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Shady Deals and Politics Force Poker Players from the Table

People buy cigarettes, alcohol, prescription medications and plenty of other potentially harmful things every day; hardly anyone flinches.
But wagering $20 a week on Internet poker, now that’s just wrong.

At least, that’s what Uncle Sam has dictated.

As the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act begins to set in, internet poker sites of all kinds have started refusing to accept U.S. players.

The act, passed in late September after being attached to the Port Security Act too late to be presented for public discussion, forbids financial institutions from processing transactions to online gambling Web sites. President George W. Bush signed the bill in October under the extremely suspect notion that it could somehow prevent terrorists from getting funding (if that’s such a concern, then the government should ban off-shore bank accounts, international money transfers and other such transactions).

Several sites, including, have stopped accepting American customers, while publicly traded gambling companies in England have done the same. But for every company that will play by the rules, three will pop up that are more than willing to bend them.

Don’t think so? Neither did the U.S. government when it banned alcohol sales in 1920. And because of that, Al Capone became a big enough celebrity that the contents of his vault interested people some 40 years after he died.

If people want to do something badly enough, they will do it. Most people respect the law, but will disobey it if they think the law is unjust (or just plain stupid). Prohibition was repealed in the 1930s, and today millions of dollars are made each year by regulating and taxing liquor.

The same could be said for gamble online, particularly poker. Industry experts say there are about 2,000 sites that take bets for sports and poker, The Associated Press reported. U.S. players have fueled Internet gambling, supplying $6 billion of the $12 billion in revenues generated each year.

“Prohibition of online poker will only drive the game underground and build distrust and misunderstanding,” Michael Bolcerek, president of the Poker Players Alliance, wrote in a letter to the group’s members.

While the alliance ultimately wants the industry regulated (which Bolcerek estimated could raise $3.3 billion for the federal government each year), the short-term goal is to have poker receive an exemption as a game of chance, thus removing it from under the gambling act’s umbrella. This only makes sense — fantasy sports and horse racing are exempt, after all.

And the government also forgets a motivating factor that every politician understands all too well — money. People make gobs of money playing poker online, and they’re not going to just give it up.

“The hardcore ones will find somewhere, they won’t care whether it’s regulated,” Bolcerek told The Associated Press. “That’s what a prohibition does.”

It remains to be seen what the long-term effects of this legislation will be — if TV shows like “World Poker Tour” will survive. Something tells me, though, that everything will work out just fine.

Americans have proven they’re not afraid to rebel against a law they think is unfair (a Poker Players Alliance survey earlier this year showed 75 percent of Americans oppose a ban on Internet gambling), and they will do so again. Private poker providers like PokerStars, Bodogpoker, and Full Tilt Poker, which use off-shore money transfer companies such as Neteller, have seen increased traffic in the weeks since the ban.

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