I showed up early for Monday's South Carolina Senate subcommittee hearing. Up for debate and public input were two bills that would effectively make legal home poker games and charitable raffles.
South Carolina is one of two states in the country that bars raffles (thanks to Utah for making us seem less antiquated and ridiculous). The Palmetto State also makes any game with cards or dice illegal (read: poker, Monopoly, bridge) etc.
With that in mind, you might expect the decriminalization hearing on the 200 year old law to be ridiculous. You would be right, you just don't know how right you are. By the end of it, I was so frustrated I couldn't even speak clearly.
So, after the jump, I grade the major players' effectiveness (Note: this is for more than South Carolina poker players, as the national Poker Players Alliance had big role in the hearing).More in this Poker Blog! -->
Poker Players Alliance: The PPA, the most legitimate of all the poker advocacy groups in America, has spent a great deal of time and effort in South Carolina recently. It supported the Mt. Pleasant Five in a February trial (see your April issue of Bluff Magazine for my article on the subject) and has been exceptionally vocal about legislative efforts here.
The PPA surprised me by pulling on board one the state's most respected legal minds. Billy Wilkins, former chief judge of the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, spoke on behalf of the PPA. While Wilkins could've been briefed a little better on the subject matter, he was expectedly well-spoken. It was was a coup for poker players to have Wilkins on their side. I would never have guessed the poker industry could've pulled such a big name from the local pool. The PPA also did a great job of rallying the troops to the meeting. Its online outreach was hard to miss.
All of that said, the PPA still has some issues it need to address if it wants to be a serious force. It could have done a much better job lining up and briefing people who planned to testify. One of the better parts of organizing grass roots efforts like this is making sure your people are all on the same page and are well-educated on the subject matter. The PPA needs people who know how to do more than send out e-mails. It needs to be pushing hard in the media, rallying larger groups of people, and educating the masses. A media campaign couldn't hurt either.
Finally, the PPA's social media strategy was either badly conceived or badly executed. Here are a few examples of the Twitter messages sent out to more than 1,200 Twitter followers during the meeting.
"at the Greenville NC poker hearing which just started."
"Greenville, opposition just said that no one has every been arrested for playn poker n SC! Read the paper much?"
"Greenville, opposition sweating bullets right now."
"opposition doesn't support charities that save lives w/ funds received from raffles."
"opposition does not support the burn center thats supported by charity events."
"Franky's Fun Park is full of games of skill not chance! LOL"
"opposition doesn't support personal responsibility. "
"opp doesn't support Sheriners."
"looks like were rapping up."
There were a ton more like that. From misstating where we were geopgraphically, to rampant spelling mistakes, to out-of-context immaturity, the Twitter feed was embarrassing. I couldn't figure out who was sending the messages. He might be a really good guy, but he needs a better understanding of both social media and reasonable, mature ways to win hearts and minds. If the Twitter feed was the PPA's only voice, I would not associate myself with the group. Said B.J. Nemeth, top poker writer, "These tweets sound absurd. You're making it sound like anti-poker people hate children, charities, and puppies. Clearly untrue."
The PPA has come a long way recently and I still wholeheartedly support the group's mission. It's clearly on the right track. It just needs some good counsel on how to handle some of its outeach efforts. Grade: B-
The legislators: Several legislators from around South Carolina came to Greenville. It started about as badly as you might expect. Committee Chairman Robert Ford is from the Low Country. He likes to party and is a laid back guy. He's obviously from the coast. The problem is that his brand of humor doesn't play here. He knew coming into the Upstate that he was going to be facing a very conservative crowd. Rather than respect it, Ford started the meeting by saying, "I guess since we're in Greenville, we need to start with a short prayer. We didn't do that in Charleston."
There is no greater way to tick off a group of praying people than saying, "I guess we'll do it since we're in your house, but we wouldn't do it we were home." Ford is a fun guy, but he is not one to sway hearts and minds. He seemed more intent on debating that convincing. Bad play, sir.
Senator Jake Knotts, a retired cop from Lexington County (around the state capital), is no better. While obviously being in favor of the bill, he spent more than half his time arguing on tangential subjects such as whether the stock market was gambling and whether a local arcade contains games of chance or skill. He also left before the hearing was over (I know, because I left two and half hours into it and he was ahead of me in the parking lot). Knotts is a fierce advocate for whatever he believes in. Sadly, most of the time he throws a punch, he misses his target and hits the referee.
Senator Brad Hutto is yet another Democrat from the coast. He is seemingly a smart guy. He also listens very well. Unfortunately, he stayed too quiet through most of the meeting. He could've used what seemed to be his openmindedness to convince the opposition. Instead, he sat and looked annoyed. I don't blame him. I looked annoyed, too.
Senator Phillip Shoopman is actually from the Greenville area. Despite apparently being opposed to the law change, he was also level headed. He seemed to imply he could handle a poker home game decriminalization measure as long as it didn't involve opening up the state to new raffles. Of all the opponents in the room, he was the most reasonable. I appreciated his ability to disagree with me without resorting to name calling and being judgmental.
Senator Mick Mulvaney from York County won the day. If there was an eye-on-the-ball legislator Monday night, it was Senator Mulvaney. Erudite, polite, and mature, Mulvaney was exactly what the conversation needed. If the entire legislature was made up of people like the York Co. senator, there might be a little more confidence in the intelligence of the body. Mulvaney is a Republican and we disagree on many subjects. That said, I can respect his style and his ability to allow me to disagree with him without resorting to tired and childish forms of debate.
I'm quite pleased the lawmakers are taking the time to deal with this thorny issue. I'm less impressed with their way of handling their detractors. I covered lawmakers from 1996 to 2005. I'd forgotten how disenchanted I was with the people and the politics. I got a quick reminder Monday night. Grade: C-
The Anti-Gambling lobby: Wow. I mean, wow. I know I live in the conservative part of a state that is one of the most conservative of the nation. I've seen the huge anti-gambling forces fill gymnasiums to fight against video poker. I know there are people who don't like gambling around here. I get that part. That said, the folks who came out of the woodwork to fight the possibility of raffles and legalized poker home games were just...impressive.
Chief among the detractors was Tony Beam, a conservative radio host and bigwig at a Southern Baptist university in the north part of Greenville County. Well-spoken and persuasive, Beam is a debater of the first order and has all the charisma of Rush Limbaugh. He is also the king of the straw man. He and Bob Jones University professor Dr. Bob Taylor (a doctor of math, if you can believe it) both rallied the troops by stating that allowing raffles and home games would open the door to casino gambling in South Carolina. They state this despite the fact the bills clearly state that such gambling would be strictly forbidden. They state it because the only way to really rally the anti-gambling crew is to offend their sense of morality. They would get nowhere if they said, "Fight against people's rights to play cards in their own home! People playing poker in their home could turn your children into sinners. Charitable raffles in churches are the agents of Satan." Even the most fervent of gambling haters would have a hard time getting a rise out of that.
So, the detractors create the king of the straw men: home poker games and church raffles will mean MGM and Harrah's will set up shop in Mauldin next week. It doesn't follow, it's silly, and it's just wrong.
Here's the best part. The most vocal of the opponents at the hearing were from Bob Jones University and North Greenville University. Both are privately funded schools and take no state money. Fair enough. That said, their student body is made up of students who are there on scholarships. Many of those scholarships are funded by...wait for it...the South Carolina lottery.
Later Monday night (yes, at a poker game) a graduate of Bob Jones University (who financed his way through school gambling on backgammon) asked why I thought his alma mater was so fervently against home poker games and raffles. Without understanding the motivation fully, I answered. First, they want to impose their morality on as many people as possible. Second, it's an opportunity to be heard. They are an interest group and an interest group is nothing without an issue to fight for or against. And so, the stickers that say "No new gambling" on their chests. And so the tear-filled speeches about lost families. And so the wavering voice of a radio host who talks about the people he has brought back from the brink of video poker addiction.
This is all because the American Legion wants to run a raffle to support its charities. This is all because I want to check-raise my friends in a cheap game of poker.
In short, the opposition is a lot like the proponents of the bill. They are so morally offended by the other side, they can't bring themselves to make a legitimate argument. They are exceptionally devoted and charismatic, but they need to read a book by Dale Carnegie. Grade: C-
Poker players: Despite a massive turnout in favor of the bill, a good portion of the people in the audience were there in support of charitable raffles. The local poker community is huge. Not enough of the players cared enough to show up. I knew going in that my presence wasn't going to make much difference. I was going anyway, but felt better about it when G-Rob said, "Nothing ever got changed by people doing nothing." I was disappointed by how few of my fellow poker players showed up. Grade: D
It's clear I'm frustrated. I'd hoped to write something a little more positive about the hearing. Sadly, nothing positive came from the hearing. The people on my side were unfocused, tangential, and irrational. The people on the other side were unfocused, tangential, and irrational. It was an act of legislative and advocacy masturbation and I am sad that I wasted nearly three hours of my life in the middle of it.
Because I've converted to Optimism, I look forward to what's to come. Because I still have latent fatalist tendencies, things don't look too good--for other side.
