There are a few passions in my life, and one of them is playing poker. Even if you don’t play on a regular basis, or have never played at one of the online sites, there should still be a little outrage over the way our government has stepped in and banned these online games.
If you are a poker player living in the United States, and I use the word united loosely, you are forbidden to play for money online. It’s been a little over a year now since Black Friday, the day the FBI seized a number of high profile poker site domains. Since then, legislation has been brought up to legalize poker over the Internet. The government wants to license and regulate it. Sorry, but does that sound like a good idea? Seriously? Do we really want the same people that were behind the Freddy/Fannie meltdown implementing poker legislation? I think not.
With licensing and regulation, who stands to benefit? The consumer? Yeah, I’m sure that’s who they have in mind.
When I logged into my favorite poker site, Party Poker (http://fi.partypoker.com/) and deposited $10, I could play for a week or more on that. Some call it gambling, I call it entertainment. These days players in the U.S. are not allowed to deposit money, or play in money games at these poker sites. Most everyone else in the world can, just not the good old U.S. of A. You can of course play the games with no money involved, but the U.S. players are forced to sit on the sidelines and watch when it comes to real money poker games.
Here’s the problem I have with the government stepping on my toes, on yet another aspect of my personal life, and pursuit of happiness. In a word, fairness. Let me explain.
It struck me this week just how hypocritical our government was on the issue. They attacked the largest poker sites, yet left places like Facebook unchallenged. Yes, I know Facebook is not a poker site, but they do offer several poker games. Zynga Poker is one such game, and guess how they make money? Instead of depositing money into an account like customers do at the poker sites, Zynga lets you pay for a number of chips. You don’t have to of course, and there’s not a chance in hell of you winning your money back. But, people pay for these virtual chips anyway. That’s their business model. And it’s a safe one too, because Facebook is a U.S. company that pays taxes.
If you were to dig a little into this crackdown on poker, you would find that it’s not really about poker at all. Or so they claim.
The reason, say’eth the U.S. GOVT, is because of money fraud and laundering. It has absolutely nothing to do with poker or gambling at all. Right. I’ll grant you that at least one poker site shut down as a result of this, crackdown on fraud, might be feasible. The rest however were providing a service that customers wanted. This is a billion dollar industry by the way. With the popularity of the World Poker Tour and others on television, the sport skyrocketed into iconic status. Names you had never heard of before, like Phil Helmuth, Phil Ivey, Daniel Negreanu, Chris Moneymaker, they all became heroes and giants in a sport that was once the only means of avoiding starvation for the traveling gambler.
Our government didn’t like the way its citizens were depositing money into foreign accounts. Well, what company in their right mind would want to open an online poker business based in the U.S.? Can you imagine the taxes you would have to pay? I mean seriously! The popular online places to play like Party Poker, Poker Stars, and others, were incorporated in much friendly tax places.
But, the American people were forbidden to deposit money into those accounts. The workaround was the problem. It’s considering laundering when your money goes from you to a middleman, then to a foreign source. In other words, if you incorporate your business say, on a tax free island, and then you open a physical bank or online entity that will take deposits for you, then you are breaking a U.S. law. This is why the poker sites were shut down.
It’s a great excuse, because technically these sites were breaking the law by taking payments drawn from U.S. funds. But, and I can’t stress this enough, those are OUR funds. What are they protecting me from? Myself? Thanks, but I don’t need a nanny telling me where to spend my allowance, which by the way is getting smaller and smaller thanks to them.
I believe, and I could be wrong, that our government wanted a piece of that billion dollar action, and shutting these sites down due to that laundering law just happened to be the most convenient, and already ON THE BOOKS LAW that they had. They knew that they would not have a consensus, or the American public’s support to start taxing online gambling. The American people would not have stood for it back then, considering how popular the sport was becoming. Besides, neither party wanted to be the ones to initiate a tax on it. So, they found a workaround.
Now the U.S. is coming to the rescue of us poor poker players. They are going to regulate and license it. And the online poker companies will either have to comply, or continue without any U.S. players. Who wins here? Not the consumer.
Uncle Sammy is a greedy bastard, and if you don’t pay him a share, he will take your cards away. Fair? Nope, but what can you do?
The best course of action is to get involved. You can check out the PPA for updates on the latest news, and their efforts to prevent poker from being a crime. If you want to bypass legislation though, you’re probably out of luck. Now pay the man so we can play.