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FBI Goes 'All In'
April 15, 2011 1:24 PM   Subscribe

Online Poker Doomsday. Feds indicted eleven executives at PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker. They face charges of bank fraud and money laundering. Prosecutors also want $3 billion in civil money laundering penalties. Poker players panic.

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York is working with foreign law enforcement agencies and Interpol to secure the arrest of these defendants and the seizure of criminal proceeds located abroad.”

Scores of people now wonder how they will recover their bankrolls, which range from pennies to small fortunes.
posted by Yakuman (123 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think I had something like twenty bucks in my Full Tilt account. I cannot even imagine what it would be like to have thousands wrapped up in any of those sites and *poof* ... Very curious to see how this plays out. You may commence with the poker puns ... NOW.
posted by joe lisboa at 1:29 PM on April 15, 2011


*folds*
posted by joe lisboa at 1:29 PM on April 15, 2011 [23 favorites]


Scores of people now wonder how they will recover their bankrolls, which range from pennies to small fortunes.

If you're doing something illegal (or at least in a grey area, due to the rampant money laundering that goes on in the casino business), you're pretty much constantly running the risk of having your stuff confiscated. Was this honestly a surprise to those who played?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:31 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Some of us are playing right now.
posted by RustyBrooks at 1:31 PM on April 15, 2011


I cannot even imagine what it would be like to have thousands wrapped up in any of those sites and *poof*

I am shocked, shocked to discover gambling was going on in there.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 1:32 PM on April 15, 2011 [22 favorites]


P.S. you will most likely get your bankrolls.
posted by RustyBrooks at 1:32 PM on April 15, 2011


*passes*
posted by likeso at 1:33 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wonder how Nate Silver will take this.

I stopped playing a couple years ago when the news came out about how common bots were, and I just didn't have the discipline to keep the kind of logs you need to in order to maximize the grind. Not for $4 an hour, at least.
posted by klangklangston at 1:33 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nate Silver just tweeted about how he's glad he donked off a lot of his roll. Dunno if he is kidding.
Glad I prefer live poker - this sucks for the online grinders.
posted by pointystick at 1:34 PM on April 15, 2011


You may commence with the poker puns ... NOW.

Too late.

FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge JANICE K. FEDARCYK said: "These defendants, knowing full well that their business with U.S. customers and U.S. banks was illegal, tried to stack the deck. They lied to banks about the true nature of their business. Then, some of the defendants found banks willing to flout the law for a fee. The defendants bet the house that they could continue their scheme, and they lost."

You stay classy FBI.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 1:35 PM on April 15, 2011 [11 favorites]


Yeah, I mean, not to dismiss people losing their money (other than gambling it away all day) but I'm 30; I remember hearing about how people said these sites were probably ultimately illegal when I was in high school.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 1:35 PM on April 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


These defendants concocted an elaborate criminal fraud scheme, alternately tricking some U.S. banks and effectively bribing others to assure the continued flow of billions in illegal gambling profits

So which banks exactly were being bribed, and is it still illegal to bribe a bank to launder your money for you?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:35 PM on April 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm just glad government prosecutors are devoting their time and resources to important issues like online gambling while turning a blind eye to the criminals and thieves on Wall Street.
posted by MegoSteve at 1:35 PM on April 15, 2011 [40 favorites]


Too late.

? Oh, right. The title. Oops.
posted by joe lisboa at 1:36 PM on April 15, 2011


Won't someone think of the automated poker bots?
posted by unixrat at 1:37 PM on April 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


*facepalm* The FBI. Got it. Double oops. Phew, I am especially dense today.
posted by joe lisboa at 1:37 PM on April 15, 2011


Or is it illegal for a bank to accept a bribe, that is. Point being the banks don't seem to be named in the indictment.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:37 PM on April 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


We don't want any more exercises till we get this pool table matter settled!
posted by thanotopsis at 1:39 PM on April 15, 2011


RobotVoddooPower, a US based bank would never do something illegal or unethical and if they did, am sure the gov't would crackdown ASAP*

*where is sarcasm tag?
posted by pointystick at 1:40 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well if they had just gives the IRS their cut, none of this would have happened.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 1:41 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Point being the banks don't seem to be named in the indictment.

Um, why would you indict a bank? It's a bank! You can't indict banks! What sort of ridiculous commie-talk are you spewing?
posted by aramaic at 1:41 PM on April 15, 2011 [7 favorites]


DC just legalized online poker.
posted by electroboy at 1:43 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you're doing something illegal you're pretty much constantly running the risk of having your stuff confiscated. Was this honestly a surprise to those who played?

It's not illegal in many countries. If this action materially impacts, say me (as somebody outside the US who has played), yes I'll be "surprised."
posted by chalkbored at 1:43 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Point being the banks don't seem to be named in the indictment.

If the banks are located overseas (which in all likelihood they are), then can they even be indicted in a US court
posted by muddgirl at 1:45 PM on April 15, 2011



*where is sarcasm tag?


