I’m a poker player.
Casino, home game, poker room or online site, I love to play the game. There is something about check-raising somebody out of a pot when you don’t have a hand, or laying down top two pairs because you just know in your heart that you’re beat that is incredibly satisfying.
Oh, make no mistake, there is a lot of luck involved in the game from hand to hand, but to achieve sustained success, one has to have a degree of skill, and be willing to change the style he or she employs at a moment’s notice. It’s a game of observation, statistical odds and a little bit of courage. For example, there’s an old axiom about Texas Hold’em that suggests that the game only takes a few minutes to learn, but a lifetime to master.
There’s truth to that. I’ve been playing poker for years — from five-card draw with relatives to seven-card stud with my buddies in the Marine Corps to massive amounts of Texas Hold’em and Omaha over recent years.
And, as technology has increased all around us over the past few decades, I’ve evolved into playing a lot of cards online. It’s nice to be able to sit on your couch in your boxer shorts and play a quick game, either with friends or strangers from around the world.
Before we go any further, allow me to apologize for that mental imagery of me sitting anywhere in any kind of undergarment. I was simply trying to relay the ease and comfort one can find while playing online, not attempting to burn that image of my rotund self in my undies into your ...
But I digress.
The fact is that it’s convenient to play online. In fact, just a few weeks ago a couple other players and myself were talking about setting up a private game online so we could all play together on a regular basis and not worry about having to drive here or there or miss time with families, or what have you.
And then Black Friday came.
Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, took down the three biggest sites in online poker — Full Tilt Poker, PokerStars and Absolute Poker. There were allegations of fraud, money laundering and other charges, but most involved in the poker community saw this solely as an effort by the Department of Justice to enforce a silly online gambling law put into effect in 2006 that banned American sites from hosting online poker. That bill, as pointed out by Time magazine’s Bill Saporito on Tuesday, “was attached to a must-pass Port Security Act.”
Saporito also wrote that Bharara’s jurisdiction also contains lower Manhattan, home of the New York Stock Exchange, and makes a keen observation:
“But hasn’t Bharara now charged more people (11) for running poker sites that people like and that have harmed few, than he has for causing the financial collapse that has harmed all of us?”
Gambling is now legal in all 50 states. State governments push their lotteries in print, radio and television. Casinos have opened all around us, and there are at least three legal poker rooms within about 40 minutes from our office. Those poker rooms, by the way, play at $1-$2 blinds, meaning a player should buy in for a minimum of $100 to have that 50-blind stack many poker players like to start with in cash games.
A friend of mine, who I didn’t even know was a poker player, posted on his Facebook page the other day that he came home after a long day last weekend and discovered he couldn’t play a $10 tournament online before going to bed. You could buy in for $1 if you wanted to play a microstakes cash game online.
Let’s assume that the Department of Justice is correct in the allegations that these individuals involved in the online poker sites were indeed guilty of fraud and money laundering. Shouldn’t the government step in and regulate this activity to protect its citizens? Couldn’t it use the tax money generated from online poker at a time when everybody is broke?
Or does that make too much sense?