FBI Shuts Down Online Poker, Ticking Off Millions of Poker Players and One Mommyblogger

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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.

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Comments

  1. I’m guessing this is another argument about states’ rights. Some states choose to make (select) gambling illegal and others do not. More and more, laws that are state-specific seem to become outdated as technology makes the world a smaller and smaller place. It’s like the complications of buying items online and not paying sales tax, and then having to account for unpaid sales tax on your state tax forms at the end of the year. How many people don’t actually do that?
    I hope you guys didn’t lose very much, and I’m sorry to hear that you lost a nice extra income – especially in these tenuous times.

  2. Nice article. Sad part is many people are losing their jobs because of this. It’s not just poker players but support software developers, ESPN and marketing dollars, other poker TV shows are canceled etc.
    Because of online poker I had a 9-5 job. Not playing, but the industry supported my work. Now the industry is gone and many of us are in the unemployment line because of this. I too am extremely frustrated the government is taking real jobs away.
    I’ve never voted, but you can be sure I will start now.

  3. I too am a recovering poker widow. The difference is my husband has been a professional poker player for the last six years from the time he was 21. He does not have any job prospects because he has no resume even though he has a b.s. degree. I like you am a little relieved that he isn’t spending so much time playing that maybe this will force him to get a steady job but he had guarranteed income equivalent to mine just in rakeback and converting pokerpoint to cash. This doesn’t include any of his winnings.
    I know how to play poker and understand the game nowhere near to the extent he does. I don’t know how to calculate pot odds or EV and I can’t understand even how much thought goes into each hand. It is a skill and not all chance and therefore not gambling. I have heard it likened to a golf tournament and I think that is a fair comparison. The golf players pay money to enter and then with their skill they try to place in the money of the tournament. There maybe rain that happens or the wind maybe blowing really hard for some players more than others which is the chance side of things like the cards poker players are dealt.
    What I am having a hard time coming to terms with is the way it happened. The UIGEA (the law that made it illegal to put money on and take money off sites) was placed in the middle of the night onto the Port Security Bill right before it was voted on. What senator is not going to vote for a bill that will make our ports safer. Many senators stated they didn’t even read the whole bill. Then they exempted horse betting from the bill, which is much more gambling than poker players.
    I agree with you though. The wording used in the bill is too vague and therefore no one really knows what the law is. I wish they would make it clearly legal and regulate it. We have paid taxes on every penny and just paid taxes on the money that is now sitting frozen by the DoJ and we don’t even have in our possession. This has put a hardship on our family that I don’t know if we are going to get through. I guess it depends on how long they keep our money. I wonder what they will say when next year the tax revenue is way down.

  4. Nicole, I think you’ve hit on two key things here. Number one, is this a state or a federal issue? And two, technology moves so much faster than legislation. My gut feeling is that our elected officials don’t really understand the online poker industry – who is playing, how it works, its economic impact. My hope is that instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, they’ll take a good, hard look at poker in its entirety and find a way to make it work in everyone’s best interest.
    We’re extremely lucky – we weren’t solely dependent on poker for our income, and my husband didn’t have a huge amount on either site at the time. And as of today, it looks like he’ll be able to get his money from PokerStars. I really feel for those families and individuals who will need to find a new line of work in this economy. Thanks for visiting.

  5. Brent, thanks for drawing attention to another ripple effect of this issue. I thought of this today when the latest issue of Card Player came in the mail – how does this affect the industry built around the poker boom? I imagine World Series numbers will be down significantly, and what effect will this have on an already suffering tourism industry? I’m sorry to hear about your job loss. Hope you’re able to find something very soon.

  6. Stephen Willis says:

    Very nice post. About half way through it I realized that I had played with your husband at last years World Series of Poker in a pot limit Omaha high low event. I hope that this situation will not affect his video work as I am a fan and. Have learned a lot from his videos. For me poker is a hobby and in no way do I depend on it for a living, but it has helped pay for things such as family vacations and LASIK surgery for my wife over the last few years. Good thing our government is protecting all of us degenerates from ourselves.

  7. Thanks for the commentary. Since the shutdown, I’ve been reading poker blogs and all they talk about (for obvious reasons) is the shutdown. But after a while, it just sounds like a lot of noise.
    Your post gives an outsider’s perspective and obviously is targeted to people outside of the poker community. That’s probably more helpful than 10 similar posts on sites only read by poker players.
    Thanks.

  8. We have quite a few friends like your husband, Jeana, who either haven’t entered the traditional job force or who have been out of it for some time because they were able to make significantly more playing poker. If it’s any consolation, Mike had a 1 1/2 year gap on his resume where he was playing poker full-time, and he found a job quite quickly. He emphasized the skills needed to play poker successfully (money management, analytics, intuitiveness, etc.) on his resume and it ended up being a topic of conversation in his interviews. I hope your husband can find something suitable quickly.
    I found it quite ironic that all this happened on a day when many players turned in their taxes claiming that very income.
    On the upside, with all this time on his hands, Mike’s been pretty productive around the house. So far I’ve gotten a new patio and some pretty sweet landscaping. Might be a good time to get a nice, long Honey-Do list going!

  9. What a small world . . . I hope he behaved himself at the table 🙂 Do you think there will still be a demand for videos and coaching? That was a really nice side income for us as well. Thanks for kind words and for taking the time to read.

  10. Thanks, Jordan. Your posts on the 5 Steps of Grief are pretty amusing as well.

  11. This is my first time i visit here. I found so many entertaining stuff in your blog, especially its discussion. From the tons of comments on your articles, I guess I am not the only one having all the enjoyment here! Keep up the good work.