The sarcasm tag is HAMBURGER....I'm not sure if you needed two burgers or just one in that comment
posted by spicynuts at 1:45 PM on April 15, 2011


Lost a question mark somewhere.
posted by muddgirl at 1:45 PM on April 15, 2011


I can almost hear 2+2 frothing right now.
posted by QuarterlyProphet at 1:46 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wait, not according to the US Attorney. IGNORE ME.
posted by muddgirl at 1:46 PM on April 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm just glad government prosecutors are devoting their time and resources to important issues like online gambling while turning a blind eye to the criminals and thieves on Wall Street.

Why not go after mobsters who use casinos and online gambling sites to launder money, as well as criminals and thieves on Wall Street? Does it need to be an either/or proposition?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:46 PM on April 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Meet The Boy Genius Who Just Took Down The Online Poker Industry
posted by Yakuman at 1:46 PM on April 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Bringing criminal charges against actual human beings rather than just fining the corporate entity? This is ungentlemanly to say the least. My friends at the SEC will hear of this unsporting behavior.
posted by benzenedream at 1:48 PM on April 15, 2011 [4 favorites]



Why would you play poker when you can play the market?
posted by notreally at 1:49 PM on April 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Congress effectively made this sort of money laundering inevitable when they made it illegal for banks to be involved with processing payments to online poker sites. Obviously they did not expect an industry that brings in billions of dollars in revenue to simply cease to exist once the law was passed. It would make significantly more sense for the government to come up with some sort of system to make poker legal and take a (large) percentage of the profits, the same way they did with lotteries and off-track betting.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:49 PM on April 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


The Poker Players Alliance is shocked! Shocked! Shocked to find out the feds busted the sites:

“On behalf of the millions of poker players across the country, we are shocked at the action taken by the U.S. Department of Justice today.... Online poker is not a crime and should not be treated as such.”
posted by Yakuman at 1:49 PM on April 15, 2011


I can almost hear 2+2 frothing right now.

yeah, except that the forums there appear to be down (presumably from the eleventy billion people trying to go there to find out what's up), at least for me.
posted by chalkbored at 1:49 PM on April 15, 2011


If the banks are located overseas (which in all likelihood they are), then can they even be indicted in a US court

Where do you think the poker sites are located?
posted by RustyBrooks at 1:51 PM on April 15, 2011


Also the banks that process the payments are mostly in the US. They shut them down regularly.
posted by RustyBrooks at 1:51 PM on April 15, 2011


spicynuts you're right, HAMBURGER it is. A double-double for that one.
posted by pointystick at 1:52 PM on April 15, 2011


I can almost hear 2+2 frothing right now.

See here.

Soon the teenage BS artists who claimed to make six-figure sums will now say they saw this coming and bailed out months ago.
posted by Yakuman at 1:55 PM on April 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Obama's getting desperate.
posted by Ardiril at 1:55 PM on April 15, 2011


Meh, I'm sure this is just clearing the field so the state and federal governments can operate the gambling rings themselves. I love it when the states condemn the evils of gambling, and then a commercial for the state lottery comes on.
posted by mullingitover at 1:56 PM on April 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Why would you play poker when you can play the market?

You were probably kidding, but: in a poker game, you are (at all but higher stakes) typically competing with a bunch of people who are having fun. In the stock market, you are typically competing with a bunch of people who are trying to make money, and professionals or companies whose job it is to make money for their clients. One of these situations is a lot easier to "beat" than the other (imho). (On the other hand, I suppose in a good stock market you don't really need to "beat" everyone else to do okay, whereas in a poker game you will inevitably lose money unless you are taking enough of it from the other people at the table.)
posted by chalkbored at 1:57 PM on April 15, 2011


The only winning move is not to play.
posted by kakarott999 at 1:58 PM on April 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


If you're doing something illegal ... you're pretty much constantly running the risk of having your stuff confiscated. Was this honestly a surprise to those who played?

Yeah, just like you shouldn't be surprised if your sex toys are confiscated in Alabama. Or if you're arrested for sodomy or adultery in some other states. Stop doing illegal things people!
posted by ODiV at 2:00 PM on April 15, 2011 [10 favorites]


Online poker is not a crime

Umm...

Where do you think the poker sites are located?

They're indicting executives who are clearly located in the US, and are probably US citizens.

Also the banks that process the payments are mostly in the US. They shut them down regularly.

Yeah, I already admitted this mistake. Search for "IGNORE ME."
posted by muddgirl at 2:01 PM on April 15, 2011


Intrade is still cool though, right?
posted by electroboy at 2:02 PM on April 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yeah, just like you shouldn't be surprised if your sex toys are confiscated in Alabama. Or if you're arrested for sodomy or adultery in some other states. Stop doing illegal things people!

Money laundering is clearly a victimless crime, like punching someone in the dark! :)
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:05 PM on April 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Well, they could go after bank executives in the same way they went after the poker site executives, right? They declined to. Despite the fact that the 2006 legislation actually applies most directly to the banks and other processing institutions.

Pokerstars isn't allowing people to play, full tilt is. None of these people are in the US and they won't come here if they can avoid it. If there is any change in the availability in online poker it will probably be voluntary, like party poker did in 2006, since I don't think they really have any enforcement teeth.

