shipitfish: (poker-not-crime)
[personal profile] shipitfish

As many know, I have preferred — since the quick withdraw of Firepay after UIGEA — the paper check cashout method from online poker sites. I have used this method many times. I even used it sometimes while I still had Firepay for larger amounts, particularly in the old days of Pokerroom when the would fedex you a check at no charge if it was over $2,000.

I've seen the sites change what check processor they use many times. It appears that the last one operating is Chexx, Inc., a clearinghouse third-party check processor. I've noticed that sites that once used a different processor are now sending me checks via Chexx; I've received numerous Chexx's checks (don't subvocalize that phrase; it just sounds confusing) from various sites over the past two weeks.

[livejournal.com profile] davebreal referred recently to his concerns about Chexx, Inc. Worries about Chexx were initially raised on the 2+2 Internet poker forum. As near as I can tell, that whole thread is a bunch of fear mongering interspersed with an occasional intelligent person pointing out how the banking system actually works. Please, don't panic.

I admit I was a little concerned, too. But then I got Chexx's checks in my own hands and did some research. There are two things that generally matter when depositing any check (I'll get to specific UIGEA worries later): (a) does the account in question have sufficient funds, and (b) is the issuing bank reliable and known to pay their drafts. Nothing else really matters. Admittedly, (b) becomes quite complicated for USA citizens because it is often difficult here when the issuing bank is not in the USA. (Many of the checks I've gotten from various poker payment processors have been Canadian, and I've had many problems at some banks about that.)

The good news is that the Chexx's checks are drawn off a bank in the USA. According to the routing number, Chexx is using a bank called the US Bank, which has 2,472 branches in the mid-west and elsewhere. I don't think we therefore have to worry about the bank itself. Is this bank really going to default on its drafts and run off with the money?

The only problem, then, would be that Chexx's account doesn't have sufficient funds. This, too, seems pretty unlikely. Chexx is a somewhat well-established third-party check distributor, including check processing for many mundane, non-UIGEA-impacted businesses such as consumer product rebates. Even once UIGEA becomes a problem for them, they aren't going to jeopardize their larger business by bouncing checks for any customer — be they an online gambling company or not.

Given that this is an established company with multiple vertical markets, don't you think that they are going to do a careful pull-out? Don't you think they'll inform their customers (the poker sites) when the end date is? Don't you think they'll honor all checks issued before said pull-out? Rumors have gone around that the end might be 1 February. Others have said 1 March. But, we're going to know, and not via rumors. Chexx will tell the poker sites and the poker sites will tell the players, surely with at least 24 hours of warning if not more. Then they'll honor all checks issued up until that point, and they'll refer us to ePassporte or something.

So, you might ask, why is that people are reporting problems, such as tellers refusing to accept the checks from Chexx? Well, this is a problem I know a great deal about. I have been doing online poker check cashouts for almost three years now, and I can tell you first hand that tellers, and even most bankers, are utterly clueless about how even the national banking system works, let alone the international one does. They see a check that doesn't look like all the others they see every day, and they freak. They don't know how to handle it. They see a Canadian return address, and then don't bother to look up the routing number and see if it is a USA routing number. They tell you they don't take Canadian checks, or try to tell you have to pay some exorbitant fee to get it processed, or some other bullshit. Most people (to use a pithy phrase from our world) are clueless donks.

In a comment in davebreal's journal, I mentioned that so-called boutique banks are the best answer. My bank (whom I won't name publicly but if anyone is interested in them email me privately and I'll tell you about them) requires that you keep $2,500 active in your account (at only 1.5% interest), or pay $15/month for the privilege to have an account. Sure, it ain't cheap to keep the account open, but I get serious service for the cost. I have a personal banker assigned to my account who knows me and understands my business. I've explained to her that I do business with a number of companies in Canada and elsewhere, and they use these payment processing services. She's researched each one to make sure the checks are good when I start doing business with a new company or service. She figures out the best way to process the check (either as a standard ACH deposit or as a foreign check claim from Canada), and I get the money deposited. She even puts it through as “cash”, so that I don't have to wait for the amount to clear the other side.