Photo courtesy GreenvilleOnline.com<-- Hide More
I am naturally suspicious of people who use phrases like "call to action." It's one of those marketeer phrases that makes me cringe. That said, if you are a South Carolina poker player or one who travels here to play in some of the best home games around, you should be interested in this. Moreover, if you live in Greenville, South Carolina and don't join me on Monday night, you don't care about poker and your right to play it.
Monday March 30 at 5:30pm, South Carolina Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell will be holding two public hearings on a bill that would legalize home poker games and also expand charity gaming (including charity poker tournaments) in South Carolina.
I will be there and you should be, too.
Here's why.More in this Poker Blog! -->
Every Monday night I play in the best home game I've ever known. The action is great, the location is perfect, and the players are great people. The game has been running for years and shows no signs of dying off. There are games like it all over the state--friendly folks who just want to play cards in a safe environment.
Under South Carolina law, local law enforcement could come in at any time and cite every player for violating the state's gaming law. That we've never been raided is no great comfort. Even though this is a friendly game where the only rake goes to pay for drinks and snacks, it is still illegal. And if you think the local constabulary won't bust a game of this sort, you are sadly mistaken.
Last month I covered the trial of five people who were playing in a $20 max-buy no-limit hold'em game in Mt. Pleasant. The max rake on the game was 50 cents and the house owner, according to several people who testified, stopped taking rake the moment he had enough to cover the pizza and beer. The players were put on trial and, despite the magistrate's obvious distaste for the law, convicted. [See the April issue of Bluff Magazine for my article on the trial.]
A few years back, I held what was then my annual Bradoween poker tournament. It was not a huge affair. We had 43 people from around the country in town and crowded into my small house. The buy-in was insignificant and I charged no juice. People from other states laughed at me when I took the buy-in cash to my neighbor's house and left it there. They laughed harder when I programmed my police scanner to listen for a raid and put a couple friends outside to watch the door.
If I had watched myself that day, I might have laughed, too. It was ridiculous. It was a game among friends that wasn't even charging for the BBQ and sweet tea. Still, if the raid on a similar game in Greer (a nearby suburb) a couple months before was any indication, I stood an uncomfortable chance of getting busted. It had happened to one of my friends just weeks before. He'd been playing in a similar game and had been handcuffed in front of his wife and kids.
To people in less-antiquated states, this probably seems inconceivable. The simple fact i this: playing any game with cards or dice in South Carolina (read: Monopoly, bridge, poker, etc) is illegal.
President Pro Tempore Glenn F. McConnell, a Republican from Charleston County, wants to change that. His bill would decriminalize social gambling (including poker) in a private homes where no rake is taken. It would also allow for charity poker tournaments for churches and charities like the Lions and Elks Clubs.
Opponents of the bill suggest that opening the door to kitchen table poker is the equivalent of opening up the state border to the likes of MGM and Harrah's casinos. Nothing could be farther from the truth. You can read the full text of the bill HERE. The language is specific, more restrictive than even I would like, and would in no way allow for casinos in the Palmetto State.
All of the above is to say nothing of the rampant hypocrisy surrounding the debate. South Carolina is a lottery state. The South Carolina Education Lottery program is lauded by many of the same people who fight against decriminalizing home poker games. It's nearly impossible to go to a convenience store or turn on a TV without seeing an ad for South Carolina scratch-off tickets or Powerball jackpots. Make no mistake: South Carolina is, in fact, a gambling state, as long as the state is taking the rake.
McConnell held a hearing on his bill in Charleston last week. If news reports are to be believed, the pro-poker crowd outnumbered the anti-poker folks by 20-1. The Greenville hearing could be a lot different. The Upstate of South Carolina is a great deal more conservative than the Midlands and Low Country. In the past, I've seen giant protests over similar issues.
Even the legislators are worried about bringing the issue to Greenville. Said Senator Robert Ford to Charleston poker players, "Y'all get a couple of buses. I'm always afraid of Greenville on these kinds of issues."
It's my hope that we won't need Charleston poker players to defend our rights to play in Greenville. I know there are hundreds of poker enthusiasts in the Upstate who care about this issue. The question is, do you care enough to show your support in public? You don't have to speak. You don't even have to give your name. You only have to show up. It won't take but a couple hours out of your day.
I know poker is a solitary pursuit, but the battle to legalize it is not. Don't be the kind of player who complains but does nothing to remedy the situation. If you don't show up, don't complain about the law. When you finally have Republicans and Democrats agreeing something needs to be done about the antiquated South Carolina gambling laws, you know it's time to give just a little bit of yourself.
So, you coming?
Monday, March 30th
Greenville County Council Chambers
301 University Ridge
Greenville, SC 29601
The South Carolina Poker Players Alliance is trying to get a good idea on who might come. If you'd like to RSVP for the hearing, you can do so HERE.
If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment here or send them to my e-mail address: rapideyereality -- @ -- gmail dot com<-- Hide More
The Poker Players Alliance has just sent out notice of a poker legalization hearing in Charleston and Greenville, SC this month.
From the e-mail:
Playing poker in the privacy of your own home is a crime in South Carolina thanks to a ridiculous outdated state law signed 209 years ago. Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell will be holding two public hearings to discuss S535 a bill that would legalize home poker games and also expand charity gaming (including charity poker tournaments) in the state. The first public hearing will be March 23rd in North Charleston City Hall and the second on March 30th in the Greenville County Council Chambers, both start at 5:30pm.
I plan to attend the March 30 hearing in Greenville. The PPA is looking for a large turn-out of pro-poker folks.
Monday, March 30th
Greenville County Council Chambers
301 University Ridge
Greenville, SC 29601
I'll likely have more on the subject in the coming days. In the meantime, if you'd like to RSVP for the hearing, you can do so HERE.
To read the full text of the bill, click HERE.
Only a few people asked my opinion of the 60 Minutes poker cheating piece. None of them really cared what I thought. Here it is anyway.More in this Poker Blog! -->
The Ultimate Bet and Absolute Poker poker cheating scandals and the hard work of the people who revealed them are great stories. That's what 60 Minutes does. They uncover the interesting stories and tell them. They can't be faulted for focusing on the scandal. That it was old news to the poker community means nothing. The rest of America didn't know about it and I bet they found it interesting. I certainly would have if I didn't already know it from top to bottom.
There was nothing patently unfair about the telling of the story. Would poker insiders have preferred if were told in a different way? Absolutely. Though 60 Minutes never implicated the legit sites with any wrongdoing, it never made an effort to clear them either. Was that irresponsible? Maybe, maybe not. Look at it this way. When the Wal-Mart employee got trampled by a sick stampede of sale-blind consumers, we didn't require every news station to say, "Target is still a good store, so go shop there."
If I had my way, I would've edited the story to better clarify the legal debate about online poker. The gaping hole in the 60 Minutes piece was a discussion of the UIGEA and its implications on poker. Simply declaring online poker illegal because the Department of Justice says its illegal is a little lazy. I would guess the producers made the decision to avoid the discussion in an effort to not further cloud the already confusing story. That said, a couple of minutes on the legal landscape could've been warranted--maybe those two minutes we had to watch Anderson Cooper with his shirt off and pretending he was on Pros vs. Joes. (Note: I actually like Cooper and admire his reporting ability--he just blew it on that story).
I have no idea whether anyone from Full Tilt or PokerStars offered themselves up as experts for the story. If they didn't, they missed a very good opportunity. The little I do know about online poker security makes me think the 60 Minutes piece could've benefited from an online poker security expert to say how things should be done and how Absolute and UB failed. Whether 60 Minutes wanted such an interview is unknown, but it would've fit perfectly into the story and the legit sites could've used a voice. I know Greg Raymer was interviewed for the piece. What he had to say ended up as silly internet extras, despite him being a very good voice and advocate for online poker and need for regulation.
I cringed when I heard DanDruff's closing SOTs. Tough indictment of an entire industry there, Todd. I've read that he has apologized. Fair enough. It was a good closing SOT for the piece, despite hurting in the hurtful spots.
The long and the short of it is this: 60 Minutes' job is to find interesting stories and inform the public at large about them in a fair way. CBS, the Washington Post, and 60 Minutes did that. Whose job is it to make sure the public understands the cloudy legal landscape, the benefit the industry could have to the tax base, and the skill-based nature of poker?
Well, folks, that is our job. It's our job to beat down the doors in Washington. It's our job to convince newspapers, magazines, and television programs to air stories about it. Poker is full of very smart people. The people who have built successful and legitimate online poker companies are brilliant beyond our ability to understand. What they are not, however, is in any way adept at public relations. Their sense for marketing is fantastic, but their sense for marketing to people who matter is lacking in a fairly fantastic way. It's one thing to build a customer base, but it will be all for nothing if you don't have the ear of the people who make the rules.
That's all I'm going to say for now, because if I start babbling more, I'm going to get myself in trouble. Some day (and maybe sooner than I'd imagine) I'm going to write up a lot of what I know. Almost did it just now, and decided against it.
Because I'm sometimes smart.<-- Hide More
You may want to move.