I guess we'll see though.
posted by RustyBrooks at 2:07 PM on April 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


They declined to.

The "declined" to? For all time? It seems like we're drawing a lot of conclusions from one single indictment. It's clear that this is an ongoing investigation, that others have been arrested, and that others will be arrested based on any potential testimony from these executives.
posted by muddgirl at 2:11 PM on April 15, 2011


None of these people are in the US

News stories indicate that eight of the eleven people indicted are not in the US, they've caught two, and one is expected to turn himself in. Whether the remaining 8 are ever extradited to the US is another matter.
posted by aramaic at 2:11 PM on April 15, 2011


The only winning move is not to play.

I agree with you completely. Which is why I've never played online poker. But that's not my decision to make for someone else. Unlike a state lottery, people are rewarded for skill as well as luck.

Gambling is predatory and largely a disgusting industry. But some people do it responsibly, and even when they don't win it's money that they can afford to lose and they derive actual enjoyment from using skills they've developed.

Know what? If government took a line that was "we are absolutely puritanical. gambling is a net loss to decent society because it prays on the desperate and it is not permitted," I would believe that they had everyone's interests at heart even if I thought it was drastic. Instead, we get bullshit like this and debates about casinos while state governments are totally dependent on revenues from gambling. There's a convenience store near my house that's constantly crowded with used up-looking people staring at a Keno monitor like it was televising hostage demands for their kids. But the legislature won't let anyone build a casino inside the state. That doesn't sound like they're looking out for our interests. It sounds like they want a monopoly on gambling and subsequently a monopoly on misery.

Meanwhile, people who can't get the satisfaction they need from Keno, Powerball and scratch tickets are wasting 100 miles of gas each way to get to Foxwoods.
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:13 PM on April 15, 2011 [7 favorites]


Yeah, those other guys might want to avoid travelling to or through the US for the rest of their lives.
posted by ODiV at 2:13 PM on April 15, 2011


Full Tilt is run by a couple of big name pros... Howard Lederer is one and I believe so is Chris Ferguson. Are they on the indicted list?
posted by PenDevil at 2:14 PM on April 15, 2011


From Yakuman's "Boy Genius" link

And as the Courier Mail put it, if this were still the old days, he'd buried in the Las Vegas desert right now

I have to wonder if he's actually in the clear. I'm sure this is bad news for more than a few unscrupulous "businessmen"
posted by Hoopo at 2:15 PM on April 15, 2011


Full Tilt is run by a couple of big name pros... Howard Lederer is one and I believe so is Chris Ferguson. Are they on the indicted list?

Nope.
posted by dfan at 2:16 PM on April 15, 2011


Unlike a state lottery, people are rewarded for skill as well as luck.

Also unlike government lotteries, the house's take isn't predatory.

I made decent money from low-stakes online poker back when it was new and most players were novices. Nowadays players are better and bots are rampant, so I've been playing the same bankroll (varying between $50 and $150 depending on my luck) for two years. It's entertainment.
posted by rocket88 at 2:19 PM on April 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Makes me glad that:

a) I played online poker circa 2004-2006
b) I reported and paid taxes on my winnings
c) After UIGEA passed, I cashed out my remaining profits and put the bulk of them in a SEP-IRA
d) I've played very little online poker since 2006, and then only for comparatively small stakes (aka, "entertainment")

Yeah, not to sound too smug, but for a game in which players pride themselves on their ability to think several levels deeper than their opponents this should not be a shocking development. Along similar lines, if more US players had honestly reported their winnings and paid taxes on them, we would have been in a much stronger position to lobby for legalizing online poker and avoiding this sort of messy denouement. But that rubs strongly against the libertarian streak that permeates the poker scene.
posted by mosk at 2:21 PM on April 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Actually, the government did go after one of the bank executives. John Campos, one of the owners of SunFirst Bank in Utah, was one of the people indicted. It was a small bank, though, and probably didn't have any lobbyists. :)

Suggesting that these were mobsters using online poker as a way to launder money from separate criminal enterprises is just wrong. The money laundering part of this scheme was setting up dummy corporations selling non-existant products to trick banks into processing the transactions. The criminal activity they were laundering the money from was the gambling itself, not some outside activity.

In the case of Campos, the poker sites found a small community bank in Utah that was having difficulties and invested $10 million in it in exchange for looking the other way, allegedly.
posted by MegoSteve at 2:22 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


You pay taxes on gambling winnings? Thank god I live in Canada.
(If you pay taxes on winnings, do they let you claim losses as a tax deduction?)
posted by rocket88 at 2:24 PM on April 15, 2011


rocket88: "You pay taxes on gambling winnings? Thank god I live in Canada.
(If you pay taxes on winnings, do they let you claim losses as a tax deduction?)
"

Yes.
posted by mullingitover at 2:26 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


mosk: I really doubt that some outstanding taxes on the winnings of American players is the issue here. That's got to be absolutely dwarfed by the facts that these operations aren't paying anything to State and Federal governments in the US and that the casinos and gaming establishments that do give the government a cut have no small influence. Mask it in some weak moral rhetoric and you're good to go!

rocket88: You can only claim the losses in the sense that you can subtract them from your winnings. In Canada you have to pay taxes on your gambling winnings too, but only if it's your profession.
posted by ODiV at 2:28 PM on April 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's almost funny when our neighbors to our north try to make a joke about the US only to find reality has beat them to it.

