was called by both players, and scooped $22.25 (giving fifty cents to the rake). Knowing full well I’d rivered them both, I didn’t even bother to look up what they had until today. Limper had 8hKd for the second-best straight. Button indeed had AcKs. Showing he’s a good sport about such things, the button typed “nh” to me. I responded shame-facedly: “not really, but thx.”

(Feel free to file this one in that growing folder of "Rat, River, Shamus Is A" we've been building here over the last few weeks.)

Poker is gambling, let there be no doubt. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say poker involves gambling -- to a greater or lesser degree, depending on how one approaches the game. Good players tend not to take the “worst of it” like this very often. But even those who never stay with hands unless the odds dictate they should are still playing “a game based on chance.” Big Slick capped the betting on the turn knowing there might be at least a few river cards that would take his money away. The CardPlayer Hold ’em calculator says he was over 90% to win or tie going to the river. But that still means he could lose. He, too, was playing "a game based on chance."

In Anthony Holden’s 1990 book, Big Deal: Confessions of a Professional Poker Player, Holden offers early on to explain why poker might be considered more of a “skill game” than other forms of gambling. “The difference between a gambler and a poker player is a crucially simple one,” writes Holden. “A gambler, be he one who bets on horses or sports events, on casino games or raindrops running down windowpanes, is someone who wagers on unfavorable odds. A poker player, if he knows what he is doing, is someone who wagers favorable odds. The one is a romantic, the other a realist.”

Nicely put. Note, though, that both are wagering. Both face odds -- i.e., there’s a chance both might lose.

I’m a poker player. I’m also a realist. That’s why I believe our new definition of “bet or wager” -- lovingly bequeathed to us in this here UIGEA -- is always going to refer to poker as another "game based on chance."

In the next post I’ll talk a bit about what the Act says about “interactive computer services” (or ISPs) and how I think that part of the Act is gonna affect us American punters. Perhaps more than any other.

Photo: “Honest Abe” (adapted), jeff_golden. CC BY-SA 2.0.

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Sunday, October 08, 2006

Considering the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, Preface

First page of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement ActNow that I have moneys back in Full Tilt Poker, I was able to pony up the buy-in for my first Ante Up Intercontinental Poker Series (AIPS) event yesterday -- Event No. 5, 6-handed NL Hold ’em. Not as versed these days in the multitude of strategies needed to succeed in no limit tourneys. Still, I was somewhat satisfied with my performance (finishing 23rd out of 51 entrants). Didn’t embarrass myself, at least. Was bounced by the eventual winner, in fact, when he won a duel with ace-king versus my pocket jacks. Win that coin flip and I’m middle of the pack at least with that final table not too far in the distance.

Aside from the very first hand of the tourney -- when I was dealt pocket kings (and won a whopping 105 chips with ’em) -- I didn’t see much of anything in the way of premium hands until those jacks came around nearly an hour later. Still managed to keep my stack level by stealing blinds now and then, then built it up a bit via a couple of fortunate flops and some fortunately-timed bluffs. Looking back through on Poker Tracker, I see that in the 88 hands I played prior to the last hand, I never lost more than 350 chips on a single hand, and never won more than 650. Talk about small-pot poker. I certainly played tighter than is probably recommended for a short-handed game. Like I said, I was out of my element a bit . . . . Still, a lot of fun. I may try one or two more events here before they finally award that big banana trophy on November 4th.

Meanwhile, I’ve been looking through all of the forums and whatnot in an attempt to educate myself a bit about the impending legislation. 2+2 remains the place to go for up-to-date info. You can waste some time on certain threads, but it isn’t hard to find good reporting over there. I've listened to several of this week’s podcasts as well. Ante Up! and Pocket Fives were both particularly informative. I recommend both of ’em to anyone wanting updates and/or analyses of where things stand at present. I've read I. Nelson Rose’s analysis of the Act, the response of Allyn Jaffrey Shulman (of CardPlayer) to the Act, and even the Act itself -- i.e., Article VIII (pages 213-244) of the Safe Port Act, titled the “Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act.” Hell, I’ve even read Bill Frist’s victory speech-slash-column offering his view of what he managed to engineer in Congress that night.