Gamblers in Kentucky will no longer have access to some online casinos. Kentucky's Justice Cabinet spokeswoman Jennifer Brislin says some casino operators have begun voluntarily blocking access to Kentuckians.More in this Poker Blog! -->
This comes a week after commonwealth officials filed a lawsuit against them at the behest of Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear. Brislin says the commonwealth's objective is to shut down the Web sites only in Kentucky. Settlement negotiations were underway before a court hearing today in the legal disupte over whether Kentucky had the right to block residents from accessing certain websites.
Ultimately, Kentucky wants 141 different domains to block access to Kentuckians or to relinquish control of those domains to the commonwealth. Last week, a judge actually ordered the domains be transferred pending a hearing at which the sites may object.
Sites affected include Pokerstars.com and BodogLife.com, among others. AbsolutePoker.com is also affected, but I think we can all agree that Kentucky can have that one.
Online gambling is illegal in Kentucky as it is in all 50 states. At least, online gambling that isn't horse betting, lotteries or sports betting is illegal in all 50 states. And that's what this comes down to. Horse betting is a massive industry in Kentucky. The governor's theory is that online gaming is costing Kentucky money because those people would otherwise be betting on horses.
So, like I said, if you live in Kentucky, now is a good time to call Two Men and a Truck.<-- Hide More
PokerNews' Haley Hintze reports today that a number of people busted in the Palmetto State's latest poker raid will be opting for a trial by jury.
A few weeks back, the
jack-booted thugs local constabulary cited 38 people for violation of our state's antiquated gambling law (yes, the one that makes it illegal to play even some board games on Sunday). Usually, the notion of taking a misdemeanor ticket in front of a jury is pretty silly. In South Carolina, however, it's pretty damned smart. Those people who didn't pay their tickets? Well, they may never see the inside of a courtroom.
It's been nearly three years since a raid on a neighborhood clubhouse in Greer, South Carolina resulted in the arrests of several friends of the Up For Poker blog. It was a small tournament in the middle of the afternoon and nothing much compared to what the poker scene eventually became here.
It's been nearly two years since we mentioned the case in a post on this blog and noted the fact one of our local attorneys was challenging the validity of our South Carolina gambling laws.
You know how far that case has progressed since then?
You guessed it. Nothing has happened.
The judge has refused to move the case along for trial and prosecutor has little to no interest in reminding everybody about the case. The law is broken, lawmakers (out of fear of being perceived as pro-gambling) won't fix it, and thus prosecutions become well-nigh impossible. Getting busted for gambling in South Carolina isn't all that bad. All you have to do is not pay the ticket and say, "Not guilty" and there is a reasonable chance you'll never have to worry about it again.
Of course, prosecutors in the Low Country are different than prosecutors in the Upstate and we may see the folks down there actually have to face a jury. After that, it's back to what we've discussed before--actually challenging the gambling law in the Supreme Court.
That's actually what lawmakers need and want. This year, the boys and girls at the Statehouse killed two gambling-related bills. Few people want their signatures to be seen on legislation that, in an upcoming election year, could be the fodder for a "State Senator X loves to gamble on South Carolina's family values" advert. Thus, despite the good intentions of a few lawmakers here, there is slim chance we'll ever see a decent reform of the gambling law. That means, in short, the South Carolina gambling law is a law in name only. As it is broken and antiquated, it can't be used in what normally would be a viable prosecution.
That could all change if the state Supreme Court was forced to look at the law. Suddenly, lawmakers would have a legal mandate to take an honest look at the law.
This is a weird place, South Carolina. There are many things about it that are forward-thinking and progressive. Underneath it all, though, there is still a foundation of unwavering conservative thought. In many cases, it's wrought with hypocrisy. It's hard for me to accept as a poker player that I'm allowed to run as bad at I do at Powerball but actually forbidden from running well at poker.
But, that's the Palmetto State for ya. Smiling faces, beautiful places, and not a legal poker room as far as the eye can see.
Thank goodness the gambling law is so messed up. Otherwise, we'd all be in jail.<-- Hide More
Police in Charleston called it the result if a "ten month investigation." They arrested 27 people, including an assistant prosecutor at an underground poker game.
The Charleston Post says the game was run out of the bottom floor of a two story house with games spread on several tables. The host started the games last year and they "just grew."More in this Poker Blog! -->
From the Charleston Post:
A Sheriff's Spokesman described an efficient operation that ran like a business. "They had specific nights that they gambled. The bosses determined where the games were being held and determined the buy-in."
The buy-in was anywhere from $300 to $1,000 per game, he said. The person who sponsored the event was paid a specific amount each time a hand was played.
Those arrested Friday night and Saturday were charged by Hanahan police with unlawful games and betting. Twelve of the 26 had outstanding warrants through the Charleston County Sheriff's Office for unlawful games and betting, Clark said.
That charge is a magistrate's-level offense, but Clark said the people who were dealers or bosses will likely face General Sessions charges, meaning the punishment could be harsher. "
This isn't the first big raid in that part of the state, we call it the "Lowcountry," there was one in Mt. Pleasant a year or so ago.
Keep in mind, we've had several high-profile busts here. There was one in the city of Greer years ago in which an "informant" led Greer City Police to a neighborhood community center and a realtively small buy-in tournament. Of those arrested, the people who decided to fight that case in court are still awaiting resolution of the charges. (More on the poker bust appeal.)
It's been at least 3 years.
We had another big poker bust at what we used to call the "Gaelic Game" last fall. Again, deputies claimed to have and "informant", although in this case it may have just been a case of the game beeing wayyyy too obvious.
As for that assistant city prosecutor, he's turned in his resignation. His boss still hasn't accepted the resignation and the poor bastard is on "suspension" for now.
Police claim they took more than $40,000 from the game, which makes me awfully jealous of the game... you know... until they all went to jail.
Related coverage<-- Hide More
"I am not a biblical scholar," Rep. Barney Frank admitted of his inability to understand. The conservative mores of his colleagues on the other side of the aisle are confounding to some members of Congress. "But I can't find an exemption for horse racing!" The sport of kings' absence in the good book notwithstanding, Frank had a point.
The scene was Wednesday's House Financial Services Committee's Subcommittee on Domestic and International Monetary Policy, Trade and Technology hearing and a debate that should've been conducted before the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act became a reality (UIGEA live blog ).
Frank, one of the UIGEA's most vocal opponents, was pointing out a common theme in America's stance on federal gambling law enforcement: hypocrisy. It's an environment where gambling on juiced up athletes and ponies is perfectly acceptable, but betting on a skill game over which the player can affect the outcome is not.
The Committee hearing was one of the--if not the first--public discussions of the UIGEA, a law attached to must-pass port security legislation and spirited through the halls of the Capitol in the waning moments of the 2006 Congressional summer session. After nearly two years of being a burden only on confused government regulators, the law now threatened to disrupt the lives of many more people.More in this Poker Blog! -->
The summer of 2006 was a heady one for Senator Bill Frist and a small cabal of Republican members of Congress. Frist smelled the Republican nomination for President and he needed friends in some key early primary battlegrounds. Frist wanted it and he was going to get it.
The steamy Washington D.C. summer turned Frist into an irresponsible and randy teenage boy. He wanted it. He didn't care who he had to manipulate to get it. To get what he wanted, he had to ignore the potential consequences of his actions and accept he would be saddling others with a long-term burden. He was the selfish father of a throwaway kid. Now, as Frist tries to figure out who he can count on to make him governor of Tennessee, the progeny of his carelessness and ambition has become everybody else's problem.
If you're just now learning of UIGEA or haven't yet paid enough attention, it breaks down like this: A service that provides gambling on games subject to chance, except for horse racing and fantasy sports, is now considered criminal by the federal government. The UIGEA does not provide funding for the enforcement of its mandates. Rather, it forces American financial institutions to police gambling providers, determine whether they are breaking the law, and then stop doing business with them.
The financial institutions collective, along with UIGEA detractors, say it is well nigh impossible for the banks to be responsible for policing the anti-gambling laws. One of the strongest arguments is that banks, credit card companies, credit unions, and wire transfer companies have no way of knowing from one day to the next who is a bad guy and who is not. The UIGEA does not outline, except in broad terms, which companies break the law. Further, government regulators at the Federal Reserve and Department of Treasury have not been able to come up with an adequate list they can provide to the banks. At this point, the banks would not only suffer the financial burden of policing the internet, but also the ambiguity of the law itself.
UIGEA proponents don't buy it. The national sports leagues (yes, those that benefit so grandly from fantasy sports) are strongly in favor of getting UIGEA regulations finalized tout suite. "There should be no difficulty in identifying and blocking financial transactions directed at promoting sports betting," the leagues wrote in a letter to the Committee.
Proponents, like Alabama Republican Congressman Spencer Bachus, believe it is entirely possible to create a list of offenders like that of the Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control. Rep. Bachus, despite having a last name worthy of some envy, likely loses a lot of credibility when he puts up statistics that suggest 74% of internet gamblers became addicted and many of those have turned to crime.
Regardless, the reality is that Treasury has, in fact, built the kind of lists about which Bachus and the professional sports leagues speak. They exist. According to Bachus, the NCAA has identified a list of 900 such gambling entities that can be considered illegal from which the banks could identify the illegal companies. Moreover, there are lists the banks and Department of Treasury use to battle money laundering.
