Don't quit your day job, baby.
Something is different around here. The office chair, which once was occupied in the evenings by the resident poker player, sits empty most nights. The double screens of our home PC, which once were filled with eight poker tables at a time, are black and empty. I used to jokingly describe myself as a poker widow. If that was true, it looks like my poker husband has come back from the dead.
On Friday, April 15th, the FBI shut down the two largest online poker sites, Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars. The owners of the sites were charged with bank fraud and money laundering, and the 8 to 10 million Americans who play online poker found themselves, and the money in their online accounts, locked out.
I've put off writing about the topic because my feelings about the situation are divided.
On one side, I'm relieved. I'm relieved that Mike is no longer playing poker full-time. The possibility of the sites being shut down was always looming over us like a black cloud. We had countless conversations about how much to keep online – how much is a decent bankroll to play successfully versus how much is irresponsible to keep in what amounted to a very risky online "savings account." I hate that his dream didn't quite pan out, but I'm eternally grateful that he has a job with health insurance and paychecks we can count on. I felt that, for all the time invested in poker, the guarantee of the money was too risky to build plans on.
On the other hand, I'm more than annoyed with how this is all going down. You see, I have a hard time understanding how some gambling, in some states is okay, but online poker in all 50 states is not okay. For once and for all, I wish the powers that be would decide: gambling good? Or gambling bad? Staunch supporters of poker say that poker is different – that it is a game of skill and not chance. I can't say either way, I get flummoxed by a simple game of Go Fish. But I can't wrap my head around laws that say playing poker in the privacy of your home is illegal, but the riverboat down the road or the lottery tickets for sale around the corner are just fine. To me, it's no different that telling us we can't smoke weed at home, but come on down to our flashy palace and have some fine crack.
I'm annoyed because, in an economy that's been difficult for most everyone, online poker has provided a small but steady stream of side income for our family. You know what shady, degenerate things we've done with Mike's poker earnings? We've used it to pay down the mortgage on the home we own, giving the government one less foreclosed home to worry about. We've used it to fund our retirement accounts, ensuring that as we age, the government won't have the burden of taking care of us. We've used it to help a family in need pay for an adoption they desperately wanted but couldn't afford. We've used it to become debt-free. We've used it so I could stay at home with the kids full-time. I know, it's despicable, isn't it?
And all this time, Mike has kept meticulous records and spent hours working with a CPA to make sure we claim each and every cent as taxable income. It's not easy. Why? Because there are no hard and fast rules to follow as to how to claim these earnings. We, along with the majority of poker players we know, do it because it's the right thing to do.
You know what I would like? I'd the federal government to finally sit down and take a good look at this online poker stuff. Really look at. Listen to all those for it, and all those against it. And then decide, once and for all, what to do with it. My suggestion? Make it legal and tax the hell out of it. I hear there's a budget deficit or something. Perhaps a cut of the $500 million+ revenue from online poker would help?
But what do I know? I'm just a recovering poker widow. Now excuse me while I step down from my soapbox and help Mike find a new hobby.