Almost.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:32 PM on April 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


And also remember that the US has a pretty low income tax rate in the first place. In the US my marginal tax rate is 15%. In Canada it's 22% (although I notice that your rates are dropping as well)
posted by muddgirl at 2:32 PM on April 15, 2011


Didn't have much left at Pokerstars but just cashed out, we'll see if the check comes and whether it clears. Saw this mostly coming though it was possible it would go better once Steve Wynn got involved and partnered with Pokerstars recently. The government will get online poker licensed and regulated sooner now, I suppose, which is a good thing. As long as they don't have terrible rakes and fees, that is... which isn't a guarantee at all.
posted by empyrean at 2:34 PM on April 15, 2011


The deduction question was serious. And the reality is patently unfair, IMO.
posted by rocket88 at 2:36 PM on April 15, 2011


This bust is a real WOPR. It seems like the only way to win... is not to play the game.
posted by GuyZero at 2:39 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Found it! Here's the official indictment.
posted by Yakuman at 2:40 PM on April 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


It appears you can deduct losses for the year, but only up to the amount that you've won that year. They always come out ahead.
posted by yeti at 2:44 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


So I could donate this $200 I won to charity or....

*runs off to Mohegan Sun for a tax deduction*
posted by yeti at 2:46 PM on April 15, 2011


> mosk: I really doubt that some outstanding taxes on the winnings of American players is the issue here. That's got to be absolutely dwarfed by the facts that these operations aren't paying anything to State and Federal governments in the US and that the casinos and gaming establishments that do give the government a cut have no small influence. Mask it in some weak moral rhetoric and you're good to go!

I don't disagree with you, ODiV. Taxing the winnings of US players is small potatoes compared to the threat that online gambling poses to established domestic casinos, state lotteries, horse racing, etc. Still, if more players had made the effort to play legitimately prior to the passage of UIGEA, and if a greater effort had been put into the PPA and related lobbying efforts in the 2004-2005 timeframe, this sort of action on the part of the FBI would be seen as "policing the system to keep it legal" as opposed to a very real attempt to shut it down completely. It did not have to come to this point, though it was always going to be an uphill fight to make online poker legitimate. But the fight to make it legal could have been managed much better than it was by all of the participants.

This particular outcome (the Feds rounding up the site owners for prosecution) was not inevitable prior to the passage of UIGEA, but afterwards UIGEA's passage it almost certainly was. That's their fault for being greedy and short sighted, for the most part, but as players we also share a portion of the responsibility for continuing to patronize these sites without insisting that the underlying activity be made legal in the US. That part -- continuing to patronize (and forward funds to) illegal gaming establishments -- is squarely on the players.
posted by mosk at 2:49 PM on April 15, 2011


There used to be three classes of income tax in the U.S.

First, there is income tax, which by original design was supposed to be progressive, due to the marginal value nature of income.

Second, there is capital gains tax, which is a political football that tends to end up lower than the median income tax, in order to toe the line of "contributing to the economic good by investing" thing.

Third, there used to be a "windfall" tax that was, historically compared to the income tax, not that bad. Of course, "not that bad" is relative. There was a time when the progressive income tax would take nearly 90% of your last million, even though your first 10 million were only hit at 35%.

But that "windfall" tax was completely separate from the capital gains tax. That's because capital gains taxes are assessed on the individual, whereas windfall taxes were assessed on the corporation. That's because there used to be a difference between people and corporations.

Where was I?

Oh yeah. Half in the bottle. Sorry for the derail.
posted by yesster at 2:49 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why tax some percentage of the rake when every couple of years you can take the whole house and all the gamblers bankrolls.
posted by humanfont at 2:54 PM on April 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


There was a time when the progressive income tax would take nearly 90% of your last million, even though your first 10 million were only hit at 35%.

Sorry, that should read "There was a time when the progressive income tax would take 90% of your last million, even though your middle tier 10 million were only hit at 35%, and your actual first million were hit at somewhere less than 20% if you'd had the foresight to procreate and divest your assets."
posted by yesster at 2:55 PM on April 15, 2011


For those who want more beach reading, in addition to the indictment, the civil complaint has leaked. (HT to CKrafcik).

Here's the press release.
posted by Yakuman at 2:56 PM on April 15, 2011


I don't disagree with you, ODiV. Taxing the winnings of US players is small potatoes compared to the threat that online gambling poses to established domestic casinos, state lotteries, horse racing, etc.

This. The big US casino corporations would love to offer online gaming. But since they can't, they're hellbent on making sure no one else can either.

My view is online should be legal. Then again, I've spent most of my life within 5 miles of a place were I could legally gamble in California. I even worked 18 where I made my leaving working in a casino in Vegas where I was paid with money the casino made from losers.