I think I now have some idea of what is going on, and even some clues about what might be happening down the road. This week I’m going to write three posts in which I’ll offer my thoughts about the Act and what it means. I’ll also be speculating a bit about how I think it might further affect my ability to play online poker (and keep a poker blog, for that matter).

The first post will talk about how the Act tries to redefine a “bet or wager.” What was passed on September 29th is a version of the Leach Act (which was a revision of the Goodlatte Act) minus that section attempting to update the 1961 Wire Act to include more than just sports betting. Even though the attempt to update the Wire Act was taken out, there remains in this new Act an attempt to redefine “bet or wager” to include not just sports betting, but also “risking . . . something of value upon the outcome of . . . a game subject to chance.” As Nelson Rose explains, that phrase “a game subject to chance” is specifically meant to include poker.

The second post will concern that part of the Act that discusses “Interactive computer services” -- a legalistic way of referring to Internet Service Providers (or ISPs). It is notable, actually, that the former name of the Act -- the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act -- was revised last week to become the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. The new version of the Act that Congress passed is mostly about how to enforce what some believe to be preexisting laws forbidding online gambling. One of the mechanisms described concerns federal agents being able to order ISPs to remove internet sites that are transmitting money to gambling sites. ISPs can also be ordered to block sites with hyperlinks to gambling sites (such as the one you are reading right now).

In the third post I’ll try to assess how various poker sites reacted to what happened in Congress last week. No one saw that coming, it seems. I imagine that Bush will have signed the Act into law by the time I post that one, so we may have even more news by then to consider.

In the meantime, I’m still playing . . . . In fact, I’ll be talking about one crazy hand in particular in my next post, one that I think helps to address this notion that poker is, indeed, “a game subject to chance.”

Image: Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006.

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Friday, October 06, 2006

Looking Up

The week has certainly ended more agreeably than it began. Full Tilt Poker sent us all a message reassuring us (1) the Internet Gambling Enforcement Act does not criminalize playing poker online (knew that) and (2) that FTP plans to remain up and running regardless of when or whether the Act is finally signed by President Bush (didn't know that). As the folks at FTP “firmly believe that online poker is not encompassed by this new legislation,” they plan to continue to provide us American players (and everyone else) a place to play our favorite game.

I promptly pumped a small amount back over into FTP in order to continue playing on the site. Meanwhile, I continue to build my (now short) stack over in Stars as well. (Not gonna go back to Party, as they’ve made clear their plans for us Yanks once the shoe drops.) As long as sites are not shutting us out, I’ll keep playing. Every day, if I can.

The rollercoaster of a week got me thinking about how we all reacted to the news over the past few days. For me, Party Poker’s announcement was the most grievous to hear. Given their status as the most popular site, I mistakenly assumed most if not all other sites would follow their lead. Now I’ve become slightly less ignorant about the difference between publicly- and privately-owned companies (and the distinct pressures each face). Party, as a publicly-traded entity (its shares are exchanged on the LSE), has worries that privately-run sites (e.g., Full Tilt) does not. Not fretting over weak-kneed shareholders who might pull their moneys at a moment’s notice can embolden one, I imagine.

How we each individually responded probably says at least something about how each of us plays the game, actually. I imagine tighter players who disdain risk were more apt to respond with pessimism, whereas the looser, gambling types were more willing to shrug off the news as an easily-negotiable bump in the road.

Now I can get aggressive in a 6-max low limit game, but as I’ve established here before, I tend to avoid the big risks if I can. Thus when I heard the news about the sneaky dealings in the Senate on Friday, my instinct was to envision a worst case scenario. The various site announcements on Monday did nothing but fuel my feelings of gloom. A bit like limping into a family pot with 4d4c, then seeing a flop of QhJhTh. Horrendous. Can’t wait for the action to get to me so I can let it go.

