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    Marco responds to Justin Bonomo’s comments on recent Black Friday feature

    Posted by Marco Valerio April 25, 2012

    On April 18, 2012, I posted a feature I wrote on Black Friday’s one year anniversary titled “Why Black Friday was a good thing.” As expected, it caused some controversy. Professional poker player Justin Bonomo captured many of the most common disagreements, posting a point-by-point counterargument in the comments section. I am reproducing it here, with my own responses.

    BONOMO: Regarding Stars, FTP, and UB as equals is ridiculous. When was UB ever regarded as a benign despot? Even before the super user scandal it held a very low position on the poker ladder of respect. Stars on the other hand has been a perfectly run poker company, and it’s a huge shame that Americans can’t play there any more. Lumping them together is flat out absurd.

    Nowhere did I portray Stars, FTP and UB as equals in quality of service. If it looks that way, it’s because – out of respect for the reader, no less – I did not want to spend more paragraphs making the same distinctions with which any educated readership is already familiar. The sites are “lumped” together because they are the ones which went down on Black Friday, and they were the three largest in the U.S. market.

    When you remind us that UB held such a low position of respect, you are actually making my point. When an infamously shady operator that nobody supposedly respects is still third largest, don’t you think that says something about the system?
    BONOMO: You conclude that the DoJ is not responsible for FTP’s insolvency because of how little money they had on 4/14/2011. The DoJ had already taken many many millions from FTP long before Black Friday. It’s very obvious that FTP would still be in business had the DoJ never frozen any of their bank accounts.

    No, I don’t think that is “very obvious” at all. Everything we’ve learned about Full Tilt Poker since Black Friday paints a very financially insecure company. Do you remember that they were also crediting player accounts without actually taking any money from the banks? The shortfall, according to some sources, was over a hundred million dollars.

    You recently told PokerNews: “It’s inconceivable how Bitar could have run such a successful multibillion dollar company straight into the ground.” Why absolve him now and stick the blame solely on the DOJ? You seem to recognize that, in one way or another, this company was more insolvent than it was supposed to be. Even if it had been entirely the fault of the DOJ – which it wasn’t – for taking “many many millions” away, don’t you think that would be Full Tilt’s problem? Should it not have interrupted or repaired its business at that point, rather than carrying right along and passing the savings on to the players?

    Remember, this is the same company that LIED when it told the American people their funds were “safe and secure” while it kept allowing, and encouraging, ROW to keep depositing. It also lied to its own regulator, supposedly one of the best in the world, about how much money it had, causing its license to be revoked. Why would you even want such a company to remain in business and in charge of your money?

    If this is what an online poker company had to do to survive in such a system, then the system stunk. UIGEA’s fault? Sure, but nobody was forced to take their chances in the U.S. at that point. The companies stuck around for profit, not to take a stand.
    BONOMO: What group of people are you depicting here sitting in front of the computer blaming the government? Either way, you’re trivializing the value of poker as entertainment or a career.

    I trivialize nothing. The entirety of my work, with which you do not appear to be familiar, is dedicated to the study of the American poker industry, mainly via interviewing those who know more than I do, with the ultimate goal of educating both myself and my audience.

    The armies of trolls I was referring to are instead the ones who trivialize the cause with their ideological attitude coupled with their utter civic inertia. If American poker players are going to remain completely illiterate about their government yet hostile toward it at the same time, they cannot be surprised when said government does not take their issues more into account.
    BONOMO: Making the best of it? What does that mean to you? Petitioning congressmen to get our way? Sure, if you want to do that, I have respect for you, but to conclude that equates to “making the best” of Black Friday begs quite a few questions. “Amazing opportunity” is quite the hyperbole… The light at the end of the tunnel here is much worse than the status quo of poker in 2010. State segregated player pools will never capture what it was like to play on PokerStars against anyone in the entire world. I hate to break it to you, but we’re not headed in a great direction, and yes, the government is to blame.

    Making the best of something is just a generally +EV life strategy, IMO. In the case of Black Friday, yes, this means putting in a little effort to bring online poker back the way we liked it, or as close as we can get to it. That’s one option. Another option is to sit around and keep bemoaning the downfall of an old guard that will not be returning any time soon.

    It’s easy to give up on a country when you can afford to live anywhere else in the world. I respect that you had to move to another country in order to keep your job, but I think you could be doing a little more to motivate those who were left behind. Instead, you encourage further apathy by telling our laziest cohorts that “our government isn’t the most efficient” anyway.

