Thursday, February 7, 2013

This Too Shall Pass

Musing about the state of online gambling and how it relates to potential players in the USA.

Unfortunately the link below has expired. I hate that. The essay is printed below in it's entirety!

This Too Shall Pass

This, Too, Shall Pass

You live in the USA, “land of the free and home of the brave.” You just returned from a fantastic 4-day trip to Las Vegas and, like all those fellas on TV, you sat down at a poker table and to your surprise you not only won a few bucks but you really enjoyed yourself. Now, back in Utah, one of the few states in the US that does not allow any form of gambling, you realize that your hopes of recreating this experience will have to wait for your next vacation.

But, what about all this talk of online gambling and online poker rooms? Sounds like a good idea to be able to relax in the comfort of your own home, wager a few dollars, and enjoy the challenge of a friendly card game.

That kind of naiveté has landed many Americans in precarious situations these days. The facts are sobering:

  1. Online gambling and online poker in particular are illegal throughout the United States. Pushing the envelope and playing under the radar, many Americans have participated in online gambling in the past, figuring that the issue was too vast and too inconsequential for the Federal Government to get involved. That all changed on April 15, 2011, Black Friday as it is known among online poker aficionados, when the US Justice Department closed down the major online poker outlets used by Americans, PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker in particular, seizing their assets and branding every recreational online poker player in the US as a criminal.

  1. Experts say that federal approval of online poker playing is a matter of “when” not “if” and many groups, including the Poker Players Alliance, are working diligently toward this end although all efforts failed miserably in 2012.

  1. A few states, Delaware and Nevada specifically, have decided not to wait around for the feds to get off their duffs and are proposing their own rules for online play within their borders. Both states passed legislation to this end in 2012. Scenarios like this run the risk of creating 30 or 40 different sets of online gaming regulations in various states adding to the confusion rather than solving a problem.

So what options does our friend in Utah have? Should he just lock his front door and sneak onto his computer in the middle of the night and register for one of the hundreds of online poker sites that seem to be available? Not if he’s smart.

The US Justice Department has done the only thing that makes sense to them as far as Americans playing at foreign online poker sites is concerned. They have “followed the money” like so many other Justice Department crime investigations and they have squelched funding at the source. In order to make deposits to or withdraw funds from a foreign online casino you need a bank or a credit card company which is, these days, merely an extension of a bank. In this group you should also include quasi bank entities like Pay Pal and MoneyBookers (Skrill). The US government has warned these financial institutions, although they haven’t made their threats very publicly, that any transactions concerning gambling businesses outside the USA are in danger of being confiscated and the financial brokers involved are in danger of being closed down. Scary? You can bet on it.

Many online poker sites advertise that they will accept American players. The challenge is getting your money into an account and the even bigger challenge is getting it out. In most cases your credit card deposit will be rejected. Attempts to use debit cards often result in failure since most debit cards cannot be used outside the USA. If you send a check, which most online casinos are not crazy about, it will never be cashed. If you win money where can they send it? Not your bank? And if they do mail a check, it often will not arrive for months.

This kind of mess drives many Americans nuts. Going to Canada or Mexico and setting up a residence and a foreign bank account seems like a huge undertaking and is only an option for the most serious online gamblers, those who make a living at this sort of thing. The average Joe will not go through all that trouble.

So, they try. A lot of guys go through the motions and try to register. Many of the popular online sites that advertise heavily in the US are based just across the border in Canada outside Montreal. Run under the auspices of the Kahnawake Mohawk tribe, hundreds of online operations have been licensed. Unsuspecting potential US citizen gamblers turn over to them all sorts of personal information including bank account numbers, credit card numbers, email addresses, and phone numbers. Few are aware that people like Joseph Tokwiro Norton, former grand chief of the Kahnawake Mohawk tribe, are lurking on the other end of their computer. Mr. Norton owned two online gambling sites and was involved in two of the biggest online cheating scandals ever. Ultimate Bet and Absolute Poker were owned by Mr. Norton and he was the chief architect of what has been called the biggest heist in poker history where unsuspecting players forfeited over $23 million dollars to his schemes and crimes.

So, the casino/site names change and the game goes on. Under the Kahnawake blanket you now find sites like Cobalt Poker, Real Vegas Online,, Casino Sparkle and about 150 more sites. The casual admonition to “play at your own risk” should be taken very seriously.

And then there’s Lock Poker! Americans attempting to log onto this site and deposit money via a credit card or a debit card (neither will work, by the way) should not be surprised to get a phone call from their bank saying that their card number has mysteriously appeared on a purchase originating in China! This site too is part of the Merge Poker Network which is associated with, you guessed it, the Kahnawake Mohawk cartel.

What to do? Although this solution is not ideal, it will suffice for most recreational online poker players and gamblers in the US until the laws change.

  • Find a site that you can trust. Zynga Poker is a good one if you own an iPad or an iPhone.
  • Do some research and weed out the obvious scams. Many European online casinos that specialize in sports betting also have poker and casino software available and their reputations are good among the sports betting crowd.
  • Set up an account (not one that requires your credit card, debit card, or bank account number). Doing this is usually free.
  • Then, gamble with free, play money to your heart’s content!

I know that for many this seems childish and undignified but gambling, even playing poker, is about creating a false environment anyway. When you sit down at a brick and mortar casino black jack table do you put your hard earned dollars on the table? Not usually. Instead you use “chips” which merely represent money. The casino psychologists know you will be freer and less anxious about losing chips than you would be about losing dollar bills. Playing online with fake money is very similar. Using fake money you can practice, hone your skills, and prepare for the day when you can change it up into real money if you choose.

It’s not ideal but no one has ever gone to jail for gambling with fake money. Not yet anyway!

By all means, be patient. The time will come, sooner than you think, when unfettered, legal, hassle-free online gambling and poker will be available to Americans just as they are to so many other players around the free world.


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