Regulators seemed duly nonplussed. "Money laundering is a global concern," said Louise Roseman at the hearing. Her point? Banking is not a business exclusive to America. Banks all over the world work together to fight money laundering. Those same banks that walk in lockstep in that battle would be put at odds if the same sort of cooperation was expected to fight gambling. After all, in most countries in the world, gambling on the internet is not illegal. What's more, it's big business.
The financial services industry is beside itself. Wayne Abernathy represented the American Bankers Association at the hearing. No one--least of all the regulators, but including the banks themselves--has any idea how much the UIGEA will cost American banks. The financial burden aside, the banking industry points out the law will result in a no-win situation for the customers. Abernathy said the UIGEA will force banks to either be unfairly restrictive or "highly intrusive." Banks would have to take a gamble of their own. They could allow customers their privacy, but in an abundance of caution be forced to close the accounts of law-abiding entities. In the alternative, they could be more diligent, but be forced to dig deeper into their customers' private transactions.
Among the bills in Congress that seek to undo the confusion caused by the UIGEA is Rep. Barney Frank's HR2046. The bill, as outlined in the official Q&A, would "establish a regulatory and enforcement framework to license companies to accept bets and wagers online from individuals in the U.S., to the extent permitted by individual states, Indian tribes and sport leagues." Frank's bill has the most support of any right now, but there is no reason to believe it has any chance of making it out of committee this year. For Frank's efforts to be successful, a new administration needs to be in place. Optimists can look to this time next year before getting excited.
For now, the only plausible option for lawmakers is to continue working with the existing law and try to work out regulations that will satisfy both the law and the reality of the situation, a proposition that very well may be impossible.
Subcommittee chairman, Luis Gutierrez said it well. "Our time would be better spent restricting predatory lending," he said. That is, lawmakers have more important work to do than babysit Bill Frist's throwaway kid.
Other coverage<-- Hide More
The House Financial Services Committee's Subcommittee on Domestic and International Monetary Policy, Trade and Technology (say that five times fast) is holding a hearing this morning to talk about the proposed regulations for the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act. Given technology works the way it is supposed to, we'll be live blogging the whole of the hearing (you can find the live portion of the blog after the jump).
Scheduled to start at 10am ET, the hearing looks to be favorable toward the position that the UIGEA is an unnecessary law that puts the onus on American banks to serve as an unfunded law enforcement arm of the federal government. Then again, the way things work in Washington sometimes, it might turn out to feature balloon sculptors and Hoppy the Sad Clown.
Among the scheduled witnesses in the hearing are:
Links to transcripts of UIGEA hearing and additional letters -- HERE
******More in this Poker Blog! -->
1:00pm--We'll explore this more in the coming days, but the short hearing pretty much made offficial what everyone expected. Federal regulators were tasked with putting together regs on an ambiguous law and did their best with what they had. The financial services industry is beside itself that it could possibly be forced to serve in a law enforcement and judicial role in deciding what companies can do business in America. In short, UIGEA would be a tremendous burden on the American banking system, compromise its ability to do its job effectively, and, in the long run, likely not do much more than current laws do to stop the spread of internet gambling.
For people wondering about poker's role in all of this...the game did get brief mention in terms of a carve-out for its role as a skill-based game, but this hearing wasn't really geared toward that sort of discussion.
That's all for today.
12:54pm--And that's it. Hearing is over.
12:48pm--Abernathy: If UIGEA regs go forward as set up..."It continues to compromise the quality of the payment system."
12:45pm--Abernathy points out that, if forced to move forward in this manner, banks will have a choice, and neither of them food. They can be highly restrictive in transactions and cut out a bunch of legitimate folks. Or, they can be "highly intrusive" and ask a lot of questions that would end up violtating the customer's privacy.
12:37pm--Ron Paul is back to ask about potential cost to banking and financial services industries. Wayne Abernathy is the one who takes the questions. He seems to be the most vocal and hot about UIGEA. "It's difficult to put a cost on something that isn't in place yet." Again, ambiguity is the issue. Furthermore, say the reps from the banks, they would be be the judge, jury, and executioners for UIGEA...none roles they want to take.
12:34pm--Ted Teruo Kitada from Wells Fargo is up. He should be the last witness.
12:31pm--Leigh Williams from The Financial Services Roundtable...
--Difficulty in defining internet gambling increases 1000-fold if every banking institution is forced to come up with its own interpretation of the regulations.
--Legitimate business might end up getting caught up and restricted and illegal activity will get through.
--Members of his group seem to like Frank's bill to hat would essentially repeal UIGEA
12:24pm--Wayne A. Abernathy from the American Bankers Association now on the block. No surprise, the banks don't just dislike this law. They freaking hate it.
12:22pm----Short version of May's testimony.
--UIGEA is impossible to enforce unless a list of offenders is created that banks can follow
--Banks are given safe harbor, but have no clear way to prove they didn't know they weren't supoprting gambling
"Urge congress to take action to avoid hardhsips that might arise,"
12:15pm--Members of the financial services industry are now up. Frank has taken over as chariman. We're hearing first from Harriet May, speaking on behalf of the credit unions. "I relish the opportunity," she says.
12:00pm--If you don't feel like reviewing all of the stuff below, here are some Cliff's Notes. The Federal Reserve Board and Treasury have been working to put together regulations mandated by the UIGEA. After putting out the proposed regulations in October, they received a couple hundred letters from people and entities on both sides of the issue. The problems right now run the gamut. First, the UIGEA was exceptionally vague on what constitutes Intenet gambling. Second, it puts the law enforcement burden on the banking system. Although the proposed regulations have been put together, they still leave a very grey area on how banks should police the issue. Furthermore, some payment systems (like checks for interest) have no real way to be coded to stop the transactions. Proponents of UIGEA say banks and regulators could easily use existing lists and regulations (money laundering, existing gambling laws, etc) to form practices to support UIGEA. However, as regulators pointed out, America is nearly on its own in the quest to stamp out online gambling, but the banking system is global. Rep. Wexler made the first foray into the poker carve-out issue, though the issue wasn't discussed at any length. The representatives from Treasury and the Federal Reserve Board seemed rightly frustrated in being forced to build regulations for a law that is, at best, painfully ambiguous. Before banks can reasonably be held responsible for policing internet gambling, they will have to be told what internet gambling really is. With exceptions for activities like horse betting and fantasy sports, the ambiguity issue doesn't seem to be one that is easily solved.
11:57pm--Committee has been on a break for 20 minutes or so. Next up are the reps from the banking industry.
11:37am--The government witnesses are done. Gutierrez looks around the room in wonder at how many people actually showed up. He warns the regulators that people are watching.
"Be careful about where you go with these regulations," he says.
11:33am--So, what about money laundering? Why can't the UIGEA regulations be based on money laundering regulations. Roseman is ready with the perfect answer. "Money laundering is a global concern," she says. Or, to put a finer point on it, banks around the world have an interest in stopping money laundering. However, Internet gambling is actually legal in most places around the world and banks have no interest in cooperating.
11:29am--Hey, it's Ron Paul! He was late, but shows up on time to put forth the Libertarian view of the UIGEA. Thanks, Ron.
11:26am--Roseman states the obvious in terms of stopping Internet gambling. "There is going to be a proportion that will go through irrespective of our regulation."
And so, how is ambiguity affecting the formation of regulations?
"I think it is very difficult without having more of a bright line on what is intended to be included on what is unlawful Internet gambling."
11:17am--Poker mentioned for first time, and skill argument appears, courtesy of Rep. Robert Wexler
Roseman: "We did get a lot of comments for poker players that made that argument There are a number of games that involve a great deal of skill but also are subject to chance."
Wexler calls UIGEA, "Totally inconsistent system of regulation of law-abiding adults wishing to play games such as poker, or mah jong, or chess. This is all in the context of a mortgage crisis and banking crisis in Ameria."
11:13am--Though poker is not mentioned by name, Rep. Peter King brings up what many people in the poker community suggest should happen. Ambiguity could be avoided if the law and regulations were more narrowly defined to address, for instance sports betting. Roseman: "I think it would provide more clarity, except for the sites that have sports betting and other gambling at the same time." She is talking about you, Bodog.
11:08am--Well that was fast. The Reserve Board's Roseman: "I think it is going to be very difficult to enforce. Implementing regulations will not be ironclad at all. I think the law is relying on the payment system."
11:03am--The Joe's T-Shirt Shop Debate--The regs basically state that banks should keep an eye out for Internet gambling and if they become aware of gambling activity, they should stop money transactions. The point is made--online gambing institutions are pretty resourceful. What's to stop one from opening up Joe's T-Shirt Shop from taking bets and how are banks supposed to stop that?
10:55am--Barney Frank states the obvious. No one wants to touch the horse racing industry. Frank admits he doesn't always understand how the peopole on the other side of the aisle.
"I am not a biblical scholar," Frank said. "I can't find an exemption for horse racing!"
"I get a bet on horse racing. I'm a nice little bank here. Do I accept it or do I reject it?" Frank asks, and not rehetorically.
"I would assume that most institutions..." Roseman said.
Franks: "I didn't ask..."
