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Sunday, August 28, 2011



                            By K. Preston Oade, J.D.

It is clear that vast numbers of U.S. online players have abandoned online play. The question is why?  Are U.S. players so in love with Poker Stars, Full Tilt and UB that they are simply unwilling to play on the other online poker sites that were not shut down on Black Friday?  I doubt it.   

Do most U.S. players misunderstand the law?  Although the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) would like us to believe otherwise, it is not illegal to play poker online or to deposit money on poker websites.  See “Black Friday; The DOJ’s Campaign of Fear,” by Oade & Reber, Poker Player Newspaper (July 18, 2011); and “Lies the FBI Tells” by law professor Nelson Rose, Poker Player Newspaper (August 24, 2011).  

Many U.S. players may be confused about the law and are waiting for federal legislation, which they expect will make online poker both widely available and “legitimate.” This is a mistake for two reasons: 1) federal poker legislation is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future; and 2) given the federal poker legislation that has been proposed to date, if it does happen it probably will be not be good for U.S. online poker. See “Barton Bill has Serious Drawbacks for U.S. Players,” www.toptoadwisdom.blogspot.com.     

It is my view that most U.S. online players are sitting on the sidelines because of the Full Tilt deposit fiasco. They seem unwilling to put any more money into online play after losing their deposits on Full Tilt. Even those players who didn’t have money on Full Tilt have probably heard about those who did. Full Tilt has apparently poisoned the waters of online poker for U.S. players and damaged the online poker industry.   

The demise of Full Tilt is both deserved and unfortunate. It is deserved because, in a free market where people have choices, any company that treats its customers badly will eventually go out of business. It is unfortunate for obvious reasons, but also because Full Tilt was an online innovator, with Rush Poker and multi-entry tournaments.

Currently, there are enough poker websites currently accepting U.S. players, but I wish there were more of them. The main problem is the relatively small number of players. This limits tournament prize pools, and the numbers and variety of available games. Things should change over time, however, as more U.S. players become aware of the continued availability of online play. 

Black Friday changed, not just the numbers of U.S. players willing to play online, but also the overall quality of play. One would think that only the most serious U.S. players are still playing online and that these players are generally better than average players. My experience, however, is to the contrary.

Most sites currently accepting U.S. players are populated by weaker players. Before Black Friday, the second tier poker websites were populated mainly by weaker, low stakes players. Since these poker sites were not shut down on Black Friday, their players apparently just continued playing. It seems they are still there, playing everyday.   

While most tournaments on the websites that accept U.S. players have very small  buy-ins, some  like Intertops have tournaments every day with buy-ins of $162, $109 and $55. While the number of entrants is usually under a hundred, there are significantly more players and larger prize pools in these tournaments on Sundays.

Intertops, which seems to have come online after Black Friday, has lots of deposit options. Credit cards deposits work on an intermittent basis. Just try another card if your first credit card deposit attempt is unsuccessful.  If that doesn’t work, send a check, use Western Union, or set up electronic fund transfers from a bank account.

Most cash games on sites accepting U.S. players are typically populated by lots of weak players. If you have the bankroll to survive the bad beats, current online cash games can be cash cows that are easy to beat for the better players.

Except for low stakes games, the main problems with current online cash games are fewer games and less variety of games. While it is easy to find $1/2 NLH cash games, higher stakes are hard to find except on some weekends. There are not enough limit games at or above $5/10 or $10/20. Pot limit games like Omaha are available, but it is difficult to find pot limit games with blinds of more than $.50/1 or $1/2.     

The good news is that we are still only a few months away from Black Friday and there are reasons to expect that, over time, U.S. players will return to online play in large numbers. This should happen for several reasons. 

First, the cash games on sites still accepting U.S. players are simply too lucrative for good players to ignore. It should not take too long before larger numbers of good players become aware of it and resume playing online.

Second, the urge to play online will gradually increase in more and more players. It should eventually overtake the fear of losing online deposits in all but the most risk-adverse players. 

Third, as U.S. players gradually return to online poker at sites that will accept our play, this will lead to the creation of new and better poker sites. This feeds on itself and eventually the situation will be much improved. It has to happen under a free enterprise system, where the profit motive always fills customer demand. 

Finally, online poker players will eventually get tired of waiting for federal legislation. Such legislation won’t happen in the next few years, and it may not happen at all. Eventually, it will become evident that the solution to this problem does not reside in Washington, D.C. 

The solution to more and better online play resides with the poker players who want to continue playing online. All we have to do is return to and keep playing poker online and the rest will care of itself. 

Copyright 2011 by K. Preston Oade, all rights reserved. Send questions and comments to preston.oade@comcast.net. 

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