Like other weird blue laws, making it illegal doesn't make it go away it just puts it underground. I'd rather have the casinos and players be regulated and taxed than by having it underground.
posted by birdherder at 3:04 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


If I read the indictment correctly, it looks like "certain e-check processors" cooperated with the scheme in exchange for being allowed to charge much higher fees -- this must be the "bribe" US Attorney was referencing. They are even named as "co-conspirators" in the document, but not named by name AFAICT.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 3:13 PM on April 15, 2011


It's not illegal in many countries. If this action materially impacts, say me (as somebody outside the US who has played), yes I'll be "surprised."

I'm curious to know if you were aware that many of your fellow players were participating in a potentially illegal way. And if you were aware that this placed your access at risk. And if the sites officially notified you of this fact. It sounds like the answer to all three is, "No."
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:16 PM on April 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why are so many people reacting with cries of "online poker is not / should not be illegal!!". Whether or not that is the case (and I believe it shouldn't be illegal), bank fraud and money laundering are most certainly illegal.
posted by Justinian at 3:25 PM on April 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Grinders and and bots got black swanned.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 3:28 PM on April 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Just hearing about this and trying to interpret everything that's been going down...can't quite tell if cashing out would be a stupid move at this point (as a US player) or if that would mean those monies would be tied up in a payment processor. Or alternatively, transferring to a non-US player if they can then hold the funds in escrow and withdrawal at a later date. Thoughts?
posted by Asherah at 3:30 PM on April 15, 2011


I haven't paid much attention to this, but didn't the WTO rule in 2000-something that the USA's flat prohibition against legitimate foreign online gambling businesses was a violation of the applicable treaties, and then rule again that the USA had failed to do anything to fix the problem? If those rulings are still floating out there, then good fucking luck to the US Attorney getting foreign countries which are party to the WTO to extradite on the basis of American criminal laws that it's had a long-standing obligation to repeal.
posted by 1adam12 at 3:33 PM on April 15, 2011


It's probably just a lucky coincidence, but fortunately for regressive tax lovers everywhere, an enormous and politically powerful "retail" gambling industry exists to pick up the slack!
posted by killdevil at 3:36 PM on April 15, 2011


Why is online gambling basically illegal in the US? I mean, fundamentally, what motivates anti-gambling law? The old morality laws have been pretty much eliminated by the growth of Indian casinos. How come that hasn't extend to the Internet?
posted by Nelson at 3:50 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Online gambling is opposed by people who profit from non-online gambling.
posted by RustyBrooks at 3:55 PM on April 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why are so many people reacting with cries of "online poker is not / should not be illegal!!". Whether or not that is the case (and I believe it shouldn't be illegal), bank fraud and money laundering are most certainly illegal.

Yes. I'm not actually of the opinion that the indictment is outlandish or anything (though of course I think online poker should be legal) -- as you say, these guys apparently broke a bunch of other laws.

But if you're a non-US customer of one of these places (and this is mostly in response to a question just above yours) it's a very different thing to a) suspect that a company is allowing Americans to continue to use their services, turning a semi-blind eye to a ruling by a foreign congress, and b) suspect that a company has established an elaborate network of shell companies, shifty transaction providers, etc, etc, in order to continue actively pursuing US customers. The former is maybe questionable -- and indeed, some poker sites actively shut off access to US customers a few years ago -- but doesn't seem like it would have many obvious repercussions for non-US clients; the latter is the sort of thing that many countries recognize as illegal, which moves it around a little in terms of mental categorization re:"should I care about this or not?"
posted by chalkbored at 4:03 PM on April 15, 2011


Wall Street and Big Banking ruined the economy and (apparently) also laundered lots of drug money and then got the government to bail them out, and Obama's Justice Department is going after medical marijuiana dispensaries and online poker players?

Change we can wince at!
posted by orthogonality at 4:14 PM on April 15, 2011 [10 favorites]


Why is online gambling basically illegal in the US?

There's a long explanation somewhere, but the short answer is the Federal Wire Act, although interpretation of that as making online gambling illegal is hardly consensus.

As for the rationale, I think one big one is that the government claims it facilitates money laundering, but yes, like most others I'm unsure why lotteries are legal and in-person poker is legal, but online gambling is not.

I'm sure the court cases are far from finished here.
posted by mrgrimm at 4:15 PM on April 15, 2011


Here's the WTO ruling on the GATS dispute between Antigua and Barbuda against the US regarding cross-border gambling services. US owes $21M to the winners.

And here's Ars Techica on the EU telling the US to fix its gambling laws.
posted by warbaby at 4:45 PM on April 15, 2011


MY MONEY SPENT A WEEKEND IN A CAYMAN ISLANDS CASINO AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS T-SHIRT (and an FBI summons).
posted by yesster at 4:46 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Still, if more players had made the effort to play legitimately prior to the passage of UIGEA, and if a greater effort had been put into the PPA and related lobbying efforts in the 2004-2005 timeframe, this sort of action on the part of the FBI would be seen as "policing the system to keep it legal" as opposed to a very real attempt to shut it down completely. It did not have to come to this point, though it was always going to be an uphill fight to make online poker legitimate. But the fight to make it legal could have been managed much better than it was by all of the participants.