Roseman "Unfortunately the proposed reg was silent on that issue."
Franks: "So, the answer is gamble on it?"
10:47am--Rep. Bachus is back up for questions. He submits letter from all the professional sports organizations and NCAA regarding the law, but the letter is not read out loud. Then he goes on to wonder why everyone thinks the potential regulations are so ambiguous.
Roseman: "The payment system really isn't well designed" for this kind of policing.
Bachus suggests it is, in fact, possible to create a list of offshore, illegal online gambling companies. In fact, he says, Treasury has created these kinds of lists for a lot of other laws. "I'm somewhat mystified," he says. "The NCAA has identified 900 of those."
Roseman: "In this case, it's activities, not entities." Roseman suggests Roseman might have legitimate business than cat be conducted throught the banks.
10:43am--Gutierrez is in the process of asking a series of questions surrounding ambiguity in the law. He says, "It just appears to me since several months have passed...that we would tread carefully as we pursue this issue."
10:40am--No UIGEA rules have been set in stone. All are currently in discussion and no where close to real.
10:36am--Valerie Abend from Treasury now gets a chance to speak. I don't envy her position. Treasury has received more than 200 comments from wide variety of groups and people. Treasury is still reviewing those comments. Proposed rules hit just about every kind of payment system from credit cards to wire transfers.
10:32am--The government speaks. We're now hearing from the first panel, made up of a member of Treasury and The Federal Reserve Board. The biggest issue is one we've been talking about for a while: Ambiguity. Not only is the law ambiguous about what kind of gambling is prohibited, but it is also ambiguous about how the banks will be able police it.
10:26am--Rep. Maxine Waters voted for the bill initially (like, well, just about everybody). Now she says she is reconsidering her vote. "I'm very seldom in a position where I change my vote, but this might be one of those times," she says.
10:17am--Barney Frank in the house. Not reading from a statement, Frank goes on a tear, suggesting the notion that we prohibit an activity because a few people might abuse it is a little more than silly. On Con"They really didn't like gambling and they wanted our committee to be the one to drive a stake through it's heart."
10:09am--First mention of Barney Frank repeal bill from from Spencer Bachus (R-AL). Bachus, like some of his fellow Republicans, is no fan of HR2046. Bachus readers letter from 45 of his fellow detractors. He says "Internet gambling ruins lives and tears families apart. Internet gambling is a scourge on our society...that leads to moral decline." According to Rep. Bachus, a recent study shows 74% of intenet gamblers became addicited and many of those have turned to crime.
10:04am--Chairman Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL) is predicting a "lively debate" Department of Treasury/Federal Reserve Board vs. banking community. You think? Biggest issues at this point are the vagueness of the regulations put forth by the government. Gutierrez says... "Our time would be better spent restricting payday lending...predatory lending."
Have you read this post from the one-and-only F-Train? It seems the Tax Man dropped a $636 past due bill on him this week for tournament winnings from 2006.
Well, I can report that F Train isn't alone. I, too, forgot a few thousand dollars in tournament winnings from the Coushatta Casino back in my crazy rush of 2005/2006. In fact, in my post, I included a picture of the very W-2 that would doom me.
And the government wanted a big piece.More in this Poker Blog! -->
Thanks to a total of $4,246 of unreported tourney winnings from the Coushatta, I owed the government $1062 in taxes and an additional $82 in penalties and interest. If F-Train and I haven't made it clear, forgetting W-2-recorded poker winnings doesn't pay. I'm really curious if this was a specific crackdown on gambling-related W-2's or if this was a general roundup of unreported income.
Either way, the IRS wasn't playing games and there was no way to Luckbox my way out of this one.
In fact, you can expect this to get even worse. Starting this month, the IRS began requiring casinos and other poker tournament sponsors to report some winnings to the Internal Revenue Service.
Since March 4th, all poker tournament winnings of $5000 or more will be reported on a W-2G form. That doesn't mean, however, that your winnings of less than $5000 won't come under any scrutiny. Many casinos, like the Coushatta, will require W-2Gs on any amount.
As the IRS likes to remind us, "Tournament winners, by law, must report all their winnings on their federal income tax returns. This rule applies regardless of the amount and regardless of whether the winner receives a Form W-2G or any other reporting form."
Specifically, "Generally, gambling winnings are reportable if the amount paid reduced, at the option of the payer, by the wager is (a) $600 or more and (b) at least 300 times the amount of the wager." And that rate you'll pay? Try 25%.
If the casino elects not fill out a W-2G for your winnings, you can try to slip it by the IRS, if you want. Again, you do that at your own risk. Any unreported winnings will be subject to late tax penalties and interest. And if you decide to try and counter any taxes you pay on winnings by deducting your gambling losses, you better have some pretty good records to back up your claims. If the IRS auditor arrives, failure to have that information could again result in some pretty serious late taxes, penalties and interest.
So if the federal government is cracking down on tournament winnings at casinos and elsewhere, that must mean they are interested in profiting off the poker boom. If so, why wouldn't the government turn towards a potential gold mine of taxes, the online poker room? We'll leave that question for another day.<-- Hide More
One of my big fears here is having to report on the people I know. When we cover some particularly greusome accident I always check to see if the victim was a friend, that sorta thing. So it was with great distress that I read about a big poker bust.
In fact, thanks to the arrest report, I now know a lot more about people I met years ago.
Anyway, from conversations with police and various other reports, here's what we know....More in this Poker Blog! -->
THE OFFICIAL REPORT
A police report is a public document. I'm surprise more people don't take advantage of that fact. Here is an abridged summary :
Undercover police got an ANONYMOUS TIP that there were poker games inside this location on Tuedays and Saturdays. 5 deupities with the Greenville County Sheriff's office then staked the game out.
They observed about 20 cars in the parking lot of a fireworks warehouse after hours.
They moved 2 unmarked cruisers into the parking lot where the game was played and waited until another player tried to get in by using the buzzer on the front door. 2 of the deputies then walked up next to the man being buzzed in and acted as if they were with him. A "White Female" opened the door and let all 3 men in.
The deputies could see from the door that there was a poker game inside thus giving them probable cause to continue in where they saw two tables of Texas Hold-em.
The other deputies came in and stopped the game. The confiscated about $4,000, 33 packs of COPAG cards, a case of chips, and a laptop computer. Everyone there agreed to forfeit ALL OF THE CASH ON THEM and sign a waiver giving up those funds in exchange for a light fine and release.
In addition to the game's operator, it looks like 13 people were charged.
Evidently the deputies there that night spoke in a way that indicated that they had full knowledge of the location of at least 2 other active G-Vegas Underground games. In other words, they knew the address. Please remember there has never been a specific reference to any game's location or any player's real name on this blog or on Blood's.
Further, there is some reason to believe that these same officers intend to shut down those games.
It is NOT clear at this point whether or not those operators plan to take heed of this OBVIOUS warning.
Blood makes the very reasonable assumption that the recent robbery at the Black Stallion game and this bust (with potential to be bustS plural) are related. His theory is that the law knew these games went on but tolerated them UNTIL the threat of deadly violence emerged.
I wonder how, or IF, that relates to the "ANONYMOUS TIP" that police say led them to the game this week.
I would note that games like this have always been especially vulnerable to anyone who has lost badly and want to act in spite or just simply be a dick. Hell, it could have been the wife of a too-frequent player.
I will say this. I won't be at any underground game anytime soon. As Otis said yesterday, its a matter of EV.
As the odds of having every dollar on your person seized (with an ADDITIONAL fine) increase the EV of playing in a particular location declines SHARPLY.
Update from Otis: For posterity...
Without using the names here, here's a look at the age ranges of the people who were ticketed in this case:
Not sure whether to start this one with:
1) Good thing we're on a break
2) At least is wasn't robbers.
So, you choose. Details are very limited at the moment, so much so that I don't feel good saying any more than to offer this: one of the most regular G-Vegas games was busted Tuesday night by Greenville County authorities. If you're from 'round these parts, you know where most people play on Tuesday nights.
So, to recap the past three weeks in Carolina poker:
And now, apparently, a South Carolina bust. Two words: Damn it.
If I hear any more than I have, I'll update this post later. If you know anything more, drop me an e-mail or a comment. If not, we'll just stick with:
1) Good thing we're on a break
2) At least is wasn't robbers.
Update: BadBlood has done a little more work to confirm the above. He has details of the bust here.
Update 2: And it's in the news. Precious little information in the news story. Looks like Richard Walton of the Greenville News is working off the incident report only. You'll learn more from BadBlood's post. Nonetheless, here's the link.
Within a few hours of the news breaking yesterday, word about Mike Gracz and Chris Bell's poker raid outside of Raliegh, NC had spread just about everywhere. The reporting on the story ranged from standard to lackluster to a bit sensational.
Because we at Up For Poker have spent more than a little time in underground Carolina poker rooms, we took more than a little interest in the North Carolina bust. [Blind to the authorities: No need to follow us around looking to find the card rooms. We're on a break.] So, we asked a few questions and got a few answers from a loyal reader who has spent some time in the North Carolina room.More in this Poker Blog! -->
From what we hear, the room had been in operation for some time, maybe as long as three years. The tournament in question was a $500 tourney with rebuys for the first level (2 hrs) plus an add on. The tournament usually pulled 75-100 players and paid the final table. The room operators ran satellites prior to the event and first prize was routinely $30,000-$40,000.
