5 Things to Take from the DOJ Indictment
#1. The powers that be do not care about poker.
Since the DOJ indictments, there has been quite an outcry from the poker world calling for legalization of poker and/or an explanation from top government officials for why Americans are being inconvenienced (to say the least) when trying to play a game they love on the Internet. The silence that the poker world has received in response has made one thing clear: elected leaders in the U.S. do not care about poker.
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Last Wednesday, a town hall question and answer session hosted by and streamed on Facebook provided poker players with a great opportunity to get President Barack Obama to make a statement regarding poker. Hundreds of poker players poured onto Facebook to make a DOJ/poker related question one of the most requested questions for the town hall meeting (perhaps just behind marijuana-related questions). The meeting came and went without President Obama being asked any poker-related question. He instead chose to stick to the safe economy and health care related topics he's had a lot of practice answering. The message was clear: President Obama doesn't give a crap about poker. In a way, it's hard not to blame him. Why should he stick his neck out with trying to answer a DOJ/poker related questions when he can just stick to his main talking points? There's no political capital in poker.
One thing the DOJ indictments have taught us is that President Obama does not care about poker and is not about to do anything on behalf of U.S. citizens who like to play the game. Any poker player who is waiting on him to do something is wasting their time. He doesn't care.
Poker's only quasi-ally in Washington with enough pull to get a bill passed is Senator Harry Reid. That's where you need to be looking for a potential miracle, not the oval office.
#2. The PPA is just a disaster.
Over a million Americans have registered with the Poker Players Alliance. While it's important for poker players to have their voice heard in Washington, the PPA has been completely ineffective to date. Look at this video they released in response to the Black Friday incident. It's a guy in a t-shirt talking to a webcam in his bedroom. How many people do you think are going to take that seriously?
In addition to improving on general incompetence, the PPA also needs to change their approach. Encouraging poker players to whine to their elected officials about personal freedoms and liberties isn't working. Politicians don't care about freedom and liberty. They care about money. The PPA needs to shift the conversation to the job creation and consumer protection benefits to legalizing poker. And they need to do it while wearing a suit.
#3. Playing online poker in the U.S. is not safe.
Prior to Black Friday, most online poker players in America played exclusively on PokerStars and/or Full Tilt. Any other sites servicing the U.S. were considered too small and disreputable to be trusted with money. Now with PokerStars and Full Tilt out of the picture, the only option Americans have left if they want to play online poker is to play at one of these other sites. If the DOJ wins their case against Stars/Tilt, they will have a pretty strong precedent to go after these other sites as well. Additionally, payment processing on behalf of U.S.-facing poker rooms is now viewed as an extremely risky venture. Only the dumbest of the dumb and the greediest of the greedy will take on that risk. By playing at these other rooms, you're putting your money in the hands of a lot of disreputable people who could, at any time, be indicted by the DOJ or simply decide to vanish with your money.
#4. Poker will gradually move away from the U.S.
If trends continue and online poker is not fully legalized in the U.S., will it even make sense for the WSOP Main Event to be the main poker event in 5 years? 10 years? At the very least, will online poker games finally start using euros or pounds instead of dollars? Prior to Black Friday, the U.S. was basically the world capital of poker. Each month that passes without legislation in the U.S. is another month where the country's grip on that claim weakens.
#5. This thing is far from over.
One thing that is very clear at this stage in the game is that the dust is far from settled. There are still months or even years of legal battles yet to unfold from these indictments. In a statement last week, Full Tilt said, "Mr. Bitar [an owner who was indicted] and Full Tilt Poker believe online poker is legal - a position also taken by some of the best legal minds in the United States. Full Tilt Poker is, and has always been committed to preserving the integrity of the game and abiding by the law."
Included in the statement was a quote from Mr. Bitar: "I am surprised and disappointed by the government's decision to bring these charges. I look forward to Mr. Burtnick's and my exoneration."
These comments from Full Tilt are not passive in nature. They imply a somewhat strong possibility that the company plans to fight this indictment. A quick and easy settlement seems unlikely at this juncture.
Additionally, despite an agreement made last Wednesday with the DOJ to begin reimbursing U.S. players, both PokerStars and Full Tilt are yet to get that process underway. Alarmingly, Full Tilt claimed in a statement, "As a result of the recent enforcement action, there exists no authorized U.S. payment channel through which to make refunds; Full Tilt Poker has no accounting of the millions of dollars of player funds that were seized by the government; and the government has not agreed to permit any of the seized player funds to be returned to the players."
That statement suggests that, despite clear approval from the DOJ to begin reimbursing Americans, Full Tilt, and possibly PokerStars as well, could still be a long way from completing that process. PokerStars stated in an email to players attempting to cashout, "In response to this update, the Cashout Option in the PokerStars Cashier will be temporarily unavailable to allow us to prepare the technical solutions and formulate the plan and processes required to allow you to cash out your balance."
Translation: we'll pay you when we can but we don't know when that will be.
On an FAQ page for U.S. players, PokerStars states, "Cashouts for US residents are expected to be available within several weeks."
Pop a bag of popcorn and have a seat. This dilemma is far from over.