Like yourself, I played very little and for low stakes after the passage of UIGEA, especially after they froze a good sized chunk of my cash when the Justice Department targetted NeTeller. Despite the recent "progress" in legalizing online gambling, a bust like this has been a distinct possibility for years.

Players failing to pay taxes though, was not a factor in either this bust or the passage of the UIGEA. You can keep low stakes cash winnings clear of the IRS, but once you start banking you absolutely must pay. There's just no getting around it and this was widely understood. There are numerous discussions on twoplustwo.com and other online poker forums regarding bookkeeping.

Unfortunately there was no way to put more "into the PPA and related lobbying efforts in the 2004-2005 timeframe" as there was no PPA at that point in time. If I remember right, Mason Malmuth (owner of Two Plus Two Publishing) was actively critical of the PPA in the months after the passage of the UIGEA when it was still a very small organization. Kyl and Frist had it in for online poker for years and I don't see any possible paths that could have been taken where this could have been avoided.

This particular outcome (the Feds rounding up the site owners for prosecution) was not inevitable prior to the passage of UIGEA, but afterwards UIGEA's passage it almost certainly was. That's their fault for being greedy and short sighted, for the most part, but as players we also share a portion of the responsibility for continuing to patronize these sites without insisting that the underlying activity be made legal in the US. That part -- continuing to patronize (and forward funds to) illegal gaming establishments -- is squarely on the players.

But playing poker online wasn't illegal, it's the transfer of funds between the banks and the poker sites that is illegal.
posted by BigSky at 4:59 PM on April 15, 2011


Online poker is like certain religious birth control. Lots of charts and logs to make it work and even then your never really sure it is safe and don't even bother playing with position.
posted by humanfont at 5:00 PM on April 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Golly, if you can't trust online gambling, what can you trust?
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 5:02 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


notreally: Why would you play poker when you can play the market?

Why not go after 20-somethings who use casinos and online gambling sites to lie about winning money, as well as following P/E ratios and bond rates on Wall Street? Does it need to be an either/or proposition?
posted by IAmBroom at 5:04 PM on April 15, 2011


I'd like to play some online poker that was regulated, fair and taxed.

Fuck, it would be a hell of a lot better than spending half my life on WOW trying to bang the dwarf chick in my guild (who I am almost positive is a woman in real life).
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 5:12 PM on April 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


For anyone interested in seeing a concise history of proposed gaming legislation and some relevant case law, I just found this very nice timeline on 2+2 of the Federal attempts to criminalize and/or regulate gambling, going back to the 1961 Wire Act. Credit to 2+2 forum poster TheEngineer, who is also a Poker Players Alliance board member, for pulling this info together.
posted by mosk at 5:33 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


MY MONEY SPENT A WEEKEND IN A CAYMAN ISLANDS CASINO AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS T-SHIRT (and an FBI summons).

FYI, there are no casinos in the Cayman Islands.
posted by teraflop at 6:14 PM on April 15, 2011


MetaFilter: a hell of a lot better than spending half my life on WOW trying to bang the dwarf chick in my guild (who I am almost positive is a woman in real life).
posted by hippybear at 6:24 PM on April 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


I think it should be legal. I know I support stricter regulations on poker machines but online gambling looks like a game of skill...
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:40 PM on April 15, 2011


I"ve always felt lucky to live in Northern California where poker rooms are legal. Aside from the probably illegal for 'Murricans part, I always assumed that someone smarter than me could rig the computer.

If I'm sitting in a legal room with cameras, the house has big incentive to keep the game clean and keep the cash-cow milking. They make so much money being above board, there's almost no angle in allowing cheating.

Plus, I'm very much a cards-&-felt kinda monkey, and I like putting a keeper on my hole cards, stacking chips in front of me, and cashing them out for folding money at the end of a night.*

*That last part of the sequence is, on the rarest of occasions, distressingly absent
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 6:43 PM on April 15, 2011


Know what? If government took a line that was "we are absolutely puritanical. gambling is a net loss to decent society because it prays on the desperate and it is not permitted," I would believe that they had everyone's interests at heart even if I thought it was drastic. Instead, we get bullshit like this and debates about casinos while state governments are totally dependent on revenues from gambling. There's a convenience store near my house that's constantly crowded with used up-looking people staring at a Keno monitor like it was televising hostage demands for their kids. But the legislature won't let anyone build a casino inside the state. That doesn't sound like they're looking out for our interests. It sounds like they want a monopoly on gambling and subsequently a monopoly on misery.

Mayor Curley has it exactly here. Here in Worcester, we have "sweepstakes parlors" that recently popped up to fill the void, and are being quickly stomped out and rendered illegal. In Raynham, a poker room was just ordered closed, it operated at the site of a dog racing track after that too was deemed illegal. Yet, the Keno rooms run uninterrupted. Go to any convenience store in any poor neighborhood in my city, and you'll see a dozen folks with dead eyes staring at a Keno screen on a dingy, thin counter between the coffee and the snacks. Go to any seedy bar in the city, you'll see the same.

