Poker players may have to kiss the money good-bye

The government wants to keep the money, all of it.  The war over online gambling is entering its second stage as more and more people react.  Several attorneys have offered opinions on the fallout; Stanford Millar, writing on likedin, thinks that anyone with money impounded will find it difficult to get the money back without making themselves vulnerable to federal prosecution.  Nelson Rose thought the government would not find it easy to put anyone in jail, but that is not the same as keeping the money.  Nelson did not think the feds could keep it forever, but it does not take forever to bankrupt the online companies and put a serious dent in the finances of some of the players.  That should have a serious damping effect on everyone concerned.

ESPN has canceled its poker program and several full-time players are publicly saying they may simply leave the country for someplace where having a full house is not a crime.  Representative Barney Frank is vowing to attack the law more vigorously in Congress; in Nevada all of the legislators that received  – 70 percent of the total lawmakers – campaign donations from the “off-shore gambling crooks” are going to give the tainted money back.  The Christian Science Monitor, a voice for objectivity and democracy around the world, sounding much like the Islamic press in Iran or Saudi Arabia on this issue, lauds the government for protecting the public morals and the weak addiction prone gamblers who cannot protect themselves from the evil of gambling.

Yesterday I was trying to be humorous comparing public acts of disobedience in Egypt and anyone willing to play poker online in the days after the big bust.  Today, that is starting to look less humorous to me, everyone who is the least bit risk adverse or timid in the face of John Law is running for cover.  The braver among the throngs with some connection to those Internet gamblers in the government’s cross-hairs are declaring a willingness to fight back – but it is clear that if you were running the game or playing the game, fighting back is best done outside of the reach of the feds.  Not since prohibition has a common practice, a normal social convention been treated as a crime with such intensity.  We have had wars on crime before, wars on drugs, prostitution and organized crime, but this war on poker playing online is very much like the war on drinking alcohol of prohibition.

I don’t drink or play poker, so I have no horse in this race – but whenever the government becomes the adversary of ordinary citizens it is time to rethink the laws that make those citizens criminals.  Wow, that almost sounds like an argument to legalize marijuana – but that is not what I intended, however when the shoe fits……..  Is there any real danger or threat to our citizens or our society from poker players (or marijuana smokers)?  There is often a fine line between protecting our social structure, supporting necessary social services and defending our national values and imposing the moral values of one group of people on the rest of society.  Wasn’t that why the pilgrims are said to have come to this continent, to avoid repression and moral/relgious restrictions imposed on them by people with a different set of beliefs?


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April 2011
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