It got checked around, though. And now the turn is a 4s. And suddenly I’m interested again . . . .

But like the pessimist who looks both ways before crossing the one-way street, I’m proceeding with caution.

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

Bush to sign Internet Gambling Enforcement Act into law on Friday the 13thAn announcement relayed over on the Pocket Fives website now tells us Bush will be signing H.R. 4954 -- the so-called “Safe Ports Act” that contains as an amendment the Internet Gambling Enforcement Act -- into law on Friday, October 13th. Well, ain’t that killer?

In the meantime, I might well stick a few more funds back into Full Tilt Poker with which to reanimate my angry chicken avatar. I’ll stay with Stars for awhile, too. I suppose I’ll be letting the Party go on without me.

I’m a little bummed because I missed out on Party Poker’s September reload bonus that expired earlier this week. Having heard the news that Party would be cutting off us Americans, I decided not to take advantange by making a deposit (on 10/2), fearing the plug would be pulled before I would have been able to play the requisite number of hands. Now I see I could have made it. Sort of like laying down your club flush draw on the turn, then seeing that fifth club appear on the river after you’re out.

Even though neither Stars nor FTP have made their plans known, I still think at least Stars likely will be cutting us Yanks loose once the Act is signed. Less sure about FTP, but I ain’t too optimistic. I’ve seen some of these movies. For most of the cast, they usually don’t end well . . . .

Image: Friday the 13th - The Final Chapter (1984) (adapted), Amazon.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Uncertain Future

Shamus peers into the uncertain future . . . Played a short while today. Won a couple of bucks. Frankly wasn't really into it all that much. Ended up going ahead and cashing out on over on Full Tilt. Am leaving funds in Stars at present. Started over there, so I’ve got some loyalty I guess.

Have read various reports, several which say Bush is signing the Act into law tomorrow (Wednesday) at noon. Neither Stars nor FTP have made their plans public, but it seems unlikely one will be willing to go it alone here. I could be wrong, though.

Risking becoming overly maudlin here, but click here to listen to the Hard-Boiled Poker theme song (a.k.a., “Lonnie’s Lament” by John Coltrane, from one of my favorite of his albums, Crescent). Just waitin’ and seein’ at the moment . . . .

Photo: Tom Neal from the 1945 film Detour, public domain.

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Monday, October 02, 2006

Apocalypse Now?

Played a much more reasonable number of hands this afternoon over on Stars -- 110, to be exact -- and in fact won the same amount I earned the other night playing the fifteen hundred (just over $27). Running really well as of late. Caught some cards today. Also had a couple of bleeders at the tables . . . always helpful. There was the “Dadgummit I'm gonna raise me twelve straight hands and see what happens” guy on one table. Then there was the “What the hell I’ll call down with this here bottom pair ’cause the dude leading out might be insane” guy. (God love ’em all.) Also felt like I was reading the table well, value betting where appropriate, letting go of hands at the right time, etc. On top of the world, as it were . . . .

Too bad the world appears to be ending.

Today most of the sites came forth with official statements regarding the surprise late night passage last Friday by the Senate of the dreaded Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (formerly known at the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act).

I spoke with Party Poker’s customer support today and was informed that the moment President Bush signs the Act into law, American players will no longer be able to play on the site. The customer service representative confirmed for me what I had already read in the statement issued by Party Poker earlier today:

“After taking extensive legal advice, the Board of PartyGaming Plc has concluded that the new legislation, if signed into law, will make it practically impossible to provide US residents with access to its real money poker and other real money gaming sites. As a result of this development, the Board of PartyGaming has determined that if the President signs the Act into law, the Company will suspend all real money gaming business with US residents, and such suspension will continue indefinitely, subject to clarification of the interpretation and enforcement of US law and the impact on financial institutions of this and other related legislation. Access to PartyGaming's online gaming sites for the Group's US free play customers will be unaffected. Access for all of PartyGaming’s non-US customers will also be unaffected.”