Yeah, these quasi-legal enterprises aren't regulated as a casino is. So, if your concern is the consumer, fucking regulate them and let people have fun while spending their money unwisely! But that's not their concern. If it was, I wouldn't be concerned about getting punched out every time I go to a convenience store because I blocked someone's view of the screen or prevented them from getting their bet in on time.

What all lottery running governments are doing is the same thing that the government did to the mob's gambling operations, except they have the law on their side. They're knocking off all their competitors, there is no altruism involved and it insults me that they claim otherwise.
posted by rollbiz at 7:28 PM on April 15, 2011


Just hearing about this and trying to interpret everything that's been going down...can't quite tell if cashing out would be a stupid move at this point (as a US player) or if that would mean those monies would be tied up in a payment processor. Or alternatively, transferring to a non-US player if they can then hold the funds in escrow and withdrawal at a later date. Thoughts?
Transfers to non-US players saved me locking up a large sum in Neteller, so that was my approach today too. We'll see what happens. Cashouts are worthless if you are a US resident, since the feds just seized a bunch of related US bank accounts. I'll bet anything that pending cashouts never arrive.
posted by Lame_username at 7:35 PM on April 15, 2011


In the stock market, you are typically competing with a bunch of people who are trying to make money, and professionals or companies whose job it is to make money for their clients.

Actually, in my experience it is a LOT easier to make money in the market than it is to make money playing poker. Primarily, it comes down to transaction costs... In online poker the house rakes about 30 times an hour... In investing, house rakes only when you do a transaction, and that rake is usually a few bucks, thus the percentage for the house is minuscule compared to poker.... In both games there is a winner and a loser in every transaction, and for the most part in either case the house just makes money on the transaction.

I say this as someone who has made a LOT of money in the market and lost a fair bit playing poker. Much easier to beat Wall Street.
posted by jcworth at 7:54 PM on April 15, 2011


As it happens, I fell in with a crew of bloggers back in 2002 or 2003 that represented the old guard of poker bloggers on the Internet. These are my best friends, and our shared love of low-stakes NLHE formed family bonds that remain to this day. Some of them made their money off of affiliates and advertising, ending their run of cashing in a couple years back after UIGEA (For Iggy, it's not all bad. Besides his day job, he's responsible for one of the most highly-trafficked MMA sites on the planet. Definitely knew how to get in early on his trends). Others found gigs as tournament reporters and bloggers for the poker sites, bouncing around the globe and putting in long hours watching paint dry tournaments unfold online while producing solid original content as their full-time job.

One of my friends is closing on a house in a couple weeks. Another had a promotion of sorts lined up that was going to get him out of the trenches and put his education and real-world work history to good use.

Americans, all. Good people, taxpayers, as honest as the day is long. The bottom is falling out on these guys and their families.

I could give a shit about the $250 in cash I've got locked up at Full Tilt right now. I'm worried these guys are going to have a tough time returning to polite society with 10%+ unemployment and five-plus years of working for "criminals" under their belt.

Makes my heart hurt more than just a little.

Eponysterical, I know.
posted by GamblingBlues at 9:55 PM on April 15, 2011 [8 favorites]


Online gambling is opposed by people who profit from non-online gambling.

Online gambling is also opposed by people who don't like seeing mobsters make an easy living.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:35 PM on April 15, 2011


Much easier to beat Wall Street.

Depends on the stakes mostly, and also the returns you're aiming for. If you've got $100 to put at risk, small-stakes poker is going to be a much easier way to turn it into $500. Poker gets more difficult as you get into the higher-stakes games, while financial markets get easier the more capital you start with (at least up to some fairly large amount.)

Taking my impulsive gambling instincts to the poker table helps me to resist the temptation to express them instead with crazy bets on cotton futures or whatever.
posted by sfenders at 4:44 AM on April 16, 2011


I'll bet the 80 bucks I have sitting in my Full Tilt account that companies who have paid various Congresspeople a lot of money will be the new providers of legal online poker in a year or two.

Corrupt, faux-puritan motherfuckers.
posted by callmejay at 6:28 AM on April 16, 2011


Online gambling is also opposed by people who don't like seeing mobsters make an easy living.

80 years after Prohibition people you can say this with a straight face?
posted by callmejay at 6:30 AM on April 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


like most others I'm unsure why lotteries are legal and in-person poker is legal, but online gambling is not.

The legitimate reason is oversight. Turns out, when there is gambling involved, people like to play shenanigans. Easy to keep an eye on machines that are regulated and lockboxed (like poker machines and slot machines), or in rooms that have cameras and nasty pit-bosses to make sure everyone plays fair.

Not so easy when the whole thing exists in a rack of servers somewhere. There is no easy way of knowing who the players are, and whether 90% of the action is just automated money laundering machines playing against other laundering machines, or bots designed to skim off of the 5% of people on there who legitimately want to just play some cards.

More cynically, because with drywall and neon (*), they know where to go to get their cut. They can station people at the control points to make sure nobody is skimming, do a raid if necessary, etc. With online, again, it's all just numbers in a computer. To regulate that would cost too much and the action would again move underground.


