What Happened On Black Friday For Online Poker
On April 15, 2011, now universally recognized as the ‘Black Friday’ of online poker, the largest poker sites facing the US market were effectively shut down by the US Department of Justice (DoJ). The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) seized the domain names of PokerStars.com, FullTiltPoker.com, Absolute Poker.com and UB.com.
After days of these popular web sites being blacked out—except for an ominous missive that detailed in officious legal terms the FBI’s seizure of the domain names and allegations of money fraud, among other offenses—the two biggest rivals in the industry, PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, both accepted a deal from the US government.
The treaty of sorts required these online poker sites to refund any and all funds held in the accounts of American based members of the poker room, which was their intention to offer from the beginning of the debacle. However, it also entailed that the operators must agree to never accept US players, or their deposits, from this point on.
PokerStars and Full Tilt were quick to take the deal, retaining ownership of their domain names and re-establishing their content, for the most part, to its former glory (minus US player acceptance, of course). Apparently they believed that the ability to reassure their American customers that their funds were 100% safe and would be refunded to them in full in the coming weeks (once a proper payment method was established) was the right route to take. Maybe it was, but Absolute Poker and UB did not feel the same way; at least not yet.
Absolute and UB Poker instead chose to decline the deal for the time being, stating that they were following the advice of their attorneys who deemed it more appropriate to wait until they had time to examine and consider the implications of the indictment to its full extent.
On the one hand, this did not exactly give Americans the reassurance that sites like PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker offered, but both Absolute Poker and UB sent out statements to their effected members ensuring the security of their funds and explaining the reasoning behind their trepidations.
These two poker sites have not yet severed access to the poker lobby for their US customers. Any American with a bankroll in existence prior to online poker’s Black Friday is still able to play for real money; only deposits and withdrawals have been removed from the cashier menu for these players.
One significant light that went on in the heads of the most rational US poker players is that Absolute Poker and UB are not giving in so easily because, at this point, there is no way of knowing whether the DoJ’s case holds any water.
If the case gets dropped, much like similar cases have been dropped in recent years (i.e. Commonwealth of Kentucky versus 141 online gambling related domain names in 2008), accepting the deal means that American players will never again be permitted, which is exactly the right PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker signed away a week ago. Perhaps Absolute Poker and UB still have every intention of restoring full service to their US clients if and when the storm clouds subside.
Speculations have been flitting about like angry bees in a smokehouse as to whether online poker will finally be legalized in the United States. Though the DoJ has been doing everything in its power to finally eradicate the hypothetically criminal act of playing online poker in the US, their latest actions against the world’s largest poker sites could eventually result in the exact opposite effect.
Since the question of legal online poker has been such a widely debated topic among public officials for the last five years, but gotten all-but-nowhere in all that time, the indictment may actually force the issue—either legalize online poker or formally prohibit the activity in the US. Only operators and financial institutions that facilitate fund transfers are technically at fault according to the current state of US legislation.
Now that millions of American online poker players have been affronted by the FBI’s assault on their beloved poker sites, more and more of them are coming forward, amplifying the existing power of the Poker Players Alliance (PPA), to let their state representatives and other public officials know just how outraged they are by current circumstances, and that they should have the right to play online poker, spending their hard earned money in the fashion of their choice. After all, why should American be able to play poker in a brick and mortar casino, but not over the internet?
Will the wrath of American poker players truly have an impact in the senate? This remains to be seen.