Black Friday: Two Years Later
It's now been two years since the world's largest online poker market was effectively shut down by its own government. The world remains on its head for many American poker players whose dollars remain trapped in the pits of Full Tilt Poker or, even worse, UB and Absolute Poker, as well as for others who have been forced to relocate out of the country to continue their careers.
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For others, the fall from grace as a result of Black Friday has been too much to bear. Former Full Tilt Poker CEO Ray Bitar was granted a plea agreement from U.S. prosecutors in which he will not be required to serve any time behind bars for two felony counts. Bitar's fate is far worse: he was recently diagnosed with a heart condition in which doctors give him only a 50% chance of survival over the next 6-12 months if he does not receive a heart transplant. Bitar has problems and jail is not one of them.
Indeed, the men behind the fall of Full Tilt Poker will not have spent a day behind bars following the prosecution of their crimes. The U.S. proved more interested in taking down the online poker industry than it was any persons responsible for the dissemination of that industry. There was no justice for legitimately inept business managers whose transgressions have wreaked havoc on a vulnerable industry. They received only a slap on the wrist: seizures of just part of their ill-gotten proceeds and a permanent ban from work in the gaming industry. It's a black eye on the world of poker. Those who took the biggest fall were the players themselves.
Former U.S. customers of Full Tilt Poker still have not received their money nor have they been provided an indication for when that will no longer be the case. This is consistent with the pattern of players being the least of anyone's worries (except you, PokerStars) since Black Friday. You could have gotten your Full Tilt money by now if it mattered to anyone.
Poker's long crawl back from Black Friday owes its progress to states like Nevada and New Jersey who have dared to question interpretation of U.S. law in order to create their own frameworks for legal online poker. The game is going nowhere. Competent legislatures would be wise to cash in on that reality. When enough states have legalized the game, the U.S. will be forced to act. Either by waging war on states profiting from the industry or by getting in on the act themselves by regulating it. It might take ten years, but they'll do the latter. The U.S. is a business after all. And Americans want to play poker. Moral authority is on its way out in the U.S. The Republican Party's reserves of political capital are too low to keep up the witch-hunts against moderate activities. People increasingly do not give a damn what anyone is doing in the privacy of their own home. Legal weed has hit some states. The trend in favor of gay rights is reminiscent of the civil rights movement. Poker will get its redemption eventually.
Online poker may never be what it was two years ago. But the game is down, not out. Don't count out online poker for its chances of getting to a place where Black Friday seems like a distant, meaningless memory.