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    Why Black Friday was a good thing

    Posted by Marco Valerio April 18, 2012

    One year later, we are better off without the dictatorship of PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and UB/Absolute Poker.

    by Marco Valerio

    The Department of Justice remains a more detested foe to the American poker community than either Full Tilt Poker or UB. One year later, chants of “Fuck the DOJ” will still elicit as much approval as they did on April 15, 2011. An enormous component of our community, from dedicated grinders to recreational players, still wishes that Black Friday had never happened. That way, they would still be playing online poker the way they liked to, right here in this country, with their bankrolls intact!


    After the shock of everything we’ve learned about how these sites secretly used to operate, I cannot understand how any thinking player could sincerely long for the restoration of the old order.

    The poker world should be glad to have been freed from the uncontested dominion of the big three. PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and UB used to rule the American poker landscape for years like an autocratic triumvirate. Today they’ve been reevaluated, but remember when they were looked upon like benign despots? Everybody played on their sites. Professional poker players counted on them to survive. In turn, these sites supported the entire industry. They paid for the media. They paid for the TV shows. Their brands were everywhere. It was their world, and they let us live in it.

    When I think about this one year later, I feel like the Georg Dreyman character in the 2006 German film The Lives of Others, when he tells the formerly powerful and utterly disgusting East German minister, “To think that people like you once ruled a country.”

    Anyone who says they wish Black Friday didn’t happen is saying they wish that two of the most powerful sites in the world were still free to keep stealing from the player community, while the single largest enlists Mafiosi enforcers to maintain the sketchiest flow of cash, plus a morally reprehensible charlatan who, at times most critical, would not yet even look the poker community in the face, continues to reign as the most influential man in poker. These are only some of the hideous vignettes which illustrate how an unchecked billion dollar industry kept itself in business in this country for years after publicly elected officials told them to get the hell out in 2006.

    I spoke with Noah Stephens-Davidowitz, aka NoahSD, the founder of and former editor of Subject:Poker, about FTP and how different things could have been if the DOJ had looked the other way. “On April 14, 2011, Full Tilt was already severely insolvent,” he explained. “It was continuing to lose money while it paid its owners $10 million per month. So, odds are pretty good that Full Tilt would not have lasted much longer, with or without the DOJ’s intervention.”

    “Full Tilt’s customers,” Noah continues, “would likely have been in the same situation that they’re in today. Their money would be gone, and they’d be hoping that someone would buy the company and bail them out. The major differences are that the DOJ would not be brokering things and the company would have lasted a few months longer.”

    There is a widespread tendency to excuse PokerStars, if not outright glorify it, because “they paid.” While commendable on the surface, this anomaly perfectly demonstrates what a horrible state we were really in. When honesty and dependability become the exception, especially in an industry like gambling, then you have to be terrified of the norm.

    No matter who paid out and how soon, if all three sites were complicit in some form of deceit, that is once again the last characteristic you should forgive of the people who hand you your chips. If the online poker industry wants to be taken seriously at the cultural and legislative levels, it has to keep the bluffing strictly on the felt, and nowhere else outside of it. The players would do better to expect the same standards as well, which, appallingly enough, they haven’t. So many have been those who have pretty much reasoned they were fine with their favorite poker room doing whatever they had to do to break the law, as long as it meant getting to click some buttons. Egotism of this kind has horrible consequences. I’m a strong believer that online poker is something that should be legal and accessible in this country, but I am not comfortable with a company doing whatever it takes to offer it.

    There are things which I do hold against the Department of Justice. I do not fault them for intervening when they spotted illegal activity, but I do agree that the Southern District of New York should have known that some of these were people’s liferolls that they were seizing, and I don’t know if they are working as hard as they could be to rectify the damage caused to so many otherwise honest American citizens. In the words of Noah: “It’s sort of hard to argue that the DOJ has helped thus far. But the story’s not over, and it’s possible that they’ll end up helping. There’s a decent chance that they actually use seized funds to pay us back, in which case they’ll certainly have helped us out, though frustratingly slowly.”

