Sunday, March 2, 2014

Go On, Take the Money and Run

Almost three years later, I along with tens of thousands of Americans have now received back the money we had on deposit with FullTilt.com. Collectively we had about $80 million that we were using to play online poker. Suddenly on April 15th, 2011 (Black Friday) those funds were no longer available and the website and computer programs used to play poker and transact into and out of player accounts were shut down by our friends in the U.S. Federal Government. Of course, it was for our own good . . . Wish you'd stop bein' so good to me, Cap'n.

It is my understanding that playing real-money online poker has never been illegal--not before passage of the UIGEA, not between its passage then enforcement and the actions taken on Black Friday, and not after including when the DOJ said, "Oops, my bad!"

But my understanding does not matter here. Let us not have a failure to communicate when we say, "Consenting adults playing poker with their own money SHOULD NEVER BE ILLEGAL!" Alas, we do not live in a world of free markets and free minds. And so when the Attorney General of NY took action on Black Friday, he pushed online poker from the shadows and fully into the black market. Throughout this entire affair online poker has always been available to U.S. players. But as the government took a firmer hardline stance against it, the providers (Party Poker who abruptly exited the U.S. market in 2006, FullTilt, PokerStars, Bodog/Bovada, et al.) and facilitators (various third-party money transfer services) some of whom remained in the market became less transparent and less trustworthy. However, FullTilt never failed to fulfill any withdrawal requests I made including one made a few weeks before Black Friday. It remains unclear how at risk player funds were before government action versus how government action created a liquidity risk.

The fight goes on. There is strong, widespread support for poker including lobbying by the aforementioned via link Poker Players Alliance (PPA). And there is the fledgling coalition against it led by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. No fear mongering is beyond the pale for Sheldon's group--"Online gambling funds terrorists!" "It's going to target the elderly and college-aged children, CHILDREN!"

This recent NPR piece shows where the trend is going along with the position the prohibitions are staking. From the story, Sheldon states, "I'm morally against it and I think it will kill the entire industry." Sorry Sheldon, you can't be both the Baptist and the Bootlegger at the same time. Framing it as a moral stand is transparently pathetic. But at least that would be an argument, begging the question that government should enforce your morality positions. That it threatens your business model is never an argument against innovation or for prohibition.

And so we grind on.