Opinion: Online Poker Debacle Proves the System Is Broken

November 1, 2012
Opinion: Online Poker Debacle Proves the System Is Broken

The 2012 Presidential Election is a hotly debated contest pitting neighbor against neighbor.  No matter what side you are on, it is obvious that something needs to change in this country.  Online poker players know this all too well.

Bill Frist Abuses Power in 2006

The online poker community is all too aware of how shady some members of the U.S. Government are. Poker players were enjoying internet freedom for years up until 2006.  It was then that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist decided that Americans should not have the same internet freedom that most of the rest of the world enjoyed.  He attached the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) to the unrelated Safe Port Act of 2006, a must-past form of legislation, on the last day of Congress before the midterm elections.  This bill had already passed the U.S. House of Representatives, but appeared to be doomed in the U.S. Senate.  There was not enough support to pass the UIGEA on its own in the Senate.  Former Senator Frist found a way to force his agenda onto Americans by attaching this unrelated bill to something he knew would pass without a debate, because his colleagues did not know the UIGEA was attached, and the main bill was supported by all U.S. Senators.  The online poker community is still unable to reverse Frist’s destructive actions.

The U.S. system of checks and balances should have prevented a single person from having this much power.  The checks and balance system sets limits on the executive, judicial and legislative branches so that power is limited to each branch of government.  Bill Frist found a backdoor to singlehandedly force his agenda onto Americans.

Several Forms of Gambling Exempted From UIGEA

Frist can hardly say that he is anti gambling.  Frist accepted campaign contributions from casinos and sports leagues that lobbied heavily for a UIGEA type law.  Casino companies did not yet support online gambling, as they felt it would hurt their brick and mortar business.  The sports leagues were pushing to get fantasy sports carved out of existing sports gambling laws.  The horse racing industry was pushing heavily to get an exemption from an anti online gambling law as well.  All of these groups received what they wanted.  State lotteries also got their wish as they were not restricted from selling lottery tickets online, even though it took until this year for that to become a serious issue.  Online poker is considered by the U.S. Department of Justice to be included in the UIGEA, even though no language in the law includes it.

Frist “Most Corrupt Members of Congress”

Former Senator Frist was named one of the most corrupt members of Congress.  He won this honor from the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.  Frist did not run for reelection in 2006 as he was being investigated for insider trading related to his family business by the Securities and Exchange Commission for supporting legislation that would have benefited his family’s chain of hospitals.

Frist has admitted to adopting cats from animal shelters in a dishonest manner for medical experiments.  The Federal Election Commission accused Frist of misappropriating $1 million in campaign contributions from his 2000 campaign.

Even to this day, Frist’s Wikipedia page maintains the number two Google search for “Corrupt Senator” six years after leaving office.  He held the number one position for this search term for years.

Frist just about singlehanded destroyed a legal business overnight on one of his last days in Congress before what can be described as a disgraced exit from public life.  Unfortunately, online poker players have been unable to undo his damage to the industry.

Bush Signs Safe Port Act

President George W. Bush signed the Safe Port Act and attached UIGEA two weeks after it passed the Senate.  He probably did not even know the UIGEA was buried in the Safe Port Act.  Most of the senators that voted for it realized later what they had voted for only after their constituents complained to them.

Online poker players got dealt a low blow, but it did not seem that all was lost.  Anyone that followed Senator Frist knew of his questionable dealings. The remaining members of Congress must have recognized his agenda and would want to undo his damage to our freedom.

Many online poker rooms left the U.S. market almost immediately after President Bush signed the Safe Port Act and attached UIGEA.  We lost the gold mine of Party Poker, but also lost bonus poker rooms on the Ongame, Cryptologic, iPoker, and Entraction Network.  Players on JetSet Poker lost all of their money at the stroke of midnight on the eve of the bill’s signing.

Online poker players and internet freedom activists thought we would just convince Congress how shady the disgraced Bill Frist was.  The new Congress must listen to these demands, right?  As we all know, they did not.

While most of the Western World regulated online poker, or just considered it legal because no law covered it, the U.S. ignored the cries of poker players.  The UIGEA did not even mention poker in its language, but law enforcement decided it must be included, even though many other card games were still allowed under skill game statutes.

