If you are reading this blog, then I expect that you have heard the news about the US Department of Justice charging PokerStars, FullTilt, and Cereus Network (parent of Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet) with a host of crimes including fraud, money laundering, operating an illegal gambling enterprise, and I'm not sure what else. You can read the actual indictment here and the civil suit here (links copied from Pokerati). Lots of bloggers have posted their thoughts on what is going on and may be to come. CK writes a very readable summary of the legal aspects as well as her reactions; Pokerati has a lot of good information or links to it; and there are plenty of others out there for you to search for. Here are a few random comments, observations, and questions from me.
*I have active accounts at three poker sites: PokerStars, FullTilt, and Bodog.
Right now, I can log into PokerStars but I cannot join any cash ring game or register for any tournament which has a "real money" prize or is a satellite to such a tournament. The only thing that appears to be available to me there is play money games. I can't register for an FPP tourney or even a freeroll if it ends up with some sort of tangible prize.
I can't log into FullTilt at all. When I try, I get a message that a software update is available. When I try to accept the update, I get a message that the update could not be retrieved and I should try again later. (I have been getting this message since yesterday, so I don't know how soon I will be able to log into FT, if ever.)
I have no trouble logging into Bodog. They aren't included in the current indictment, and they appear to be operating as usual. Interesting side note: Bodog's website has no mention of the recent developments. I can't say I'm totally surprised; what are they going to say? No doubt they don't want to call undue attention to themselves, so I suppose ignoring it for now is as good a strategy as any.
*Although the dot.com domains for PokerStars, FullTilt and Ultimate Bet have been seized and redirected to a DOJ information page, the dot.net domains for those companies are still available. I have to wonder if the DOJ really wants to shut these companies out of the US market completely if they are leaving the dot.net domains alone (at least for now). Perhaps they concede that they can't legally seize a website if it says all over it that it only offers play money games and no real money play.
*Will this change increase the player base of the online subscription poker sites like ClubWPT.com which appear to be legal in the US? That would seem to make some sense, since the serious online players are going to want to have someplace to ply their trade. I don't have any plans to pay $19.95 a month to join ClubWPT; I don't play often enough in my spare time to make it worth that kind of expense. There is a way to get around the monthly subscription fee, by sending a post card every month; I don't know whether I will go to that trouble or not at this point, but I may try it once to see how it goes.
*Will televised poker shrink due to loss of advertising by the major sites? Probably so, especially in the near term. But the TV producers can always try to find new sponsors for the shows. They will just have to sign up other companies that want to reach the poker-viewing audience. PokerStars' show The Big Game seems likely to take a big hit since the whole premise is to bring an online qualifier onto the show to play against the pros. With no US players eligible to play for the spot, where will the contestants come from? Canada, maybe?
*Without the hundreds of online qualifiers to fill seats, the World Series of Poker could very well see significantly lower turnouts this year and in future years, depending on how everything shakes out. Besides the US players who would have won packages to the WSOP from the major online sites, there are almost certainly players who would have used money from their online bankrolls to pay their way to the big dance. The bright side for the people who do play in the Series is that they won't have fields as large to contend with.
As a small stakes recreational player, this ruling doesn't have a huge effect on my life. I certainly have enjoyed the ability to log on and play whenever I wanted, and will miss it to some degree. I feel for those whose livelihoods have been disrupted by this development. I don't have the faintest clue how all of this will evolve, but it is obvious that things have changed greatly, and most likely permanently, for online poker players in the US.
Meanwhile, my plans to play in the Seniors event in this year's WSOP have not changed to speak of. For quite a while it looked like I was going to abandon the idea, due to some upcoming family stuff. But in looking at the big picture again, it still appears that getting my first WSOP experience under my belt this year is going to work out better than waiting for some future time. I've looked again at airfare, hotel rates, etc. and will probably firm up my plans soon. Once it is all set, I will post more info in hopes that I can meet up with any fellow bloggers or friends that might be in Las Vegas while I am there.
More coming soon....