(*) That a "brick and mortar" casino joke
posted by gjc at 6:44 AM on April 16, 2011


The legitimate reason is oversight.

They could legalize and regulate it. Domestic companies only, public records, software audits, verified users, etc. When you consider how much tax money is in it, policing the online casinos would more than pay for itself.
posted by callmejay at 7:03 AM on April 16, 2011


80 years after Prohibition people you can say this with a straight face?

Prohibition has nothing to do with why online gambling should be regulated.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:49 AM on April 16, 2011


Prohibition has nothing to do with why online gambling should be regulated.

Being "opposed to" online gambling has nothing to do with regulating it. Neither does this latest legal action or the law that caused it to be necessary. Perhaps you are unaware of the situation. It's prohibition, not regulation, and that is what led to the alleged fraud and money laundering.
posted by sfenders at 11:51 AM on April 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I got a notice that outside of the States, and if you're not a U.S. citizen or living in the States, it's business as usual. Pokerstars.com can now be found at http://pokerstars.eu. One can still use U.S. currency however.
posted by juiceCake at 1:16 PM on April 16, 2011


I'm outside of the States, and can't access Full Tilt.
I get the "New Software Update to Install" message, click OK, but the update doesn't happen. A message says "Could not download update, please try again later"
posted by rocket88 at 2:53 PM on April 16, 2011


I don't use it, I'm on a site that doesn't take Americans far as I know, but for Full Tilt, you might try putting 91.211.98.22 in your hosts file. That's what fulltiltpoker.net resolves to right now. Rather absurdly, the FBI has "siezed" the .com, but not the .net. Assuming the latter is in fact legit, as it appears to be.
posted by sfenders at 3:20 PM on April 16, 2011


the .co.uk site works for downloads, not that it helps us U.S. players.
posted by callmejay at 3:35 PM on April 16, 2011


Perhaps you are unaware of the situation. It's prohibition, not regulation, and that is what led to the alleged fraud and money laundering.

Perhaps you're angry at people opposed to gangsters and opposed to laws that try to make things difficult for gangsters, but assuming you are okay with regulation, we're otherwise, more or less, in full agreement!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:41 PM on April 16, 2011


I'd like to play some online poker that was regulated, fair and taxed.
Here, the government encourages you to play online poker!
posted by ddaavviidd at 7:48 PM on April 16, 2011


Donald Trump would never have let the FBI shut down internet poker.
Donald, 2012!
posted by Ardiril at 8:00 PM on April 16, 2011


I don't see what all the fuss is about. Pokerstars.net is still open. It's all for fun, isn't it?

I will be sad to see all the stars of the poker shows go. No dough, no show. I always liked Daniel Negranu. Phil Gordon was fun to listen to along with Dave Foley on Celebrity Poker Showdown back in 2003-2005. It was fun getting to know regulars like good old Doyle Brunson, whiny Phil Hellmuth, unibomber Phil Laak and the rest. The World Series of Poker was fun back when Chris Moneymaker won it.
posted by notmtwain at 5:44 AM on April 17, 2011


I am so glad that my husband only plays live poker now. We had $30k locked up for 6 months when Neteller pulled out and we almost didn't make it. This is going to hurt a lot of families in which professional poker players are the breadwinners.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:53 AM on April 17, 2011


This is going to hurt a lot of families in which professional poker players are the breadwinners.

No doubt. But while I share the appall at our government, their focus on stuff like this while Wall Streeters walk free, etc. etc. etc., I can't feel too much pity for those who are winning their bread via a medium that has been illegal in the US for a very long time. This isn't news to anyone there. Its the same as getting locked up for getting caught with a shit ton of pot. I don't think you *should* - personally, but if you make a decision to get involved with that stuff in a country where its still illegal - caveat emptor, buddy.

If you're winning your family's bread via online poker, you should have moved to the Carrribean a long time ago. Its not rocket science.
posted by allkindsoftime at 10:34 AM on April 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


You know what they say, if you can't figure out who the sucker is at the table, it's probably you.
posted by wallstreet1929 at 11:06 AM on April 17, 2011


This whole is interesting and appalling and somehow almost hopeful.

I was at an underground live game at an illegal brick and mortar cardroom last night (at a table including some low-level folks in the part of the DC government who were behind that bill) and we were chatting about the bust and what's going to happen next.

Several things we all decided (which, like any advice given at a poker table half-full of fish is probably only half-smart and the other half is dangerous claptrap but here you go):


1. Online Poker as we know it is done. Especially given that some of the defendents were arrested in Antigua apparently, we can say that this branch of the justice department (which operates with semi-autonomy) is going to kick these poker sites in the butt until they are dead in the US, or as unrecognizable as Napster.
2. Most US players will probably get their money back through legal or semi-legal means.
3. Within 6 months to a year, you will be able to legally play poker online through sites operated through US gambling corporations. Either everywhere or in specific gambling "hotspots" in states like DC where it will legal. The winners will be the same people who won when Vegas was cleaned up in the late 60s.
4. "That man's name was Moe Green Lee Jones!"
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:37 AM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


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