At the PPA rally on Tuesday, it was revealed that Representative Joseph Barton (R-TX) will introduce a bill that would repeal the UIGEA and declare poker a game of skill, not chance. I don’t want to stop getting my hopes up every time one of these poker savior bills are talked up. But there have been many (Rep. Frank’s bill, for example…), and none have panned out. Frankly, none have come close. It’s almost like a parent stringing a child along knowing full well that she is not going to buy the kid the G.I. Joe aircraft carrier. (Sorry, wrong blog.) Still, I can’t prevent myself from getting excited every time I hear of one of these bills. It’s just so darn promising, in theory. It’s that hope that comes from the promise of the unknown. And while intellectually I know all of these bills are long shots, I can’t help but hope this is the one that pans out. So here’s to hoping, and to never giving up on the collector’s edition Millennium Falcon.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder testified today at a Department of Justice hearing held by the House Judiciary Committee. Basically, he punted on all major issues. But it was nice to see that he testified that there is at least some skill in poker. Better yet, it was great to hear multiple members of the Congress bombard him with pointed questions. Let’s keep up the PPA’s push and persuade even more Congresspeople to push the internet poker agenda. Public enemy #1 was killed. Time to kill poker enemy #1.
On Thursday, the PPA is organizing a rally outside of the Washington state capitol building. The purpose is to protest the state’s harsh anti-online poker law. If you’re in the area, or want to fly in for it (the PPA is covering much of the cost, include hotels), stop on by. I’m sure your support will greatly welcomed.
The PPA has reported that Representative John Campbell (R-CA) is set to introduce legislation to Congress that would license and regulate internet poker. The bill, drafted in conjunction with Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), would eliminate the 15-month blackout period and tweak other provisions of previously introduced legislation. Rep. Campbell is not a complete newcomer to this field. He introduced an amendment to Rep. Frank’s legislation last term that would, among other things, enhance protections against underage gambling. His amendment was approved by a voice vote. While this is a very early development, it is a positive development nonetheless. Get excited! Even if it is an emotional rollercoaster.
As every poker-playing Seattle resident knows, it is a felony(!) to play online poker in Washington state. An intrepid man named Lee Russo has been engaged in a multi-year war to end this injustice. He has not been successful, including a recent loss at the Washington Supreme Court (which is the highest court in the state). After what he and the PPA call “long and careful consideration,” he has decided not to appeal further. This marks the end of any short-term hope of overturning the law through the judicial branch. Can’t fault the guy. His next “best” option was to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. And his chances of having that appeal heard, let alone winning, are about as good as sucking out for that inside straight-flush against quads by hoping there’s a misdeal and that exposed card needs to be reshuffled back into the deck. Basically, they are not good. At least Washington has live poker. More than can be said for some states. (New York comes to mind…)
Ahead of the mid-term elections this November, the PPA, via its political action committee, PokerPAC, has released a list of the 58 Congressional candidates it is endorsing. Check out the list here. If poker legalization is high on your priority agenda, and since you are reading this site I’m guessing it is, you may want to factor into your voting decision whether your candidate is on this list.
As you’ve probably heard by now, 6 poker players from Illinois, including some top players, are being sued by a Florida resident to recoup gambling losses. The Plaintiff, Scott Crespo, alleges that he is entitled to not just the money he lost to these players, but to the money (and other forms of damages) any player lost to any of these six players. He pins his action on an Illinois statute that states that “If within six months, such person [who] is entitled to initiate action to recover his losses does not in fact pursue his remedy, any person may initiate a civil action against the winner.” Crespo claims that a house located in Illinois that at least some of the defendants reside in is a house of illegal gambling — hence his hook to use Illinois law. Crespo claims also that the defendants colluded when playing online. Let’s talk about some of the obvious and perhaps less obvious ramifications of these allegations.
First, the general claim that any person is entitled to recover from any person that won money as part of an illegal gambling engagement. The statute, similar to the one being litigated in Kentucky, seems designed to allow private citizens to police certain actions when the state and/or directly aggrieved person does not prosecute itself/himself. This method occurs occasionally in other areas of the law. Deterrence of the underlying ill — i.e., the gambling — is the ultimate objective. With regard to the use of such a method in the gambling context, frankly, no legalese is needed. The whole thing is just absurd. If you voluntarily sign on to a poker website, voluntarily deposit money, voluntarily register for a tournament, voluntarily play that tournament, and lose, you should not be allowed to recover the money you lost fair and square, let alone the money other people lost (others who engaged in the same voluntary acts, and likely many of whom hail from countries in which gambling is unquestionably legal). Kind of reminds me of the bank commercials that make you think how would a 5-year react? I’m guessing little Timmy would say this is BS. Still, the law, antiquated as it is, is on the books and the lawsuit must be taken seriously.
