Saturday, January 20, 2007

The next step in the evolution of on-line poker

NETeller has stopped processing money transfers to and from on-line poker rooms for US players. This is obviously a huge blow to those of us in the US that used NETeller to move our money into and out of the sites where we play. It is also a huge blow to the poker sites themselves, who will have a much harder time keeping their existing US players or getting new ones to sign up. Other funds transfer services either already have stopped dealing with US players or are likely to stop soon.

Bill Rini has posted a couple of very good articles on how bad it looks for the future of on-line poker for US players and for the industry in general. The subject appears to be the main topic of discussion among on-line poker players today. Here are a few personal thoughts of mine.

I have maybe $300 tied up in poker sites right now. I know that is peanuts compared to the bankrolls that some players have out there, and I am fortunate that I don't need to have access to that money. One goal that I set for myself at the beginning of 2007 was to build my roll by winning, and without making any more deposits. Well, it looks like winning is my only option for increasing my balance now. But you know what? I will take this as a challenge to myself. If I want to keep playing on line, then I will have no choice but to play well enough to sustain, if not build, my bankroll. I know it won't be easy, because variance can be a bitch. If I can succeed at this, then I will feel a real sense of accomplishment.

There are still the play money games. Yeah, the players at them usually suck, and they aren't the best place to improve one's skills. But they are a place to enjoy the game without worrying about whether I will have to launder any cash to play.

But what does the future hold for on-line poker as a business for US players? Here is an uninformed and naive idea. The UIGEA is a Federal law, and it says in it, as I understand, that it doesn't preclude state laws on gaming. So what we need is for one or more of the states here to allow on-line poker, and then have some companies set up shop for players in that state. You may say, if they can only allow players in one state, will it be worth their while? I expect that the answer would be yes. I'm sure there would be some initial investment, but it doesn't seem far-fetched to me that running an on-line poker site is not that costly and could make a nice profit even with a more limited customer base.

But which states might take this step? The two most likely candidates that I see are California and Texas. California already recognizes poker as a game of skill and has legal cardrooms. Because the cardrooms can't expect that everyone in the state who would like to play can physically come to their B&M sites, why not take the games on line and attract more customers? I can see this as a big opportunity for the California poker rooms to lobby the state government to allow them to open on-line versions of their rooms, and pay the requisite state taxes of course, making the state happy.

Texas is bordered by two states that have legal casinos, Louisiana and Oklahoma. Thousands of Texans travel to these states to play poker and other games, taking their money with them and leaving it outside Texas. There has been some discussion of allowing casino gambling in Texas, to keep that revenue here, but no bills have ever gotten very far in the legislature. If we can get the sentiment moving in that direction, though, I think a case could be made to allow on-line poker as a first step. Texas is a place where poker is well known and has a rich history. It makes sense, to me anyway, that an on-line seed for it could be planted here.

I fully understand that this whole scene is much more complicated than I just described. There is the possibility that a carve-out for poker could be developed for the UIGEA. The idea of individual states allowing on-line poker may never fly. But I want to remain positive that, in the long run, there will be a safe, legal means for us to play poker on line for real money. I think that the creative and determined minds in the poker and business communities will find ways to make it happen, eventually. Meanwhile, I will play however I can and continue to enjoy my favorite game.

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