Could this be my last "Online Poker" column? On Friday night September 29th, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn) sneakily attached anti-online gaming legislation to the non-partisan Port Security Bill. "Gambling is a serious addiction that undermines the family, dashes dreams, and frays the fabric of society," argued Frist. Weeks earlier, the online gaming industry survived a close call when Frist unsuccessfully attempted to attach the gaming legislation to the defense spending bill, which was never passed. As online poker players were on the verge of celebrating a massive victory, Frist rivered a one outer. He demonstrated why he's one of the most powerful men in politics when he added the anti-online gaming language to the weak Port Security Bill knowing that any politicians who dared to vote against that bill would be labeled unpatriotic, especially with midterm elections coming up.
The result was immediate confusion and uncertainty for online poker players. Late Sunday night, Party Gaming announced that they would close Party Poker to all American players, who generated 78% of their revenue. When the London Stock Exchange opened the following Monday morning, shares of Party Gaming plunged 58% and lost over $3 billion in value in a single trading day.
"This development is a significant setback for our company, our shareholders, our players and our industry," said Mitch Garber, CEO of Party Gaming. Financial analysts suggested that the ban on online gambling companies from operating legally in the United States would force several companies out of business. In order to compete, several smaller companies would have to consolidate while the larger companies would have to alter their business models. The American player pool was by far the largest source of income for the online gaming industry. And inside of a few days, a $10 billion industry was crippled in a single blow orchestrated by right-wing conservative American politicians.
Various online poker sites scrambled to address the situation. Party Poker, Cryptologic, and Titan Poker closed business to American players. Full Tilt and BoDog openly welcomed Americans, while companies like Poker Stars and Paradise Poker adopted a "wait and see" approach. Most of the industry players are telling their American clients to carry on with business as usual as they wait to see how the situation unfolds over the next 270 days while the enforcement procedures are being designed.
I'm not an attorney, but according to the lawyers in my home game, the language in the bill does not specifically state that playing online poker is a criminal act. The onus is placed upon the banks to police transactions to and from online gaming sites and third party financial intermediaries such as Neteller. For the average online poker player that leaves an extremely grey area on how you can fund your poker account and how to access your funds when you request a withdrawal. I predict that eventually the bigger sites will pull out of the American market for fear of their employees and owners being arrested and prosecuted by the federal government like such gaming industry executives as David Carruthers and Peter Dicks. But that does not mean Americans will stop playing poker. Americans drank during prohibition, right? Hippies passed around the peace pipe in the 1960s, right?
"Poker is an 'American tradition' loved by over 70 million Americans and deserves the same free pass that was provided to horseracing, state lotteries, and fantasy sports. We deserve another deal," Michael Bolcerek, president of the Poker Players Alliance said in his reaction to the recent legislation.
So what does this mean to you online poker players? If you are not a member of the Poker Player's Alliance (www.pokerplayersalliance. org), I suggest you stop by their website and join up today. In the meantime, stay tuned for updates and enjoy the next few months of playing online because the future doesn't look too bright.