By Shari Geller and Lou Krieger
While the Justice Department and the under-attack poker sites have issued a number of statements regarding the government’s crackdown, which we discussed in part one of this series, reaction from the poker community has run the gamut of absolute silence (primarily by some sponsored pros) to loud protestations. In this article, we will look at a sampling of quotes from some interested observers of the poker scene.
What the Poker Community Has to Say
"On behalf of the millions of poker players across the country, we are shocked at the action taken by the U.S. Department of Justice today against online poker companies and will continue to fight for Americans' right to participate in the game they enjoy," said former Senator Alfonse D’Amato on behalf of the Poker Players Alliance in a news release. "Online poker is not a crime and should not be treated as such. We are currently gathering all of the information around today's announcement and will offer detailed analysis when the full facts become available."
The PPA’s Executive Director, John Pappas, said of the indictments that they are “Nothing less than a declaration of war against online poker and the people who play it.” He went on to say, “The DoJ’s action serves as a wake-up call to poker players across the country that the basic right to play online poker is in serious jeopardy. We simply cannot miss this opportunity to protect our rights as American citizens. Now is the time for poker players to speak up in defense of this great game through as many outlets possible.”
Michael Waxman, executive director of an industry trade association, stated, “At Safe and Secure Initiative, we've always fought to give every American the right to gamble online. Since the government is seeking to crack down on the freedom of the internet, we need Congress to act more than ever now to legalize and regulate the activity. This is a major development that will bring more attention to this issue. I hope it encourages Congress to move more quickly, especially as concerned Americans look for answers and a solution.”
Annie Duke, poker pro and sister of Full Tilt Poker’s Howard Lederer, “Still mulling over what happened Friday. Obviously, my brother is top of my thoughts. Also thinking about the impact on friends, players, poker media & all the related industries that will be negatively impacted by the events.”
Phil Hellmuth, who, like Duke, had parted ways with Ultimate Bet in December, said little about the events of Black Friday, other than this tweet: “Upset that the three major online poker sites in the USA were shut down on "Black Friday?" THEN DO SOMETHING: http://theppa.org/takeaction/”
His sentiment was echoed by poker pro, WSOP bracelet winner and back-to-back NAPT Mohegan Sun winner, also a Yale Law School student, Vanessa Selbst who said, on Twitter: “Freaking out will not help!We need2get online poker legalized NOW.The past is the past,let's look to the future http://www.tweetforpoker.com”
Providing another sober voice of reason was Phil Galfond who used Twitter to say: “...Whatever is gonna happen is gonna happen. All we can do is try to voice our support for online poker, and then wait and see. Everyone is panicking too much (Tho I understand). We are extremely likely to be paid our $. I'll guarantee $1m in payouts from FTP/Stars”
The name and face behind Doyle’s Room, Doyle Brunson, tweeted humorously shortly after the announcement: “Now maybe we will see if these online "superstars" can play real poker. Ante up suckers!” But after some people seemed not to appreciate the smack talk, Brunson added: “I guess when u have almost 400,000 followers, u had better be careful what u tweet. Does anyone in their right mind think I don't feel bad about Black Friday and all the people it affects? Good God, I represent an online site. I just made a point about playing live.”
PokerStars pro Daniel Negreanu, not known for his reticence to talk, responded to his relative quiet following the announcement of the indictments, saying via Twitter: “Not ignoring #BlackFriday and as much as I’d love to discuss it, I’ve been advised not to for now. As soon as I can, I’ll add my two cents.”
Full Tilt pro Tom “Durrrr” Dwan, using Twitter to take a swipe at Absolute Poker/Ultimate Bet, tweeted, “Clearly it makes sense to seize Stars n Tilt n UB at the same time b/c 2 of those companies are providing a service while trying to operate in a market which the DoJ is (anti-constitutionally) making it difficult to operate in, and one of them is a complete fraud of a company.
Speculating on how Black Friday might affect attendance at this year’s WSOP Main Event, 2004 winner Greg Raymer said, “If I was actually putting a number to bet on, I would say more like somewhere in the low 5,000′s. If you made me pick a number because you were going to bet either over or under, it would be something like 5,250.”