Apparently this tournament was the chief draw for the room. We're told that cash games ran around the tournament but not on any other days. The room had recently started offering smaller buy-in tournaments on the odd Sunday, but was not operatiing 24/7 and cetainly was not a "casino" as ALE agents were suggesting.
If there was one area where the North Carolina room set itself apart from other rooms, it was the alleged operation of non-poker games. According to one player, the table games were in action before the tournament kicked off or after many people had already busted. We're told a blackjack, craps, a roulette table were available. If there is an aggregious offense in all of this, it's this. While it should be obvious we don't believe gambling should be illegal anywhere, we think poker room operators have a responsbility to protect their players from busts. It's one thing to run a room based soley on playing poker, something that can be legally argued to be a game where players are playing against each other and not against the house. It's another thing entirely (and a lot more sexy for the cops and the media) to have an actual roulette wheel. Really, once an undercover makes it into your room and sees somebody rolling dice on a real craps table, how long do you think it's going to take him to get a warrant? It's one thing to try to convince a judge, "These men are playing cards and it looks illegal" versus, "Your honor, there was some guy who rolled eight straight points and kept screaming about his baby needing new shoes!"
As is the case in just about every place I've visited, the poker scene in North Carolina is as strong as you could possibly want and finding a game is pretty easy if you look. In nearby Rocky Mount, there are at least three rooms in operation and it's possible to play every night of the week (sounds a lot like G-Vegas).
Gracz may have hit on the best point. He told CardPLayer, "Weâ€™re out in the middle of nowhere for a reason,â€ Gracz said. â€œI just feel as though (the police) could find something better to do with 20 hours of their time."
Therein lies the rub. Obviously, any operating room is turning its nose up at the law. However, it's a law that few people--even most state agents--really don't care much about. Agents have to do their jobs and make the bust, but the end result is a bunch of people getting misdemeanor tickets that are the equivalent of a speeding ticket. Oh, and a lot of headlines.
The end result of these busts is often the same. The charges against the players usually go nowhere. According to CardPlayer, the last time Gracz was busted in North Carolina, the charges ended up getting dropped.
Here in G-Vegas, cases sit in the Pending file for ages. The most recent bust here was two years ago when a dozen or so local players were busted in a small, suburban neighorhood clubhouse tournament. While everyone in that case was cuffed, searched, and removed of most of their posessession, the case has still never been resolved. This is primarily because prosecutors are in a tough spot. South Carolina gambling laws are so antiquated that actually trying this case will likely either result in an unwanted acquittal or a consitutional challenge that would make lawmakers really uncomfortable.
There are a lot of discussions that could be spawned from this raid, but we'll save those for another day. However, I can't let it go without mentioning one point that stuck in my gut. The concept of a fully operational kitchen in the North Carolina case was a bit overblown. While the room did offer crock pot fare and sandwiches, it was not serving four-course meals and cooking food-to-order. If ALE agents want real poker room food, I can take them to at least two places that cater meals for their players (would you believe I actually saw a turkey carved in a room one night?).
Sure, it's not a huge point, but, damn it, there's a difference.
Thanks to R. for the info.<-- Hide More
First up in my inbox this morning was news from BadBlood that Mike Gracz and Chris Bell (not to mention around 70 other people) were busted at a rural North Carolina poker game on Saturday.
The bust, perhaps, was to be expected. North Carolina Alcohol Law Enforcement agents apparently hold gambling (and presumbly the illegal distribution of alcohol in said gambling parlors) among their top priorities. This time, some bigger name players got caught up in the raid.More in this Poker Blog! -->
I'm not friends with Bell or Gracz, but most folks know (even my wife, apparently) that we would not have Michael Gracz in poker if it weren't for Bell. Bell, a N.C. State business graduate, backed Gracz in his early forays into the poker world. Now, it looks like they can share an attorney. Gracz has some experience in this area. He was busted a few years back as well.
The basics of the story seem pretty straight forward: ALE agents bust in and take down a game in Johnston County, arresting 70 people, confiscating all the equipment and around $70,000. With the exception of craps and roulette tables being in the room, it sounds like your average, everyday underground room.
I could spend a lot of time talking about how ridiculous the raid itself is. After all, according to one neighbor in the rural community, "They've never caused any trouble up here that I know of, not in the neighborhood, they haven't," McLamb said. "They kind of kept it low key."
Instead, I think the former TV journalist in me is going to win out and go after the lackluster reporting of reporter Mike Charbonneau and/or his web editor Anne Leake. My favorite passage from the story: "Complainants said the building was used for a number of poker games, such as Texas Hold 'Em, blackjack and roulette"
I once wrote a Cop-Speak-To-Mabel-Speak Theasaurus for new police beat reporters. It might have helped the reporters write the above sentence and provide some alternate words for "complainants." If that doesn't help, I think we should all pitch in and buy them a copy of Super:System to let them know that blackjack and roulette are not poker games.
For more head-shaking fun, visit the WRAL web site. To see if you know anybody caught up in the raid (drop us a note in the comments or an e-mail if you know any more about what happened), check out the list of those arrested and thier charges.
Update: For a better story (one that actually knows that Mike Gracz is the lead), check out the News Observer.
Update 2: More on the North Carolina Poker Bust<-- Hide More
For all of our South Carolina readers (including the new readers we apparently have from local environs--hi, folks), you can feel secure that at least one of your lawmakers has his head screwed on straight (or at least somewhat straight).
Rep. William Scarborough is trying to get home poker games legalized in South Carolina. Bob Pajich over at CardPlayer has actually done the grunt work for us. As it's not a typical "pay for coverage" piece, it actually contains some valuable information and seems to be about what I would've written, had I had the time, energy, or belief this bill had any chance.
You can read Bob's story by clicking here.
Dan over at Pokerati is relentless and inspiring in his coverage of the recent poker room busts around Dallas. His most recent post offered a humorous look at SWAT team hand signals. As I happen to know members of law enforcement also play poker, I think there's a decent chance they use hand signals while they play. Or if they don't, they should.
I'm sure the signals, like police radio ten-codes, change from city to city. Around G-Vegas, here are some of the more popular poker hand signals.
Wanna make your own?<-- Hide More
I'm too tired to fully explain how happy this makes me. Suffice it to say, after serving fifteen terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, the man who once said of Internet gaming, "You just click the mouse and lose your house," is now going to have to figure out what to do with his life.
In a race that Republicans ignored because they didn't think it could be lost, in a race the national media ignored because they didn't see it as a potential pick-up for Democrats, in a race that even the candidate didn't think he could lose, Rep. James Leach (R-IA) lost his seat to a guy named Loebsack.
Damned right. Jim Leach got Loebsacked.
There's a part of me that wonders if we could've held UIGEA at bay for a few more months. If we had, we might never have seen it. Bill Frist needed Jim Leach to win the Republican Presidential Caucuses in Iowa. Leach wanted his bill passed. Now, Leach has been Loebsacked. I regret voters couldn't turn out to knock off Senator John Kyl. For now, I'll have to be happy about Leach looking for a job.
More fallout, here's a statement from FirePay:
SUBJECT: New FirePay policy for US account holders
On September 30, 2006, the United States Congress passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006.
Once President Bush approves the Act, FirePay (www.firepay.com) will no longer allow US consumer payments for online gambling merchants.
Beginning the day President Bush signs the Act, FirePay will decline any purchase transactions from US FirePay account holders at any gambling merchant site.
Ten days after President Bush signs the Act, FirePay will decline any transfer attempt made by any online gambling merchant to a US FirePay account.
All US FirePay accounts holders will continue to be able to make purchases and receive payments from non-gambling, online merchants, as well as "Deposit From" and "Withdraw To" their US bank account.
CJ's Thoughts: I'm glad I signed up with Neteller instead of Firepay, but I wonder if there's pressure on Neteller to do the same. I guess that's why I pulled most of my money offline except for a small stash at FTP and Stars.
My freshman year health teacher, a crazy Pole, once told me that pulling out is the least effective form of birth control. All I know is that it's 4:23am in the USA and CNBC World is showing me this on my television.
Now, I'm going to bask in the irony that I'm covering the WCOOP Main Event, the biggest online poker tournament in history.
Update below the cut
It's now 7:30 am and I'm having a stiff drink. If my wife comes down and asks why I'm drinking at sunrise, I'll explain because the past two weeks have turned this hour into my midnight. Somehow, Striesand ended up on XM and she's singing "The Way We Were."
Right now, I can't write what I want to write. Frankly, I hope it's a very long while before I can write what I want to write. For now, I'll have to be content recognizing what an odd time it is for all of us. I'll admit, there have been a few times I've hidden under the dining room table for fear of the sky falling. I'll admit, I look at myself in the mirror and I don't recognize the guy looking back at me. He is unshaven, baggy-eyed, and has a look in his eyes that can only be described as discombobulation.
Even if I wanted to, I can't give you any inside information right now. I'd say look to other news sites for information, but, frankly, there is a lot of erroneous info popping up on other sites. So, keep it here and we'll give you the best we can.