    If they could bring themselves to do something other than sit at a computer and blame the government for everything, many more people in the American poker community would be making the best of what has actually become an amazing opportunity to reinvent and restore online poker in the United States for the benefit of the American population. This would mean keeping jobs and revenue in this country for a change, but above all, ensuring a system of security and player protection led by the best regulators in the world, and allowing legal recourse for wrongdoings suffered.

    I asked Stu Hoegner, aka @GamingCounsel, a well-known gaming attorney based in Canada, what he thinks of the current momentum in the United States and where he sees it going. “I firmly believe that regulated gaming in the U.S. and other markets will contribute to stronger global regulation of the industry,” he said. “If you look at Nevada, for example, I think they’re contributing to raising the bar on regulation, and will embody many of the best practices already in place in the industry. Eventually, Internet gaming will be as well regulated as brick-and-mortar casinos. I see what’s happening in the U.S. as part of that trajectory.”

    Luckily, this is being recognized by a newly energized and educated contingent of the American poker playing community. This is the single best thing to have come out of Black Friday, and it rarely gets the recognition it deserves. The community is, on average, much better informed and literate about this industry and the government than they have ever been. More people now understand how payment processing works, and they are more careful with their money because of it. They appreciate what regulation is, what it is supposed to be, and how important it is. They have a better idea of how laws are created and passed, and what they can do to get involved and support this process. These are excellent accomplishments that the community should recognize and congratulate itself for. Hopefully, they will last.

    We have been fooled once. Okay, so shame on the DOJ. But you know what they say about getting fooled twice.

    Special thanks to NoahSD and Stu Hoegner who contributed to this article.

    QuadJacks – Wednesday, April 18, 2012

    About Marco Valerio

    View all post by Marco Valerio

    There are 8 Comments

    1. Kris
      - April 18, 2012
        -   Reply

      You are an idiot, pokerstars was the best poker site ever if you think we’re better off without it whoever is posting your writing is also just as dumb. This is the worst piece of material I have ever read.

    2. Kris
      - April 18, 2012
        -   Reply

      Seriously you are a fucking dumbass, people like you should be shot, I bet you want to work for the DOJ don’t you. Idiot!

    3. Pingback What’s Next?: Full Tilt’s Old Guard | PokerCentric

    4. Zekday0
      - April 18, 2012
        -   Reply

      I really hope Marco does not get shot over this Kris.

    5. Zack 'sluggger5x'
      - April 18, 2012
        -   Reply

      Overall I agree with you here Marco. Definitely on the point that on the basis of player safety, the future regulated US market will make the old FT/Stars days pale in comparison. This is unquestionable.

      What is yet to be determined is will future operators understand or care to understand the game of online poker? Will they care about the quality of the product? Will they care about player enjoyment enough to curtail the rake and make online poker a competitive as well as FT/Stars did?

      I think they will. Many don’t.

      One thing we will never know is what Full Tilt and Pokerstars would have looked like on 4.15.2011 had UIGEA never passed into law? This is the real question people should be asking themselves. In my opinion, there is a different answer for each of these companies. I’ll let you guess for each one. ;)

    6. Benglian
      - April 19, 2012
        -   Reply

      The one and only reason that the sites were ever under pressure, that the sites were ever in danger of not having all player deposits on hand, was the restrictions imposed by the UIGEA. No UIGEA, no problem. Period. So yes, it is the US gov. at the root of the debacle. I know, I worked at one of the big three during this time. Ask we were interested in was providing the players with the best possible poker experience, after all, we were all poker players too!

    7. Justin Bonomo
      - April 19, 2012
        -   Reply

      Could not disagree more.

      1) 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.

      2. 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.

      3. “If they could bring themselves to do something other than sit at a computer and blame the government for everything, many more people in the American poker community would be making the best of what has actually become an amazing opportunity to reinvent and restore online poker in the United States for the benefit of the American population.”

      A) 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.

      B) 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.

      C) 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.

      4. 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.

    8. Pingback QuadJacks | Marco responds to Justin Bonomo’s comments on recent Black Friday feature

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