The use of the subjunctive there -- “if” Bush signs the Act into law -- is wishful thinking. As sure as a full house beats a flush, Bush will be signing the Act into law. And soon. In other words, the party is over. I’ve already cashed out . . . all but the 46 cents they kept, having rounded my request to the nearest dollar. I’ll consider it a tip.

Another site on which I sometimes play, Interpoker, informed me today that the bonus toward which I was working is no longer available to U.S. players. No matter how far we had progressed on these new player and reload bonuses and/or rewards, they’ve all evaporated into thin air as of now. I haven’t written about Interpoker before, but I do enjoy the site. It hasn’t the traffic of the larger sites, but the software is about as smooth as any I’ve experienced. They have a good selection of games and tourneys, and customer support is always available via phone and (with relative rapidity) via email. So I do recommend ’em to non-American players. But not to us Yanks.

Cryptologic, the corporation that owns Interpoker, has also announced they “will not take wagers from U.S.-based players.” Their statement sounds as though they have already stopped allowing Americans from playing on the site; however, I spoke with their customer support today and they, too, are allowing players to continue to play until the Act is signed into law. The very nice customer support representative told me she wasn’t sure what the plan was once Bush signs the Act, but she thought it very likely they, too, would cease allowing Americans to play on the site. So I’ve withdrawn from there as well. Account balance = $0.00.

In their statement, Full Tilt Poker essentially says they’re not commenting on the situation at present. They “do not expect any immediate impact from the legislation,” citing the 270 days that banks and credit card companies are being allowed to respond to the new law once Bush signs it. Neither has Poker Stars committed to any position regarding the future for American players. Says Lee Jones, the Poker Room Manager for Stars, “We have not made a decision one way or another as regards closing our American accounts.”

Not too long ago, I had nearly emptied my Full Tilt account and pumped those funds over to Stars in order to maximize the WCOOP reload bonus. So I’ve only a pittance sitting over there. I have more in Stars and will probably leave it there for the time being.

It is quite remarkable how few seem to have anticipated the poker sites’ response to the Senate passing the Act. On forums and podcasts there were frequent references to the part of the Act that disallows online gaming sites from accepting payments via U.S. banks & vice-versa. Most commentators characterized such restrictions as largely impotent, given the fact that most American players use Neteller, Firepay, and other (non U.S.-based) third-party vendors to transfer money to the sites. Few seemed to have worried much at all about the part of the Act that places a so-called “burden” on internet service providers to block online gaming sites, perhaps with good reason. In their earlier commentary on the Act, CardPlayer called that latter part of the act “an unenforceable nightmare for all involved.” I still think they are right on that score. I genuinely cannot imagine federal agents actually coming to get ISPs for allowing access to poker sites. Or poker blogs, for that matter . . . .

But not once did I hear or read anyone discuss the possibility that has actually occurred -- that the poker sites would back down by blocking American players. I’m sure someone on the 2+2 Forums somewhere along the way floated this possibility, but I never read it. Nor did any of CardPlayer’s many commentaries even suggest this might happen. Indeed, Allyn Jaffrey Shulman’s article from July 12th now sounds hopelessly naïve on the entire subject. There Shulman confidently wrote “I will reiterate what I have predicted every year for about the last 10 years. My prediction is that no law will pass in 2006 banning online gaming. The attempts are more complicated but no more feasible than they have ever been . . . .” So much for that prediction.

As mentioned in the previous post, the 2+2 Forums' “Legislation” section is a good place to keep up with the latest news. Once Bush drops the big one and signs on the dotted line, we’ll have a better idea what is left of the online poker landscape.

Meanwhile, has anyone seen where I put my gas mask and duct tape . . . ?

Photo: “The End Is Nigh,” Alma Ayon. CC BY 2.0.

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