Monday, October 12, 2009

December 1st Doomsday?

The first freeze hit the U.S. Midwest last week reminding us that this could be a long, cold winter for online poker. UIGEA is scheduled to be enforced on December 1st and while the ramifications of this are still unclear the poker world is more than jittery. So what are the best-case and worst-case scenarios when we wake up on the first day of Advent?

To address this question, recall the scope of the UIGEA. This act demands that banks prohibit transactions that place wagers (or deposit funds) on internet gaming sites. Horse racing is, for obvious reasons, excluded. [1] An important point that is often overlooked is that there is nothing in the legislation about banks accepting winnings from online wagers and gaming. Thus, based on the actual content of the UIGEA, the often-expressed fear of winning poker players that they will not be able to access their funds is unfounded.

With this in mind, how bad could the situation become in December? The complete Doomsday Scenario is that PokerStars, Full Tilt, and the other major sites decide they no longer want to deal with Department of Justice stormtroopers and withdraw from the U.S. market. Is this likely? I feel that it is not. Multibillion dollar industries are not in the habit of throwing up their hands, dismantling their operations, and opening a chain of casual dining restaurants instead.

What about financial institutions? Will they feel sufficiently intimidated by the UIGEA that they decide to block incoming funds that have been withdrawn from online sites? Again, we feel this is extremely unlikely. First, historical precedent indicates that banks rarely say "no thanks" to money. They have, as it were, a self-interest in the interest. Al Capone had a bank account. Second, with withdrawals from poker sites being processed via third party intermediaries there is no obvious way that banks can distinguish between poker winnings and proceeds gained through the sale of garden gnomes.

This second point also pertains to the ability of players to deposit funds at poker sites. If this, the only limitation imposed by UIGEA, actually occurs, the ramifications for winning players are clearly serious. But with third-party processing and the vested interest poker sites have in keeping fresh money flowing in, can such a law be enforced? It is difficult to see how.

With all these factors in mind, the best-case scenario for December 1st is that nothing will change at all. However, it would be foolish to assume that this will be the case. Even if the legislation proves to be unenforceable in principle, it seems inevitable that fear of UIGEA will decrease the amount of money deposited at poker sites. Simply increasing obstacles to deposits at sites will reduce action from losing U.S. players. This is a sufficient reason for poker players to continue to protest and fight UIGEA in any way they can. A broader reason is that the U.S. has a written constitution that protects its citizens and residents from this kind of bullshit.

[1] The most obvious of the obvious reasons being that assholes who have been in the Senate for decades and who are about to step down can pass whatever bizarre, inconsistent, flawed legislation they please, and thus trample on the constitutional rights of American citizens and residents before putting their feet up and living off the fat pension being paid for by the aforementioned American citizens and residents.

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