Monday, 2 October 2006

shipitfish: (poker-not-crime)

This past August marked the date. It had been exactly ten years since I last ran a home game; my last one was sometime in August 1996 in my apartment in Baltimore. Back when I hosted those games, we played penny-ante, no-limit mixed games, although we didn't call it that in those days. (We weren't connected to the actual poker scene and didn't know the proper terminology). It was $10 buy-in, and you could easily lose $40 in a night if you were really bad, and usually the good players would win about $10 each.

I obviously don't have much interest in running a game at those stakes anymore. We were all just out of college and poor in those days, so those amounts of money were still meaningful to us and interesting to play for.

I've spent a lot of time in the past three weeks thinking about running a home game. I've posted how I'm sick of NL HE at the moment, and the continuing dangers of playing at NYC clubs. I also realized that, for the first time since my post-college days, I actually have an apartment that is big enough to host a game. Now might be the time to think about hosting again.

The reason I haven't jumped at this idea is that I think my choice of home game rules, mix, and stakes might not be of interest to most of the NYCers I know well enough to invite over to my place. (I won't invite anyone sight-unseen; the game would only be for people whom I already know in Real Life, or are vouched for by someone I know in Real Life). Unfortunately, most of the poker folks I know either (a) don't play mixed games or (b) would only play mixed games for extremely small stakes.

So, I've put up a poll (unfortunately, you need an LJ account to take it. If you really don't want to create an LJ account, just answer the poll questions in an anonymous comment). Below I describe precisely what my home game would look like and what the rules, stakes, and mix would be, and see if there are enough takers. Most of you who know me realize that I like a smoothly oiled machine of a poker game, with clear plans and rules set forth. (Some call this “anal”, and I get why people say that, but I think it makes for a better game if everyone knows every details of the rules up front.) So, here's what my home game, should I run it, would look like. Below that, in the poll, please answer if you are interested in the game and are in the NYC area regularly.

Full description of the proposed weekly game and a interest poll behind this link. )

shipitfish: (poker-not-crime)

I am actually surprised to see that online poker sites are so quickly jumping to the idea that they will ban players from the USA from the moment the bill is signed (a Google news search for “poker” will get you more and better links than I can). The bill only makes it illegal for financial institutions to move money to online gaming sites, and the banks have a full year to comply. Yet, Party Poker, Poker Stars and Pacific Poker (via their parent company 888.com) have all said that they will stop all action for USA players the moment the bill is law here. (Some stories suggest that Pacific/888 has already suspended USA activity, although W.D. has an account there and confirmed that they are letting him play.) Of those companies that spoke out, only Paradise Poker has sworn to defy the law, but that was before the others announced, so their stance may change. (Bodog made some equivocal statements that argue that they don't care, which may just be an Ayre marketing ploy.) Full Tilt is the only large site that has been noticeably quiet.

It's clear, though, that most of the bigger online sites are trying to force the hand of USA poker players. They need the business to keep the profits high. The USA market probably brings the plurality (if not the majority) of poker players to these sites. I suppose they feel that a year (or more) of uncertainty and slow attrition is worse for them in the long run. Perhaps they expect what typically happens with partially enforced and ambiguous legislation — people who really want to can get around it, but the casually interested don't bother. In other words, what happened to NYC public poker could well happen to Internet poker in the USA, and the online sites are clamouring to get ahead of that inevitability. I can speak first hand that such an outcome would be a disaster for the online poker scene.

A shrewd move — vowing to ban USA players. By jarring the players here with locked down accounts (presumably, we hope, that you can still cash out from, but that don't permit playing or depositing), they hope to spur action to seek repeal of the law. However, the company owners, mostly being citizens of countries with real representative government (unlike the USA :), probably have overestimated the people's ability in the USA to actually impact legislation, particularly to get something repealed once it's law.

I can imagine this war of attrition will go on for months, if the online poker sites hold their ground — and they now have no choice but to do so. I am flabbergasted that they put themselves in this sort of “do or die” situation in the very first news cycle. If they change their minds now or at any time before repeal or further clarification of the rules, it will be seen as a flaunting insult to the USA government; that would put them in a bad negotiating position. So, they are effectively committed to this course of action, and they committed themselves so darn early! I hope they understand the situation better than I, but I can't imagine getting a repeal of this bill easily. We're in for a long fight, and in the first 48 hours a big chunk of the online poker industry chose brinkmanship! Do they expect they can endear themselves to USA regulators this way and therefore get a better outcome?

Meanwhile, it actually hurts their standing with the players. We're left to wonder how we get money out, and they aren't making appropriate assurances to the players. Many casual players will see the news onslaught today and say well, so much for that, never giving online poker another thought. I am trying to decide if I should go home and cash out all my accounts or instead go home and play out my pending bonuses and get the last shot at all the fish that will soon be gone.

With all this, plus with NYC poker a small echo of what it once was and with no mode of easy transport to Atlantic City (I hate Greyhound and have been unable to get rides), it looks like home game poker is again the way to get a poker game without serious travel. I suddenly feel like I'm living in the 1990s again. Anyway, I hope people will take a look at my home game post; now is the time to start one, I think, and today has made me more committed than I was even last night.

Of course, the funniest part of this story is that in New York, it's legal to be a player, which is defined as a person who gambles at a social game of chance on equal terms with the other participants therein does not otherwise render material assistance to the establishment. Of course, as I read the statue, setting up my home game is advancing gambling activity and therefore probably a misdemeanor. I don't care, frankly; the irony is too great. It's legal to play at the NYC clubs (but you might get a gun pointed at you and robbed), and it's legal to play online from anywhere in New York (but soon effectively impossible to carry out because it'll be illegal for your bank to make the deposit for you). To combat my options being closed, I start running a home game because there is so little poker to chose from, and that act makes me an actual criminal even though I don't charge a rake or time charges, because it's advancing gamblingGreat, the NYPD can come get me. The fact that I'm running a home game has already been announced publicly, so hopefully this qualifies as civil disobedience. Not the most important thing to do civil disobedience over by any stretch, but we are about the pursuit of happiness around here, aren't we?

[ UPDATE: the lawyers say in the comments that I misread the statue and I defer to their judgement. Apparently, my home game is 100% legal, until I start that hefty rake I'm planning (kidding). It looks like even if I charge for food and the like, I am probably ok, at least in part because I am an equal participant with my guests in the gambling. ]

I've always been a law abiding citizen. Even though I'm opposed to the stupid drug laws, I don't personally break those laws (due to lack of interest in that activity), as many people I know do. So, my hobby coming in direct conflict with the law is really my first experience with pointless laws about my personal behavior. I must admit: I'm with the libertarians on this one.

Update:This guy on livejournal bothered to email every site he had accounts on and collected their responses in a series of comments on this post.

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