Black Friday, one week later: U.S. online poker shutdown in review
Here in the United States, we’re lived through the first full week of what looks more and more like Internet martial law every day — at least as far as online poker is concerned.
Let’s take a look at the latest news:
Bad news first
First, the bad. It seems that some online marketers are seeing a connection between Black Friday and some real long-term dangers to casino affiliate marketing.
There’s the new trend for states to tax affiliate marketing (in general), a trend that didn’t exist a few years ago but which is quickly gaining support among U.S. lawmakers desperate for cash.
Now, there’s the willingness of the government to simply shut down the sites that offend them.
“We know that the government is getting quite comfortable in seizing domain names, a law enforcement practice that simply didn’t exist just a couple of years ago,” according to TheDomains.com, which goes on to cite (blame?) Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear’s still-ongoing 2008 attempt to seize more than a hundred poker domain names as the action’s precursor.
“What would have happened to Craigslist if they did not take down the ‘escort ads’ that government officials objected to?” the article asks. “Would they have had their domain seized?”
But let’s emphasize — poker affiliates aren’t at risk of domain seizure or being shut down. It’s the companies that process payments that are the real targets of federal domain seizure here. Still, any smart affiliate should be on his or her toes, with eyes on the headlines.
And even smarter affiliates are taking action. If you’re in the U.S., tell your representatives how you feel, particularly if you’re now economically damaged by what the FBI is doing (which is likely, if you’re reading this article).
… and better news
If there’s good news, it’s that players who have money at the seized domains are scheduled to be paid, under a special agreement offered by the U.S. authorities.
More potential good news is that online gambling legalization is still possible in the U.S. — and now more likely than ever, according to some.
“If the legal goal was to get a legalized federal landscape, it still is,” Alexander Ripps, an analyst at GamblingCompliance.com, told ESPN. “This just provides more incentive to get things done.
“This could long-term be a good thing for those efforts. It could press action and ultimately in the long term, that’s in [the poker industry's] interests.”
Ripps’ assessment underline that Friday’s events should serve as a call to action to poker players and affiliates. “The resulting outcry could serve to inspire politicians to action.”
And for those sites not shut down, fortunes are better than ever. “The number of U.S. players using Bodog … showed a 21% rise in player numbers on Saturday compared to a week earlier, a gain of around 150 players,” reports the Wall Street Journal.
Staunch gambling opponent and powerful U.S. politician Spencer Bachus has seized the news opportunity to once more paint gambling as dangerous and “criminal”.
On the other side of the aisle, Barney Frank told The Hill that the arrests and seizures were “an incredible waste of resources.”
“[The UIGEA] is a bad law,” Frank added, to the New York Times. “How is it possible that a United States attorney in New York does not have anything more to do than indict people for a full house? He should be indicting people for the empty houses we have around.”
Salon.com’s Glenn Greenwald sums up the feelings pretty well. “[I]magine how the brain functions,” he writes, “in a person who spends years and years flattering people and trolling for money in order to get to the Senate, then arrives and, after surveying all of America’s problems, decides they’re going to focus on stopping adults from … playing poker online.
“What does it say about the character and judgment of someone who has those priorities and wants the U.S. Government to adopt them?”
The media speak
Most media outlets agree with Greenwald.
“This is hypocrisy doubled down,” writes Bill Saporito at Time. “The outlawing of Internet gaming has excluded a potentially large business from the U.S. that could be mined for tax revenues that could help pay off some of the debt S&P is so worried about.”
“[T]rying to fence off America from a popular part of the Internet only invites people to find new ways around the law,” the Los Angeles Times editorializes. “Rather than encouraging a bustling underground economy for U.S. bettors, Congress should repeal the 2006 law in favor of a legal but tightly regulated online gambling industry.”
“One can debate the methodology of the online site operators — but does anyone actually believe it should be illegal for Americans to play poker for real money on their computers? Why?” asks Richard Roeper at the Chicago Sun-Times.
“What’s the difference between playing poker online and playing poker in a casino (other than the increased rate of speed online)? Why is online poker somehow more nefarious than playing the lottery, betting the horses, buying a church raffle tickets, shooting craps on a riverboat?
“Answer: It’s not. And I’ll bet if the government could figure out a way to take their slice of the huge online gambling pie, it would rethink its position.”
The Washington Examiner sees the entire affair as an attempt by Harry Reid to get rid of foreign competition ahead of new online gambling laws in the U.S. — which would presumably favor land-based, Nevada-based companies like Caesars, financial supporters of Reid’s political campaigns.
UIGEA petition site
And, in the wake of the shutdown, a renewed call for the repeal of the UIGEA is being heard. Click here to sign a petition supporting the law’s repeal.