Just as the 2009 World Series of Poker got underway in Las Vegas and poker players the world over were focused on the action there, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York was making a grab for funds involved in online poker transactions. More than $30 million was seized through several banks at the behest of Assistant U.S. Attorney Arlo Devlin-Brown because the funds "constitute[d] property involved in money laundering transactions and illegal gambling offenses." And the poker community held its breath.
The online gambling websites involved, which included Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars, immediately reimbursed their players by funding different accounts and giving bonuses to affected customers. But there was a bigger issue at play, and the somewhat random seizure of online poker-related bank accounts was not going without a fight.
It took nearly a month until action was taken, but on July 10, it was announced that Account Services, a company that facilitates the transfers of funds between online poker sites and customers, filed a Motion for Return of Property. Account Services was victimized by the seizure for approximately $13 million, and they not only wanted the money returned out of pure rightfulness, but the company contended that the funds were seized illegally, as the warrants were not in place for the grab and procedures were thusly violated.
Within days, the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) took its own steps to get involved. While it has little, if any, legal standing to become a party in the case, the poker advocacy group does represent more than 1.2 million poker players who pay dues to the organization. On that basis, the PPA filed a motion with the Southern District Court of California to participate in the case as amicus curiae, or "friend of the court," in the Account Services proceedings. And when Judge Jeffrey T. Miller ruled that the Account Services hearing would be set for August 21, 2009, he conjunctively ruled that the PPA will have standing to file an amicus curiae brief if done by August 7.
In response, PPA Executive Director John Pappas noted, "As the voice of online poker players, PPA should be granted the opportunity to provide evidence and legal briefings on why online poker is a game of predominant skill and not considered illegal gambling under the law. Recent rulings in Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Kentucky and Colorado all affirmed that poker is a game of skill. PPA was actively involved in representing the rights of the poker players in each of these cases and should be able to do so at the federal level. Any action contesting the government's seizure of players' funds will help protect the rights of U.S. internet poker players, and we will explore every legal avenue to ensure that our members' voices are heard and their rights are protected."
The presence if the PPA in the Account Services case can only set a precedent in other cases that are sure to arise as other companies proceed down legal avenues to request the return of their seized funds as well. As courts recognize the PPA as a representative of poker players and accept the argument that poker is not illegal gambling but a game of skill, there is a better likelihood that the politicians will follow the subsequent court rulings and repeal the UIGEA. As the PPA increases its efforts to work with Congress and the courts to push for legalization of online poker, it needs the help of the poker community.
Visit www.thePPA.org to get involved by contacting members of Congress and participate in actions on the local, state, and federal level. The voice of the people will save online poker.
Jennifer Newell is a compulsive writer. In addition to Poker Player Newspaper, she writes for numerous publications and blogs at Pokerati.com as California Jen. In her little bit of spare time, she plays poker, too. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.