Awakening: Laying the groundwork
Back in 2011, I was heavily invested into online poker. My chosen avatar carried the same name of this blog, NoMeNot. I was pretty good at No-Limit Texas Hold’em, good enough to win a $17,000 package to the Bahamas and compete with some of the game’s greats that were on ESPN on what seemed like a daily basis at the time. Good enough to profit many more thousands as well.
Where I really shined though, was at my chosen game of 5 Card Draw. I spent countless hours honing my game. Numerous spreadsheets were created and I really delved into the statistical analysis, probabilities, and game theory behind the game.
I was considering quitting my full-time job to become a full-time online poker player. At one point, I was making more money playing online poker than I was at my full-time job. However, I thought it best to not take that leap due to the uncertainty around the industry. Online poker was still in its infancy. But at the same time, it was exploding. It was the wild wild west. The game was expanding before the law could catch up.
There was a law passed in 2006 called “The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006“, or UIGEA for short. It was tacked onto a must-pass bill called the SAFE Port Act. Just watching how this law slid under the cracks really made me open my eyes to how our Government can operate.
Even with UIGEA into effect, poker players were under the assumption that online poker didn’t really apply. More specifically, because the Act excluded various things including “games of skill”. I was and still am a full believer that poker, and nearly all of its variants, is a skill game.
Yes, anyone can win any given hand. Some can even be lucky enough to win through the course of one session. Yet over time, the more-skilled players will separate themselves from the pack and prove to be profitable as standard deviation and the law of probability works itself out.
It is akin to playing the stock market. You can invest and lose your shirt on any given day. But with the correct and knowledgeable investments, profits will come in the long run.
After UIGEA went into effect, more than half of the online poker websites closed their doors to American residents, most notably of those was PartyPoker. Others decided to stick it out mostly due to the belief that online poker was excluded on the basis of it being a game of skill. This all was the pretext to what would come nearly five years later: an event known by the poker community as “Black Friday”.
On Friday, April 15, 2011 all online poker players were greeted with the following message at PokerStars, FullTilt Poker, Absolute Poker and their respective websites:
Online poker was officially shut down. All of the money I had wrapped up on PokerStars and FullTilt Poker, which was in the tens of thousands, was now in the possession of the Department of Justice. It was a stressful time.
To throw salt on the wound. It turned out that FullTilt Poker was using players funds for advertising dollars. If Black Friday had never occurred, the customers (players) would have never likely noticed. These websites were making a killing. Nevertheless, they should have kept the funds separate and what they were doing in that regard was illegal.
I received my funds back from PokerStars in a timely manner. They had actually run a respectable operation. And with a deal PokerStars made with the DOJ, they bought out FullTilt poker and paid out the remaining FullTilt player funds, including mine, at a later date.
It was shocking to the psyche. I haven’t played a hand of online poker since. Though it was nearly a nightly occurrence up to that point.
Though there is hope that the industry is slowly coming back on a state-by-state basis, without the combined player pool from all states and beyond, it is nowhere near the same. Since I live in a state where it has not yet been approved on the state level, I still have yet to play a hand of online poker since 2011.
Thankfully I didn’t quit my day job at the time of consideration and my previous inhibitions proved to be well warranted. But something just didn’t sit right with me. This whole fiasco screamed of corruption and not necessarily all at the hands of the online poker companies.
Leading up to before Black Friday was even on the radar, was the creation of the Poker Players Alliance. The PPA was a special-interest lobbying group mostly for the benefit of the online poker player. A pretty unsuccessful one I might add, considering what ended up playing out.
Either way, after Black Friday I wanted to play my part to a degree. No matter how small. I decided to drive up to Washington DC to join in at a PPA rally held just outside of the Capitol building.
If you ask me, it was a complete waste of time. More talk, no action. All that came out of the PPA is that certain people involved had some extra money thrown their way.
Certain politicians were thought to be behind the online poker movement. Numerous hearings were held pre and post Black Friday. But again, no votes, no traction, no action. The hearings to me just looked like a way to keep our hopes up, while nothing of significance would actually happen. Whether it is the case or not, it seemed like a fraud to grease the hopeful wallets of poker players while I am sure someone higher up profited from the actual actions of Black Friday.
I may be filling in the blanks with my own biased thoughts here, but I was pissed and amazed at the lack of transparency and action. Here we have an industry that could easily be legalized and regulated. Not to mention I didn’t even think it to be illegal based on the skill-game argument which STILL hasn’t been fully settled in court at the federal level.
PokerStars, while I believe to have run a great and legitimate operation decided to protect themselves instead of going to court to battle it out. The case was there for them to make the skill-game argument. But when you are up against the giant apparatus of the DOJ, specifically the Southern District of New York, you have what seems as little chance to win.
I still think there is much untold about the events of Black Friday and what led to that dreadful day. There were even reports that Steve Wynn was going into business with PokerStars after a Yacht meeting in the Mediterranean. Something that looked like a sign of possible legalization/regulation coming at the time. But now in hindsight, stinks of possible backroom deals. Is it connected? Probably not, but who knows.
It was these events and the time I had to come to grips with how it all played out that made me look at things in a different light. There were other events that serve as a primer for the bigger picture of the Awakening that I will outline here shortly. Before doing so, I want you to understand where I am coming from and how these events transformed the person who I am today.