The Government Is All-In: The United States Misses the Mark with Online Poker

Craig RondinoneCorrespondent IApril 24, 2011

Phil Ivey will be putting in long hours at the casinos now.
Phil Ivey will be putting in long hours at the casinos now.Ethan Miller/Getty Images

“Black Friday” is not associated with hysterical holiday shopping anymore.

A new “Black Friday” was christened on April 15, and this was a day there was nothing to be thankful for if you were an avid online poker player. 

It was a day when the Department of Justice, long known for its brilliant ideas—holding the 9/11 terror trial in New York?—decided to put a full-court press on poker that John Calipari would have been proud of.

Owners and associates of the three most popular online poker sites in the world—Full Tilt Poker, Poker Stars, and Absolute Poker/Ultimate Bet—had charges brought against them, ranging from money laundering to fraud to illegal gambling. 

Sadly, no charges were filed for untimely two-outers or for forcing Razz on unsuspecting novices. 

So now the online poker world has more problems than Nicolas Cage’s public relations person.  U.S. players are excluded from playing online poker for money, so somewhere between 25 and 40 percent of the market will no longer be at the virtual tables.

Most other countries have no such problem with poker, so their citizens are still free to play at the sites that have prohibited Americans from playing.   

Politicians will tell you that they want to put a dent in the United States’ astronomical debt.  But if that was truly the case, why not legalize online poker and rake in millions and billions in tax revenue from it?

Politicians will tell you that they want to create more jobs and cut down on unemployment.  But if that were truly the case, why put millions of professional online poker players out of work?  Now you are adding to the unemployment problem, as these card sharks will look for regular jobs.

For those who prefer to keep playing poker as their full-time job, now you are chasing them away to other countries where online poker is legal, so having Americans flock to other countries does not do our economy any good.

And what about the other people employed because of the poker?  Poker writers, poker magazine editors, poker television producers, poker merchandisers, etc. 

Now many of them will be out of work as poker-related businesses will surely slice their payroll in the wake of this financial fiasco.   

Politicians (mostly Republicans) will tell you that America is about freedom, that they despise the “nanny state” that President Obama and his fellow Democrats desire, that they want you to be allowed to eat what you want, drink what you want, do what you want, because you should be afforded the opportunity to live your life the way you wish. 

But if that was truly how they felt, why won’t they allow adults 21 years and older to play poker for money online?  They can do it in a casino.  Eighteen-year-olds can play the state lotteries.  There are horse and greyhound racetracks in several states. 

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Why won’t the government, who has their hands out more than Terrell Owens does when he runs pass patterns, stick their tax-filled fingers in the online poker pool?      

The best poker players can hope for is that this is just a Vancouver Canucks-like power play by the government.  Maybe this is the way politicians plan on clearing the way for the legalization of online poker, by kicking out the competition. 

With Full Tilt, Poker Stars and Absolute/Ultimate tied up in courts and having their businesses stripped, the door swings open for U.S. casinos to create their own online poker rooms that the government can back. 

Many Congressmen have been in the corner of the casinos that have been whining because online poker has supposedly been hurting the turnouts in their poker rooms, so theory holds water.

But does legalizing and regulating online poker just make too much sense for the people we have voted into office in Washington, D.C.?  And can casinos run online poker rooms better than Full Tilt and Poker Stars? 

Note: I am purposely not including Absolute/Ultimate because of their well-documented problems in the past with NOT running their poker rooms correctly.         

So if you were either a recreational or professional online poker player, what are you doing now?  Your options have been limited to (A) taking a sabbatical and waiting for online poker to get regulated, (B) taking your skills to casinos and home games, (C) writing or calling your state politicians and raising more hell than Phil Hellmuth does when an amateur beats him out of a big pot, and/or (D) quitting poker and taking up a new hobby like coin collecting, skydiving or spending time with your family.

I live in New Jersey.  I frequent Atlantic City once a month.  Maybe now I will visit their every three weeks and organize a couple more home games to fill in the gaps online poker’s indefinite hiatus has created. 

But I am lucky in three respects.  I live near a casino.  I have friends who play poker.  And I do not play to make a living.  Millions of others are not as lucky. 

Let’s hope the government realizes that regulating online poker will do more help than harm.  But judging by what I have seen recently and in the past, the chances of that happening are about as good as the chances that Mike Matusow will shut up and Doyle Brunson will ditch his cowboy hat for a fedora.