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King Canute

by Lucy Rokach |  Published: Jan 01, 2007


Once upon a time there was a Danish king named Canute, who lived in the 11th century. He was a great warrior who wasn't happy with being just overlord of most of Scandinavia, so he conquered England, as well. Not content with all of this land, he then turned his attention to the sea. Surely there was nothing on earth that could withstand his authority. So, one day he went down to the seashore and commanded the tide to turn back. Unfortunately for him, the sea's hearing aid was switched off and all of his endeavours proved fruitless. In my humble opinion, that's exactly what's going to happen to this new anti-online gambling legislation that has just come into force. PokerStars and FullTilt are ignoring the whole thing, and their numbers are as healthy as ever, I'm pleased to say. Not that I've ever done any good online, but I object in principle to politically correct do-gooders trying to put me in a straightjacket of their choosing. If I want to lose my money gambling online, surely that's my prerogative. Well, we'll just have to wait and see how things pan out.

If the banks (who've been put in a really hard place) pull the plug, I'm sure that someone somewhere will devise an alternative method of depositing and withdrawing money from online poker sites. Obviously, its country can't have an extradition treaty with the U.S., so North Korea or Iran seem to be the likely candidates to come to the rescue of the online gaming industry. Of course, it could be closer to home - like Venezuela, for example. Wherever it may be, it's been my experience that when a vacuum is created, someone always wants to fill it. You would think that the powers that be would have learnt something from the Prohibition years. Did they eliminate the evil sin of consuming alcohol? No. Did they make millionaires of crooks and thieves? Yes. So, let us hope that it's not today's bad guys who get in on the act or we're all going to suffer.

More interesting, in a way, is Harrah's response to all of this. Basically, it now doesn't want to know Internet World Series of Poker qualifiers directly. By that I mean that if you win a seat on PokerStars or any other site, Harrah's will accept payment only directly from the players. Will this also apply to non-Americans, who can legitimately wager online and who may have already won seats? Only time will tell. I'm not a lawyer, so I'm not sure if Harrah's is legally obliged to take this stand, but obviously its directors don't want to provide the Administration with it's first legal test case, and they certainly don't want to risk being jailed, and who can blame them? So, from here, it looks like there may be a much smaller field next year. After all, how many players who win seats online (assuming the sites even run satellites) and have the money deposited in their accounts will still have those funds by the time the great competition comes around? Will the World Poker Tour follow suit? Are we going to see Vegas sidelined as the poker mecca, and the emergence of a place outside the U.S that is more amenable to online gaming? After all, it's mainly due to these poker sites that brick-and-mortar cardrooms have seen their tournament numbers swell beyond all recognition.

Presumably, if the new law is found to be ineffective, because it's so easy to circumvent, the next step would be to criminalize the playing of poker online and then perhaps to ban TV coverage of all poker activity. Somehow, I just can't see any Administration going down that line. In the meantime, some sites are going to suffer whilst others will expand, a test case will be made of somebody, and we will definitely have a much smaller World Series field, for next year at least. All of this is against a European backdrop of increased moves to liberalise gambling laws and allow more poker to be played. Is someone out of sync here? spade