I just realized I shouldn't be trying to communicate right now. I'm just in no condition to do so.
Hold on, folks. Despite my pesimism right now, I'm really like Billy Mumphrey, a simple country boy and a cockeyed optimist, mixed up in a game of world diplomacy and international intrigue.
Yeah, communication skills are gone. Until later...<-- Hide More
The seedy side of politics is ugly. Always has been. Always will be. What today has ensured for me is that I will never, ever vote for Bill Frist for anything. In fact, I will campaign vigorously against him.
Rep. Jim Leach (R-IA) has a great deal of sway over the Republican caucus that will help launch a potential 2008 GOP nominee. Rep. Jim Leach wanted an internet gambling bill passed this session. Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN) made this happen. Sen. Bill Frist will be running for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination. Quid pro quo is alive and well.
The Port Security Act is a long overdue piece of legislation that's designed to make this nation safer. It took Congress five years after 9/11 to finally make this happen, and in its haste to get it done before a mid-term elections, this Congress "didn't have time" to also protect our mass transit. They did, however, "have time" to add a new bill designed to curb internet gambling.
What this Congress is saying, then, is that it is more important to attack the scourge of online gaming than it is to make sure our buses and trains do not blow up. This is the Congress we elected. This is the Congress we have to get rid of.
By an overwhelming margin of 409-2, the House moments ago passed the Port Security Act. The Senate will soon vote where it will pass by a similar overwhelming margin.
On the bill itself, let's remember that it doesn't make onling gambling illegal. Online gambling is already illegal in most cases. Instead, it makes it much more difficult for existing online gambling sites to do business with Americans. It makes it harder for Americans to perform any financial transactions with online gaming sites.
However, just because it makes it harder doesn't mean it makes it impossible. I have a tremendous amount of faith in the international business community to outsmart this bill. After all, when we're ranking the collective intelligence of different groups, the U.S. Congress ranks just ahead of lobotomy patients and just behind slightly retarded monkeys.
Updated after the jump
They failed in their attempt to attach the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (H.R. 4411) to the massive defense spending bill, but that didn't stop a coalition of lawmakers lead by Sen. Bill Frist from trying again, and this time, it might just work.
Sometime tomorrow or Saturday, the Senate will vote on a major ports security bill (H.R. 4954), and because no lawmaker wants to go into a mid-term election saying they voted against port security, the bill will pass by a wide-margin. It's these "must-pass" bills that become dumping grounds for pet legislation that wouldn't pass on its own merits.
Some Senators tried and failed to tack on a bill that would protect phone companies who released subscriber information to the government as part of the surveillance program. House Speaker Dennis Hastert's pet legislation is a court security bill. Frist's is the Senate Majority Leader and is pushing the gambling bill.
It'd be easy if we could just blame the Republicans, but we can't. Our station did an interview with Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu this week and asked her about efforts to add the gambling bill to "must-pass" legislation. She told us she was in favor of the bill and would be in favor of any efforts to get it passed. Unfortunately, it sounds like the support is there to sneak it through.
So what can we do now? It's going to take action to stop this from happening, and that means you picking up the phone and calling your Senator... or, for that matter, any Senator. You have to make it clear to them that you do not support turning an important port security bill into a dumping ground for pet projects that will not get full debate. And make it clear that if they let these bills get tacked on, you will not be voting for them the next time their seat comes open. Names and phone numbers for all 50 candidates are listed below (courtesy the Poker Players Alliance):More in this Poker Blog! -->
[Otis writes] I've spent about the last eight hours on this...and just gave a first reading to the actual language attached to the Ports Security Bill. On first reading, and still left open to interpretation, here's what I read:
There is very broad language describing payment methods used to fund an online gaming account, including payment instruments, credit cards, wire transfers. So, any hope NETeller and the like are left out is now out the window.
There was some hope that poker might find a loophole if the language stuck at "games based predominantly on chance." As we know, poker is not based predominantly on chance. In the bill, bets are defined as staking or risking something of value on contest of others, sporting event, game subject to chance. No "predominantly."
Apparently, it will also be illegal to provide instructions on how to move funds to a gaming account. I'm not entirely clear on this section of the bill, but it appears it will be illegal to have a website or other means of communication that provide work-arounds, etc.
Of course, other forms of gambling are exempt, including the stock market, insurance, and, yeah, fantasy sports.
Within the next 270 days government regulators to determine definitions of "payment system" and other regulations surrounding the law and how it will work.
I'm not sure if I understand the language entirely, but there is apparently a provision that makes sure proxy servers don't get you around the law.
If I read the bill correctly, it seems to make illegal the acceptance of funds of any sort for online gaming, no matter where the funds originate, thus making it illegal for any online poker company to accept any money from an American.
The bill also appears to include ISP blocking. I need a lawyer to properly interpret the language, but I think it says, "If you know a company is running an online gaming site, you need to block access to it. And if we tell you it's an online gaming site, you must do it."
As for penalties, they are defined as a fine and/or up to five years in prison.
I'd ask you all, especially you law-talking types, to review the langauage and let me know what you think.
I, for one, am drinking. To excess.
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Over the past 24 hours, there have been a series of reports telling us that the dreaded internet gambling bill is both alive and dead. In recent weeks, we've reported that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) had hoped to sneak the gambling bill into the massive Defense Department 2007 Appropriations Bill.
That bill has now passed through the conference committee, but it doesn't seem to be headed for guaranteed passage, nor is it clear that the gambling bill will ever be attached. Currently, House Republican leaders are holding up the bill hoping to add unrelated bills on immigration and court security.
Lawmakers are scheduled to leave Washington at the end of the week to campaign for November's midterm elections. If the bill isn't passed by then, it likely won't be addressed until later this year at the earliest. That could be a problem considering Oct. 1st is the start of the new fiscal year.
As recently as the end of last week, House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman C.W. (Bill) Young (R-FL) said he was assured by GOP leaders that it would be a clean bill with no "extraneous issues, no anomalies." It would seem that amendments regarding immigration, court security and internet gambling would be "extraneous."
At this point, if I had to lay odds, it'd be 4/1 against the internet gambling bill getting attached to the DoD spending bill. The last amendments added to the bill were added on September 7th. No additional text has been added since. Let's hope the fight over immigration and court security help keep internet gambling on the back burner.
If you thought the internet gambling bill was dead in the U.S. Senate, you're sorely mistaken. It seems that we have a mechanic on Capitol Hill. The deck may be stacked against us. Okay, I've run out of poker cliches.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist may be attempting a legislative trick to get this bill passed. The Associated Press is reporting that Frist is planning to tack the internet gambling bill onto a massive defense authorization bill that deals with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Why would he do this? It's simple.More in this Poker Blog! -->
There is not enough support in the Senate for Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2005 to pass. In fact, there isn't even enough support for it to reach a vote. The only way this bill goes anywhere is for a Senator to find a way to tack it on to something that is guaranteed to pass.
It's dirty politics. But it's nothing new.
As the AP reporter pointed out, Frist is not running for re-election to the Senate, instead he is eyeing the 2008 presidential race. Two weeks ago, Frist spoke during a hearing at Coe College in Cedar Rapids and said he would do what he could to get his legislation passed. The House version of the bill is sponsored by Iowa Congressman Jim Leach. Oh... and Iowa holds the first presidential caucus of the 2008 race.
According to the KnoxNews, the NFL sent their senior manager of football operations to the same hearing. Former Iowa Hawkeye and NFL player Merton Hanks said, "I also hear from [current players] that they are receiving increased pressure from another group of so-called supporters. While it remains a minority of the fans, today's players perceive it to be a growing threat. I do not think that this increased betting is healthy for the sport I love, nor is it good for the players who are playing as hard as they can to win games, not to cover bets."
Yeah, that's right. A sport that allows a Super Bowl team to be more juiced than San Francisco Bay baseball teams circa 1996 is feeling "increased pressure" from the hordes of online sports bettors.
Our politicians continue to be more interested in pandering than in facing reality. This industry is regulated and taxed in dozens and dozens of countries around the world. It has not been demonstrated to be causing an increase in problem gambling in the world's youth nor has it caused widespread cheating in sports where betting is prevelant, like soccer.
We can not let this stand. If we don't make our voices heard, politicians will continue to make the politically expedient decision at the expense of common sense. If you're looking for some inspiration on what you can do, read the letter my father emailed to Sen. Frist's office:
I am very disappointed to see my Republican leader conducting business in the manner of the Democrats "business as usual" format. To backdoor a piece of legislation such as the Ban on Internet Gambling Bill to a defense bill is repulsive and offensive.
I thought Republicans - and I'm a staunch conservative currently at odds with my party over many things which have disappointed me - didn't hide dirty laundry inside some other bill in order to slip it through the system.
Believe what you want about internet gambling - I personally have no problem with it - but if you want to legislate it, then have the courage to bring it to the floor of the Senate on its own merits. Don't hide behind the skirt of a defense bill.
Internet gambling needs to be regulated. Don't give me some moral argument about pervading decent homes with gambling. Gambling seems to be fine for politicians as long as the government entities get a piece of it. So legislate internet gambling, control it, and take your piece.
