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Black Friday: The Day That Changed Online Poker

One-Year Anniversary Of The U.S. Shutdown Of PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker And Absolute Poker

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A year ago, hundreds of thousands of online poker players in the United States woke up on what was later dubbed Black Friday to the Department of Justice cracking down on the alleged crimes of the major offshore operators.

While the case (U.S. v. Scheinberg et al) is still playing out in federal court, many in the community are still coming to grips with not only the games disappearing, but their funds falling into the abyss of cyberspace.

PokerStars paid its U.S. players in full, but Absolute Poker and Full Tilt Poker have stiffed their former customers. The combined debt of the two companies is in the hundreds of millions.

Months after the indictment was unsealed, the government piled on the accusation that Full Tilt Poker was running a “global Ponzi scheme” by defrauding players to line the pockets of its shareholders. As the community holds out hope for a French firm acquiring the company and reopening its doors, the lingering pain of Black Friday rests with Full Tilt Poker.

Absolute Poker was already viewed as a big gamble by some, thanks to past cheating scandals within the company, but Full Tilt Poker had the illusion of stability and contained a much larger sum of player money ($300 million is owed to former FTP customers, compared to $60 million for Absolute Poker/UB).

After the insolvency of Full Tilt Poker and its atrocities with player funds, American poker players of the future will have the security of playing on sites run by publicly traded casino companies, with strict rules on accounting practices.

The Las Vegas Strip Shines Bright

With the largest offshore poker sites out of the way and stagnant efforts for a federal piece of legislation, Nevada brick-and-mortar giants are poised to tap into a demand for online gaming.

Despite lobbying efforts behind closed doors and public statements about the need for a federal bill, lawmakers on Capitol Hill haven’t made any significant progress on the issue.

Nevada, with its storied gaming history, has the attention of state governments around the country, Gov. Brian Sandoval said recently. The Silver State is in many ways the guinea pig for an American online poker industry.

Jim Murren, CEO of MGM Resorts International, said last month, during a meeting of the resurrected gaming policy committee, that his company will be “punished” if it stumbles out of the gate. Also on the panel was Reno businessman Paul Matthews, who said that Nevada only has “one shot at this and if we miss it it’s going to be a shame.”

Well before Nevada passed legislation that required the adoption of regulations for online poker, PokerStars was looking to set up shop in the Mojave Desert.

The largest site in the world hired a former Nevada lawmaker to lobby on the company’s behalf, before eventually agreeing to a joint venture with casino mogul Steve Wynn. The deal dissolved when PokerStars fell in hot water with the federal government.

PokerStars was once poised to dominate Nevada-based online poker thanks to a bill the company was backing, but instead it was left out in the cold.

While indicted companies flaunted their businesses in the face of U.S. law for many years, the precursor to bwin.party digital entertainment left the American market when the legal waters became muddied from the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act. The company is now eying a huge return via a partnership to run games with MGM.

Long-term Outlook in the U.S.

With a population of just 2.7 million and a monthly visitor volume of about 4 million, online poker only existing in Nevada isn’t going to satisfy the demand in the country.

Thanks to a Department of Justice legal opinion in December 2011 — a move that was ironically both shocking and expected — states that legalize online gaming will likely have the freedom to form partnerships. For online poker, having a healthy player pool is the name of the game.

California and New Jersey currently have proposals working through their respective legislatures, while Delaware is prepared to introduce a bill.

Despite Black Friday and the DOJ letter, some states are still having a hard time with the online gaming issue. Bills have failed this year in both Hawaii and Mississippi, while Utah has preemptively banned and criminalized web poker.

The quicker resolution would be a federal law authorizing the activity. However, many in the industry are extremely pessimistic about anything coming out of Congress. A state-by-state patchwork might also not be too dissimilar from how it would look under a federal regime that allows opting in or out.

 
 
 
 
 
 

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