    “Petitioning Congressmen” is not the secondary activity you make it out to be. It would advance things tremendously if the same energy people pour into trolling the way I speak could be rerouted toward more productive efforts. Famous and respected pros like yourself could also be doing a ton to protect the game, if you stuck around. Are you worried that the new American operators will not live up to your old standards? Start an online poker consultancy. Call Caesars and request a meeting. Tell ‘em all about how awesome PokerStars was, and why they should imitate it. They’ll listen to Justin Bonomo before they listen to me. Educate the various decision-makers and the executives about the kind of poker that will maximize profitability and consumer appeal. Trust me, these people are listening. They’re just not hearing anything.

    BTW, are you following what’s happening in New Jersey? Under the model they’re trying to pass and probably will, the state would be able to take wagers from other countries. That’s just one state. Just saying.
    BONOMO: The government actually is to blame. Come on. DoJ has to cite the 1970 wire act as the only thing declaring INTERNET poker to be illegal, issues major indictments and then says, “Whoops, turns out the 1970 bill does NOT mention internet gambling. Our mistake, but we’re keeping the money.” Also lol BillFristAndTheSafePortActaments. What country do we live in where 1970 bill + Safe Port Act = online poker is illegal? They should have just taxed and regulated it from the beginning, they’d have their money, we’d have our freedom, and everyone would be happy. Instead, Stars et all were one logical step away from being entrapped into committing bank fraud.

    Let’s not confuse (or “lump”) the three branches of the American government. DOJ is executive. Congress is legislative. I’ll agree with you all day and night that UIGEA is fucked up and this country deserves better online gaming laws, but blaming one branch for the actions of another is incorrect, as much as you may distrust both. Unfortunately, it happens all the time, and not just in poker. It’s easier to just treat “the government” as one big thing rather than spend more time making important distinctions, just like it’s easier to overvalue the first two cards in Hold’em so that you don’t have to learn post-flop play.

    For the record, the Wire Act was passed in 1961, not 1970. What was passed in 1970 was the Illegal Gambling Business Act, which, unlike the Wire Act, is what the SDNY built much of its case upon. At any rate, it doesn’t look like we are ready to argue whether Preet and the gang had an ironclad case, but that wasn’t the point of my piece anyway.

    My opinion is that the old system in this country was more dangerous and unsustainable than many people realize. (This is much harder to accept for the winners, I know.) If Black Friday was what it took to put an end to it before it got any worse, and I think it would have, then yes, I think that was a good thing in the larger scheme of things. The next thing to do is eliminate or amend the UIGEA and other prohibitive laws to make sure that online poker is given the chance to flourish the right way, with no golf balls necessary. Being against the old system does not mean being anti-poker or even pro-UIGEA.

    Black Friday hurt a lot of people in the short term, but if it’s what it took to wake people up to this bullshit, it could turn out to be a blessing in the longer term. Yes, it will take time. And yes, it could also flop catastrophically. I still think we’re better off without Ray Bitar being one of the most powerful decision-makers in the world of gaming. You say you cannot conceive how big of a fuck-up he was. I can.

    If you don’t think we are headed in a great direction, there are a number of igaming companies out there throwing millions on American speculation alone. You are intelligent and well-spoken, and you definitely understand poker. The industry needs the insight of professionals like you.
    QuadJacks – Wednesday, April 25, 2012

    About Marco Valerio

    View all post by Marco Valerio

    There are 3 Comments

    1. - April 25, 2012
        -   Reply

      Interesting point of view from Justin. Then again, had he been caught cheating in a legalized US market he would have likely faced criminal charges in a US court instead of being banned.

      Marco, I think you’re dead on in both of your posts on the topic. Blaming the DOJ is like blaming the cops for busting you with some weed. Sure, you might think the drug war is stupid (as do I) but it doesn’t change the fact that marijuana possession is still illegal.

      Law enforcement is supposed to enforce the law regardless of whether they agree with it or not. We can’t have it both ways. We can’t say that we want the police to rigorously enforce the laws we like and ignore the laws we don’t like.

    2. @AgentMarco
      - April 25, 2012
        -   Reply

      Thank you for your comment, Bill. I was actually going to make the exact same comparison, to the drug trade. I think the war on drugs is a waste. I think drugs should be made legal, or at least more legal than they are today. That does not mean I think the drug czars should be left alone to do criminal things, like kill, steal and destroy, just so that helpless junkies can keep getting their fixes.

      • Dan
        - April 26, 2012
          -   Reply

        Much better this time but both you and Bill fail to realize the uniqueness of the situation. Your drug analogy is way off, it involves 2 entities both breaking a law. In reality it is much closer to the government passing a law that makes it illegal to pay journalist. What would you do to support your family? Lobby for five years ? You also use examples of things Full Tilt was forced to do because of DOJ pressure as examples as to why the DOJ wasn’t responsible for their fall. We aren’t arguing if they were within their rights to go after Full Tilt but they do have a right to prioritize, mmmmmm Wallstreet.

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