But please rethink this idea of piggy-backing an important piece of legisation and looking like a Democrat while you do it. Republicans have convictions and stand up for what we think is right. I'd have more respect for you for bringing this legislation to the floor on its own merits, even if I disagreed with your position.
If you're wondering, you can read the text of the internet gambling bill and follow its progress here. You can also glance at the massive bill to which Frist wants to hide the online gambling bill here.<-- Hide More
At long last, South Carolina's antiquated gambling laws are being challenged in court. Last year, some friends of Up For Poker were playing a friendly tournament in a neighborhood clubhouse when they were raided by a suburban swat team that didn't have any drug dealers to bust that day. Under 1802 South Carolina law, the guys could've been playing Monopoly and been charged with the same crime.
Now, a local attorney has taken up the case of five of the players and is currently appealing to the good senses of a local magistrate judge to take a hard look at the law and question how it can be that playing Euchre on a table in my local watering hole can be illegal.
The local players, one of whom likes to play big pots with AQ on an AK8 board, were charged with violating this part of the South Carolina gambling law:
SECTION 16-19-40. Unlawful games and betting.
If any person shall play at any tavern, inn, store for the retailing of spirituous liquors or in any house used as a place of gaming, barn, kitchen, stable or other outhouse, street, highway, open wood, race field or open place at (a) any game with cards or dice, (b) any gaming table, commonly called A, B, C, or E, O, or any gaming table known or distinguished by any other letters or by any figures, (c) any roley-poley table, (d) rouge et noir, (e) any faro bank (f) any other table or bank of the same or the like kind under any denomination whatsoever or (g) any machine or device licensed pursuant to Section 12-21-2720 and used for gambling purposes, except the games of billiards, bowls, backgammon, chess, draughts, or whist when there is no betting on any such game of billiards, bowls, backgammon, chess, draughts, or whist or shall bet on the sides or hands of such as do game, upon being convicted thereof, before any magistrate, shall be imprisoned for a period of not over thirty days or fined not over one hundred dollars, and every person so keeping such tavern, inn, retail store, public place, or house used as a place for gaming or such other house shall, upon being convicted thereof, upon indictment, be imprisoned for a period not exceeding twelve months and forfeit a sum not exceeding two thousand dollars, for each and every offense.
While you try to soak up the intricacies of the law (and start your Google search for whist), wrap your head around this section of the same law (my emphasis added).
SECTION 16-19-70. Keeping gaming tables open or playing games on the Sabbath.
Whoever shall keep or suffer to be kept any gaming table or permit any game or games to be played in his house on the Sabbath day, on conviction thereof before any court having jurisdiction, shall be fined in the sum of fifty dollars, to be sued for on behalf of, and to be recovered for the use of, the State.
Seriously, under a strict reading of this law, I can't play football with my kid during the Chiefs game this Sunday without fear of being fined. Reasonable people would say, "Well, the cops aren't going to waste their time busting you for a game of Pinochle." I'd say, "The cops have a lot of time to waste, apparently. Several of them were caught playing poker on shift a few months back." (Note: If you read that article, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. The game was poker.)
So, the current case is the one that has appeared in CardPlayer several times in the last year or so. It's a case that pretty much defines the silliness surrounding the Raging Assault on Poker's Emergence.
Based on what I know about the current case and the judge, I'd say there is a 35% chance the judge, Hank Mims, will take any sort of stand here. Hank is a reasonable guy and a little on the eccentric side, but probably doesn't want to get involved in the fight. That will likely mean the poker players will have to stand trial. This will not be the kind of thing you see on Court TV. It will be held in a small courtroom in Greer, SC and likely last for just a couple of hours.
The real action, if there need be any, will happen when the verdict comes in. Guilty or Not Guilty, this case will be headed for an appeals court faster than the Greer Swat Team can storm suburban clubhouse. It will be in that appeals court where the law and the people who support it will face the most important scrutiny. Simply put, no person who considers himself reasonable can read the South Carolina gambling statute and with a straight face declare it constitutional.
Perhaps my favorite passage from the entire hearing:
"As avid poker players, they knew Texas Hold 'Em was gambling, the records say. One of them had a license plate that reads, "THENUTZ," a poker term for the best possible hand, the prosecutors filing says."
Where's the wit of Wicked Chops Poker when you need it?
Some of you know my sister, Jen. Some of you have played with her in the WWdN. She's trying to do her part to knock some sense into our Representatives, starting with her own, Congressman Solomon P. Ortiz. She emailed him to ask why they were spending so much time on a small issue when there are more important issues in the world, and to ask why he was in support of the bill at all. Here's his response (surprisingly, it doesn't read like a form letter!):More in this Poker Blog! -->
Thank you for taking the time to contact me to express your frustration with the legislative calendar and the online gambling legislation. It is always a pleasure hearing from you, and I am pleased to have this opportunity to respond.
I share your concern with the legislative calendar. I agree we should be working on matters of national security, the Iraq war, our skyrocketing deficit, and immigration reform. Unfortunately, my Democratic colleagues and I have no control of the legislative schedule. Rather, the Republican Majority Leader and Speaker of the House of Representatives stipulate what measures the Congress will consider, and this Congress has met fewer days than any Congress in 50 years. It is my sincere hope that we begin working on serious matters once the August recess period concludes.
As you mentioned, I voted in support of H.R. 4411. Congress has consistently found that States should have the primary responsibility for determining what forms of gambling may legally take place within their border and the Federal government should prevent interference by one State with the gambling policies of another. Gambling on the Internet has increasingly become an extremely lucrative business that falls into the federal government's role in preventing interference by one state with the practices of another. Additionally, the internet's ease of accessibility and anonymous nature make it difficult to prevent underage gambling and worldwide internet gambling sites offer organized crime groups another avenue to launder the proceeds of their criminal activity.
In regard to the exemptions for certain activities, the reason for that was due to previously passed legislation, such as the Interstate Horseracing Act (Pub. L. No. 95-515), the Travel Act (Pub. L. No. 87-228), and the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (Pub. L. No. 100-497).
Again, I appreciate you contacting me to express your frustration with the online gambling legislation. I will keep your views in mind should the measure come before the full House for a vote once more. Please visit my website at http://ortiz.house.gov to learn more about my views on other issues and legislation, and do not hesitate to contact me regarding any issue at the federal level.
Solomon P. Ortiz
Member of Congress
In case you're not a forum reader or missed the announcement at PokerStars, you should be aware that this is going on tomorrow. I find this to be one very cool effort. Many kudos to the PokerStars, P5s, Wicked Chops, and PPA folks.
Fom the PokerStars Poker Blog:
PokerStars is joining with the Poker Players Alliance to give its American players the chance to tell their Senator what they think about the efforts to ban online poker. On Tuesday, September 12, between 9:00am ET and 5:30pm ET, you can call 1-800-289-1136, listen to the recording from Greg â€œFossilmanâ€ Raymer, punch in your zip code, and you will be transferred to one of your Senatorsâ€™ offices free of charge. You don't have to be a member of the PPA to use this number. Click here for more information.
PokerStars will also be running $1 PPA membership drive tournments with a $5,000 added prize pool. You can find the tournaments by clicking "Tourney" and "Special." Click here for more information.
For background on this story, please start here.
The arrest of Peter Dicks of SportingBet.com has opened a number of questions, some of which we won't get answers to until a trial, or perhaps never. I've tried to get the answers to some:More in this Poker Blog! -->
Well, it seems the Louisiana State Police Gaming Enforcement Division decided their time was best spent gambling online. Louisiana State Police spokesman Dwight Robinette Jr. said, "Our troopers started taking bets (with Sportingbet) and creating an investigation on this company and Mr. Dicks." Louisiana is one of just 8 U.S. states that have specific laws against internet gambling.
Why St. Landry Parish?
That's a great question. St. Landry Parish is located in the Acadiana region of Louisiana in the Southwest part of the state. The largest city in St. Landry Parish is Opelousas. A city in which the police chief recently resigned under allegations that he defrauded the government. He's since been arrested on numerous charges. None of that, however, answers the question. All State Police spokesperson Lt. Lawrence McLeary would tell us is that that is the jurisdiction in which the crime was committed.
Who else has outstanding warrants against them?
That question won't be answered until the next executive is dumb enough to get off a plane in the United States. You can assume that if the State Police placed bets online at SportingBet.com, then they also visited other online sportsbooks. That means dozens of executives may have outstanding warrants. Normally, we'd know exactly who, but an unknown judge who signed off on the warrants also decided to seal them. We know from a conversation with the clerk of courts that a file exists. They're just not allowed to open it for us.
Peter Dicks will likely be moved to Lousiana where he will face trial on the single charge of gambling by computer. The District Attorney's office tells us they have no information on the case because they have not yet begun to prepare it.
Will there be federal charges?
"This is a separate state case. I can't speculate if there will be federal charges, but there will be discussion," said Louisiana State Police spokesman Dwight Robinette Jr. This is the first example of an online gambling executive being arrested on state charges. Former BetOnSports PLC Chief Executive Officer David Carruthers was arrested on federal charges in July.<-- Hide More