Online players frustrated by poker crackdown

Gambling websites hit

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ESPN said it still plans to carry its “World Series of Poker” in July, while Fox Sports is going forward with plans for the “World Poker Tour,” only without ads from PokerStars.net. PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker spent $26.8 million in 2010 on television advertising, according to Bloomberg News.

International online poker gambling dropped precipitously over the weekend. “This week, and presumably from here on out, the guarantees were reduced by up to 75 percent, showing just how affected the sites will be by the loss of American players,” said ESPN poker blogger Andrew Feldman.

Before Friday, an average of more than 77,000 players were playing poker for real money in cash games online at any given moment over four days last week. That number dropped to just more than 60,000 between Saturday and Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.

Bodog.com, CarbonPoker.com and other sites have remained open to American players and reported spikes in traffic in the past week, but their increases are meager compared with the number of players who have stayed offline.

Prosecutors in New York issued indictments April 15 charging the founders of PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker, which operate offshore but represent the leading online poker houses with U.S. customers, with bank fraud, money laundering and illegal gambling.

The indictments contend that the online websites violated a 2006 law by laundering gambling payments as online “purchases” of items such as golf balls and jewelry.

Professional poker players are likely to receive smaller paychecks as sponsorships dry up, but it’s small-time gamblers who are making the most noise. An estimated 65,000 players have appealed to U.S. prosecutors with thousands of testimonies and complaints on poker-themed websites and the Justice Department Facebook page.

Many described how they supplement their incomes or college scholarships with poker earnings. Others have created side businesses with poker tutoring and publications, and contend that the indictments are putting their livelihoods in danger.

“What the government has done is worse than actually getting laid off. On top of taking away potential income that I have devoted so much time and effort to make, they have taken away what I thought I already earned,” said one blogger on twoplustwo.com. “I was fired plus ‘my boss’ decided to take back what I already made.”

Bryan Spadaro, 28, who began playing online poker as a student at Tulane University, said he has a total of $5,000 frozen in accounts.

“Pretty much everything that wasn’t paid for by my scholarship was paid for by poker,” said Mr. Spadaro, who now works for the Poker Players Alliance. “As a secondary income and hobby, it’s frustrating because every year I’ve put $5,000 to $10,000 in my pocket, which in my world is not chump change.”

Although posting gripes on the Justice Department’s Facebook page may let off steam, advocates say, the only real answer is congressional action. Pro-poker groups are calling on Congress to license and regulate the online poker industry.

Ironically, the District of Columbia budget includes a provision that allows residents to gamble online. States have moved forward with proposals that would ease restrictions on online gaming.

“Certainly the political trend has been toward loosening restrictions,” said Mr. Pappas. “Washington, D.C., is the first [jurisdiction] to allow for Internet poker. I think a lot of people felt that progress was being made, so for a lot of people this came out of left field.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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