My point here: the people freaking out haven't done their homework, and they are relying on the clueless employees of large, overly corporate banks to tell them how things work. Yes, there are going to UIEGA problems. Sometime in the next 153 days, US Bank will decide that they can no longer accept Chexx's transactions from their gaming customers. Perhaps before that, Chexx will have already voluntarily left the poker site payment business. We'll all find out some date when we can't request checks anymore. The existing checks we have will clear; we'll just have trouble getting the new ones out. We'll have to switch to ePassporte or some other crazy thing for a while. But, I'm sure they'll be some way to get the money out almost right up to the day compliance with UIGEA is mandatory (which is 10 July 2007, BTW).

That said, I definitely think slowly reducing your active online bankrolls to the bare minimum is a good idea. The last cashout right up against 10 July will be tough. But, we have a lot of days to go. Remember that these banks and check processors are run by people — regular old human beings like you and me. People procrastinate. People try to get their papers into the professor just under the deadline. People try to renew their license the day before it expires. Particularly when there is a lot of money involved, people will be slow to implement new measures for new legislation.

The challenge is following carefully the changes and anticipating when you have to switch tactics (just like in poker :). I have a feeling that check cashout has legs for another 60 days or so, then we'll have to switch to ePassporte, which will probably have about 50 days of life, and then it's over. That's my rough estimate based on gut instinct and how things played out with Firepay and the other sites that withdrew from the USA.

However it works out, note that arrests appear to be the only way to lock money up. Neteller and the other sportsbook case are the only examples that I know of where USA players funds have been seized. Even my experience with the Pokerstars instant cutoff from Firepay worked out; Pokerstars dutifully sent me a check upon request right after Firepay disappeared. I suppose that if we see arrest made of any US Bank or Chexx employees, we should assume the worst. Therefore, although I flirted with it for a while, I'm going ultimately to pass on the panicking. I hope you will too.

Date: 2007-02-07 16:09 (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
For "big bank" users, depositing a Chexx check at the ATM/deposit dropoff is probably the best way to go. No tellers to prevent you from depositing and the entire process entails much less discretion on the bank's part once the check has been accepted by the machine. Last deposit only took about 2 days to clear (and the entire process only took 6 days from the day I requested a check on Stars to the day the check cleared - not that bad at all).

--Alceste

Date: 2007-02-07 19:11 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] badblood44.livejournal.com
Given that this is an established company with multiple vertical markets, don't you think that they are going to do a careful pull-out? Don't you think they'll inform their customers (the poker sites) when the end date is? Don't you think they'll honor all checks issued before said pull-out?

If one had applied this same logic to Neteller, theyd be stuck with frozen funds at the moment. I'm not saying you're wrong, I'm just saying that there is no way you can't associate today's environment with a higher risk level than even one month ago.

Of course, everyone's risk tolerance is different.

Date: 2007-02-09 17:24 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] shipitfish.livejournal.com

A few points on this:

  • Neteller didn't actually have substantial non-gambling activity; what they did have smelled of merely a showboat of we're not all gambling, See!. If Chexx is handling rebates, they probably have a substantial business.
  • Neteller payments weren't issued as drafts from a US Bank. Once the check is issued to you from Chexx, you have legal US bank draft, governed by US banking laws. The seized Neteller funds aren't actually in a US Bank, and therefore, my educated guess that there are less stringent requirements under seizure rules. If Neteller funds actually resided in a US bank, I'm sure things would have worked out a bit differently.
  • There was some period of time from the arrests to the seizure, as I understand it. I think the right move would have been to buy the Neteller money back into a poker site the moment the arrests happened, and then cashout from the poker site via another method. I think someone operating shrewdly and quickly could have avoided getting their funds held.

That said, your point about risk is completely correct. There's always been substantial risk in moving money through the online poker system. I agree the risk is a bit higher now, which is why I advise people keeping their online balances to a bare minimum.

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