Second, Plaintiff Crespo alleges collusion. I think we all realize this is a different ball of wax. Merely alleging cheating gives online poker a bad name. If it actually is true, and provable, aside from the kick to the gut our game will suffer, Crespo may have a stronger legal claim. Cheating is cheating, and the law is designed to punish cheaters. But ponder this: Crespo will be asking the courts to punish cheating in a game he claims ultimately is illegal. Would the Illinois court be willing to parse the happenings of a game that itself is or, at the very least, may be illegal? To analogize, would the Illinois courts be willing to punish operators of underground craps games for using weighted dice? I’m guessing the courts would not venture into this legal gray area. There is a more devastating scenario, however. What if the Illinois court does not want to operate in a gray area, so it deems a determination of whether online poker is legal necessary to its decision and then holds online poker to be illegal? This, obviously, would be a significant setback for the legalization movement. Heck, even stating in dicta (dicta is a statement by the court that does not have precedential value, but which the court wishes to make) that online poker likely is illegal under Illinois law could have a calamitous effect in terms of the momentum it could give to online poker opponents and/or the potential that it could be cited by future court decisions as persuasive thought.
Bottom line, the 6 defendants are not enjoying this weekend. And until we know more about this lawsuit everyone in the online poker world — especially those living in Illinois – should pay close attention to it because you never know when someone might attempt to use the statute to recover losses from a tournament you won. Then again, those of us that never win are safe. But every poker player always wins, right…, so maybe we’re all in trouble.
Stay tuned for more posts on this story as it develops over the coming months.
Argument in South Carolina before the state Supreme Court over whether poker is illegal gambling took an unexpected turnwhen prosecutors reversed their stance and conceded that casual poker, such as the penny ante home game, is not illegal gambling. The state still holds that organized gambling for profit is illegal. The turn of events is designed to make the state’s previous argument — that all poker is illegal — look less farcical. South Carolina is hoping that by focusing on the particular acts at hand in the immediate case, and the more “seriously” organized games generally, it can convince the Supreme Court that at least certain forms of poker should be deemed illegal.
This appears to be a dangerous strategy. Where do you draw the line between casual and non-casual? Is conceding that some forms of poker are legal detrimental to the broader argument? By conceding that the penny ante home game is legal, is the state ultimately conceding that all poker is legal? Related, it is fair to assume that the players are more skilled in the higher limit, more organized games. If this is so, then the state effectively is arguing that the games with more “skill” are the ones that should be illegal while the all-in non-skill friendly fests are legal. Strange. Valid? We should have the answers fairly soon.
As you may have heard by now, the U.S. federal government is considering requiring financial institutions to record the from where and to where details of EVERY electronic transfer. This would be an immense burden on the banks. Putting aside the downside of how the banks would pass the cost on to the consumer…many in the poker world are nervous that this proposed law would spell the end of U.S. online poker, because the banks would know exactlywhich transactions are related to online poker, and thus violative of the UIGEA. This is a legitimate concern.
But there is another view espoused by at least one author/group. That view is that the proposed legislation would actually help poker players. The thinking is that since the original purpose of the UIGEA was to counter illegal drug and terrorist activities, by being able to mark the online poker transactions separate from potentially drug/terrorist-related activities, online poker may be spared a crackdown. In other words, the federal government will know which transactions are for online poker, but not enforce the UIGEA for those transactions.
I am not ready to endorse this theory. But it is interesting, and certainly worth passing on for thought. If nothing else it reminds me that sometimes even the worst situation can have unintended positive consequences. (Kind of like misclicking “raise pot” with nothing and your opponent folding.)
PokerStars, the world’s largest online poker site, has banned all real money play from residents of and visitors to the State of Washington. PokerStar’s complete statement and a little more color is included in Cardplayer.com’s description of this major development. The gist of PokerStars’ reasoning is that in light of the recent Washington Supreme Court ruling, it is clear that the state criminalizes online poker and, more to the point, that the questionable legality of the issue no longer is in doubt. At least to the level that PokerStars feels comfortable taking the risk. (Another factor in the site’s thinking likely is the potential that the U.S. will legalize online poker in the next few years, and the rumor that sites that operated illegally prior to that time will be banned.)
Clearly, I disagree with the decision by Washington. However, I do not disagree with PokerStar’s decision. While tragic for Washington residents and anyone considering a move to Seattle to rekindle grunge, it’s pretty much a no-brainer for a mega company like PokerStars. The revenue from Washington, I assume, is a drop in the bucket of its overall U.S. revenues. To risk significant civil — and criminal — penalties to earn that revenue (which may decrease anyway as a result of the effect of the law on the average player) would be foolish from a business standpoint. Have no doubt, PokerStars is a company concerned primarily with its bottom line; it has no grander moral agenda.
If you’re sitting at home in Olympia waking up and reading this for the first time, sorry. But at least take solace in the knowledge that your money is safe (you still can withdraw funds) and if you ever decide to move from your parents’ home to another state you’ll be free to continue playing (just need to prove a change of residence to that new state).
And if you have a friend who lives in Washington, do not pm him for a heads-up game on Stars. That’s just cruel.