UIGEA Violated WTO Agreement

Nobody in Congress cared that the UIGEA violated U.S. trade agreements with World Trade Organization (WTO) members that the U.S. had signed trade treaties with, and that Antigua could violate up to $21 million worth of U.S. copyrights per year for our country’s violations of those agreements.  This ruling came well before Frist attached the UIGEA to the Safe Port Act.

Forget the fact that many of our allies, including Australia, Canada, Costa Rica, the European Union (EU), India and Japan came to the U.S. demanding damages for our trade violations due to Bill Frist, and that our tax dollars would have to be used to satisfy these demands.  This amount is insignificant compared to our overall debt.  These same politicians that ignored this WTO loss want to use the WTO to pursue perceived trade violations by China.  How can the U.S. expect the WTO to enforce trade agreements when they ignore their rulings when they lose?

Most of the Civilized World Has Legal Online Poker

Players all across Europe and Asia laughed at us.  Our country became the laughing stock of the gaming world.  They yelled “I thought you were the land of the free!” while we hoped our checks from Full Tilt Poker would not bounce because the U.S. Government thought it was wrong to play a $1 poker tournament, while at the same time allowing sites like Worldwinner.com offer “skill games” like Spades, Hearts, Family Feud and Wheel of Fortune with a 25-30% vig.  To add insult to injury, these so called skill games group players into graded skill scores to make sure that nobody can win over the long term because players are only matched against players of equal skill.  In my opinion, that is the opposite of a skill game.  Lotto games with a 50% house advantage are also legal.  These games require no skill whatsoever, unless you consider picking lucky numbers a skill.

We Should Already Know if Federal Government Can Tax Online Poker

Does the U.S. Government have the right to legalize online poker?  Does it have the power to generate revenue from gambling?  Does the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act apply to the internet?

Had Congress tackled the issue of online poker when we lost many of our beloved poker rooms after the UIGEA passed, we would know all of the answers to our questions.  I question whether the federal government has the right to legalize and regulate online poker.  Maybe they do, but had Congress acted after the rogue acts of Bill Frist, we would already know whether the movement was a state or federal issue.  Online poker players are still hoping to get a federal bill passed six years later. It seems likely that it will take a federal court to decide whether the U.S. Government can even preempt states on the issue of regulated internet poker and other forms of online gambling.  If our government showed the competency that virtually every other developed country has already shown, we would know where we stand.  Unfortunately, we may still be years away from that court ruling.

Don’t Get Me Wrong…

I do not hate our country, in fact, I love it.  I appreciate that while our system is broken now, it has not always been that way.  We have freedoms today due to the future vision of brilliant founding fathers that could have never envisioned the disaster our legislative branch would become 225 years later. The problem is with our country’s government and structure.

Instead of our politicians ignoring or voting against something because a lobbying group has convinced them to do so, they should decide whether their vote creates more or less freedom and vote accordingly.  If our senators and representatives voted on the side of freedom on laws that they did not personally care about, we would already be where the rest of the first world is in terms of internet freedom.  Instead, we have a strong voice of a vocal minority that found a way to steal the freedom from us to do in our homes what we want.  Online poker does not affect online poker opponents.  Nobody forces them to play.  These people simply want to force their beliefs on other people even though the issue does not pertain to them at all.  This is nothing more than some adults telling the rest of the adults what to do with their money.

Anti Online Poker Argument

You can make the argument that gambling has social effect.  First, you will have a hard time convincing people that understand poker that it is gambling.  Second, taxes generated by the games would help cover the social costs.  It seems absurd that Americans can play fantasy sports, horse racing, social card games, online versions of game shows, and puzzle games for real money, but not online poker.  Technology would make it virtually impossible for minors to play, which is another argument against it.  A minor is just as capable of creating a fake ID to enter a brick and mortar casino as they are to bypass an age restriction system for online poker.

It took generations to get the government out of our bedrooms; it is time to get the government away from our computer’s mouse in our own home.  Anyone in Congress that opposes our freedom to do what we want in our own home that does not affect anybody else needs to find their way into the same unemployment line 12 million Americans already find themselves.  These same unemployed Americans might find jobs in an untapped industry begging to find legitimized, an industry already legal in most of the world that would already be legal in the U.S. if it were not for the broken system.

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