PokerStars Pro Dennis Phillips said on his radio show The Final Table on KFNS 590 Radio, noting first that he couldn’t discuss the matter in depth, said “I think this is horrendous for poker, in the short run at least. I think it’s horrendous for the players that make a living online. I think it’s horrendous for the freedom that every one of us should enjoy here in the U.S. The fact that gaming of some sort is legal in almost every all 50 states. The fact that lotteries are run in state after state after state…I would be willing to bet there’s not ten percent of congress hasn’t played some poker and for them to deny us this freedom is… it’s just wrong.” But ending on a positive note, he added, “I don’t want people to overreact, thought. This too shall pass, as they say.”
Poker Pro Jon Friedberg took to Twitter as well, first summing up what most poker players felt, saying, “Sad and scary news.” Then, not three hours later, commenting on how rapidly and profusely rumors began to spread about what the indictments meant to poker, tweeted, “Funny to watch the beginnings of many false rumors. So many believers-of-everything in the poker world. Get a clue.”A few minutes later, adding “Everyone just relax and wait. Panicking will resolve nothing. Things will get sorted out and everyone will get their $$$”
Miscellaneous Interested Parties Weigh In
Steve Wynn, who had only recently announced entering into a partnership with PokerStars, released this statement following Friday’s news: “Wynn Resorts Limited announced today that it terminated its alliance with Poker Stars, the online poker company. The decision was reached as a result of the indictment unsealed by the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York.”
A representative from Fertitta Interactive, which had entered into a deal with Full Tilt Poker to operate a site through their Station Casinos, in announcing that the deal “had expired,” read a prepared statement that said “The deal between Full Tilt Poker and Fertitta Interactive was contingent upon the passage of Federal legislation legalizing internet poker, our own internal due diligence, and a finding of suitability for gaming licensure.”
Chuck Kidd, owner of the newly announced Poker Pros Network and also a payment processor located in Costa Rica said on the QuadJacks.com radio show, “I know the guys who were involved and what they did was they conspired to create bank fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, credit card factoring and they got caught. They bet the house that they wouldn’t get caught, and they got caught.”
Bluff Magazine’s Eric Morris said on The Final Table radio show on KFNS 590, believes that poker will go on. “These guys didn’t get arrested or indicted for creating poker sites. They got arrested for the money laundering and for basically fraud at the banks… for buying banks, which is blatantly illegal. These guys acted somewhat recklessly. … No one really knew about this, about how they got processing. No one really asked questions, ‘cause we were able to get out money in. I’m a little upset at the sites right now because this could have been avoided. This is too reckless. They should have known this was coming. The DOJ been investigating these sites for several years now and I think around a year ago they said they were going to go after them. That would have been my first clue to make things kosher.”
Taylor Caby, owner of CardRunners, an online site offering poker coaching and instructional videos, told the New York Times that despite the indictments, other sites would continue to offer poker to US players.“There are plenty of other sites that are still facing the U.S. market,” he told the paper. “None of them had the reputation that the ones that were indicted have. [But] people will move to sites that will take their action.”
Lawrence Walters, a lawyer who represents online gambling operations, said “This appears to be a precedent-setting case,” Mr. Walters said. “It will be the first time the Department of Justice takes on the looming question of whether federal law prohibits online poker.”
Law professor and gambling law expert I. Nelson Rose said, on his website, “If the allegations are true, the operators brought this on themselves, by lying and bribing bank officials." Yet, he doubts that this will be the end of online poker in the US. "Even if there was a bribe, the feds are still going to have to prove that the poker was illegal... Will this be the end of internet poker? Did Prohibition end drinking?"
ESPN, after officially canceling its coverage of the 2011 North American Poker Tour (presented by PokerStars.net), released the following statement: “We are aware of the indictment only though what has been announced publicly. For the immediate future, we are making efforts to remove related advertising & programming pending further review.” But as far as their extensive coverage of the WSOP, a network spokesman told the media, “The plans have not changed.”
Minister of Finance for the island of Antigua and Barbuda, Harold Lovell, whose country successfully fought the US in front of the WTO over online poker called the DoJ's recent action “a clear contravention of international law.” He added, “I am not aware of any other situation where a member of the World Trade Organization has subjected persons to criminal prosecution under circumstances where the WTO has expressly ruled that to do so is in breach of international law.”
Finally, Chad Elie, one of the indicted defendants apparently said, “I do,” shortly after his arrest on Friday. According to sources, that afternoon he married his Playboy Playmate girlfriend at a ceremony at the Little Church of the West in Las Vegas.