Many Americans have nightmares around April 15th, which is of course our unforgiving tax deadline. For US-based online poker players, April 15th, 2011, also known as “Black Friday,” was dreadful for a different reason.
Without warning, US players woke up to find themselves barred from logging on to any of the three largest sites (Full Tilt Poker, Poker Stars and Absolute Poker). Some players had tens of thousands of dollars (or more) in various online accounts, which were suddenly in jeopardy. Those Americans that made a profession of playing online poker lost their main source of income, without any idea of the duration. As one professional player wrote at the time, “I suddenly had no way of paying my bills, and had to explain a six-year hole in my resume.”
The manner in which the ban came into effect should make us all cringe, whether we know the winning odds of having pocket Aces or not. The Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006 was hastily tacked on to the end of a large bill regulating port security. According to various publications and some Congressmen, the bill was not even read in its final form before being voted on. For nearly five years, the Act was not enforced, and thus online poker sites offered their services to US players on the belief that this was a legal “gray area.” Strangely, the bill does not actually outlaw online poker; instead, it prohibits online sites from processing player payments.
The stated motivation for passing the UIGEA was to reduce gambling addiction. One supportive Senator described this problem as “Click the mouse and lose your house.” It is worth noting that many forms of online betting still occur, such as sports betting, fantasy leagues, and others. Also, brick-and-mortar card rooms and casions abound, as do state-sponsored lotteries. Most countries do not restrict online gambling, and yet we do not see higher-than-US levels of gambling addiction around the world.
The ban is approaching its one-year anniversary, with no relief in sight. Regardless of whether you know the difference between a straight and a full house, this haphazard regulatory process should be cause for concern.