shipitfish: (poker-not-crime)

Those of you in NYC probably already saw this, but for the sake of those of you elsewhere, I thought I'd link to this article in the New York Times regarding the shooting at a poker club here that I recently wrote about.

I find a few quotes amusing:

“A week ago, there were two or three rooms operating in Manhattan, but now there are zero,” said Steven McLoughlin, a poker aficionado who moderates a poker discussion at twoplustwo.com and closely follows the Manhattan club scene. ”You don't know what can happen.“

I have no interest in finding the clubs anymore, but this blatantly can't be true. I've gotten SMS and emails from a number of clubs announcing their “new security measures” and offering freerolls. I am sure attendance is way down, but they are still making a go.

And then there's this one:

“But the overwhelming majority are not compulsive gamblers,” he [the broadcast producer who has frequented clubs for five years] said. “They do this as a way of blowing off steam, and that is healthier than sitting in front of the TV.”

First, sitting on your ass at a poker table is probably slightly less healthy than sitting on the couch watching TV. After all, at home, most of us don't have a waitress bringing us junk food and sodas; we actually have to make the walk to the kitchen for that. Second, most people I've met in the NYC poker scene do have some sort of gambling problem, even if it is a minor one.

Finally:

The people interviewed for this article would not say who sponsors and operates the Manhattan clubs, but insisted that there was no hint of involvement by organized crime.

Obviously, people did not pay much attention. What about the partially confirmed rumors of how the former part-owner of the O. Club had gambling debts with the mob and was funneling money to pay them back? How about the older folks at the E. Club who would just sit and watch? And the stories of how the T. Club had paid for protection to keep them safe?

I agree the connections were tangential and the bigger $10k buy-in games were probably much more connected, but there is somewhat no denying it.

BTW, I've been playing online some, which if probably a story worth posting and might do so soon.

shipitfish: (poker-not-crime)

I have been talking about safety issues, busts and robberies for quite a while. I decided to quit playing at NYC clubs over a year ago due primarily to safety issues. It seems my read was right.

I've always felt that robberies were more dangerous than busts. I've also mentioned to many that fear of a young guy making a mistake or getting nervous with a gun would be the biggest threat.

Seems I was right about that too, after last night. There have been a number of stories, of which this seems the most accurate and detailed, and this one is not bad. (Update: This story is much better than the others.) There is also a long 2+2 thread now, that started just an hour and half after the incident.

For those who don't want to chase links: another robbery at a club on 28th street and 5th Avenue has occurred and resulted in our first NYC poker death, due to an apparently accidentally fired gun of a robber.

There is no game juicy enough to risk your life, even if it's a thousand to one shot that you'll get killed. I've played enough poker to find that thousand to ones come in every once in a while and you just have to avoid the situation when you are gambling with your life.

I hope this will help the effort to get legal poker at the Aqueduct race track. For the meantime, I'm glad I left the NYC poker scene when I did.

Update: Newer stories are saying this club was run by the Straddle Club team. Like almost everyone who has run a club in this city, they've always were pretty bad at their business; it's in some ways no surprise it was their club — again. But, frankly, any place that runs a game with less than a $10k buy-in probably simply isn't safe, no matter what.

Another Update: There is a New York Times story now.

It Has Happened!

Thursday, 26 July 2007 19:03
shipitfish: (poker-not-crime)

I've been busy with my other life, and while I did the WSoP PPV final table, I haven't done much other poker stuff lately.

However, I now know the UIGEA is now in full effect; I got this email from my banker today:

A check you gave on 06/01/07 for $ 80 by safe pay int on germany has been returned unpaid with reason “breach of regulation”.

I am mailing you the returned check today.

Online poker, in the USA, is now dead. Fortunately I got out all but this $80 (well, and another $80 that's supposedly on its way). Only $160 lost to Frist.

shipitfish: (poker-not-crime)

Yet another robbery of a NYC club reminds me why I don't play the local clubs anymore. The chance of being held up at gun point makes it not worth it.

Of course, since there's basically only a robbery once every six months or so, it means you're at least 1-to-182 against to get hit. Probably less, if you avoid the peak 23:00-01:00 hours. Still, I don't gamble with these sorts of things, only poker itself. Especially when there are better ways to spend one's time.

UIGEA Looms

Friday, 15 June 2007 08:17
shipitfish: (poker-not-crime)

With just 24 days to go before banks are required to comply with the UIGEA, I was greeted with this unfortunate message when I went to cash out my daily $300 from ePassporte today:

US Bank Account

This functionality is temporarily disabled. Our backend ACH processor is currently experiencing technical difficulties. Please check back later.

I wonder if technical difficulties mean, our USA processor just bumped us to comply with UIGEA and we're scrambling to find another. I have about $2,000 left of the large sum I've been pulling out at $300/day for quite a while, I hope I can get the rest out. I also have a dozen $300 withdraws in the “pipeline” that have left my ePassporte account but haven't shown up in my bank account.

Ok, so now would be the panic time. Online poker is about to collapse in the USA. Get your money out now. :)

Update: ePassporte is working again, for now. Still, less than a month left before full-on UIGEA.

shipitfish: (poker-not-crime)

Barney Frank has always been my favorite Congressional Representative; I had the pleasure of being his constituent for a while in my life, and I miss that time.

If his bill passes (and, of course, it's a huge underdog), I will seriously consider playing online regularly again. Not because I won't play online if the game is illegal, but rather because fully legalized and regulated online poker will be so lucrative that it will be too difficult to pass up.

Similarly, if I didn't dislike California so much (in large part because of the poor public transit in most Californian cities) and happened to live there, I'd play in the legal local card rooms.

There are some people who are going to play poker only when it's fully legal, and those are the fishiest. I just need a huge overlay to persuade me. If the game isn't a full-on donk-fest, I can't make enough to justify the time. Legalized online games could yield hourly rates like those on Cake and Pacific in the hey days. That'd be tough to ignore, even if taking money from the clueless is starting to make me sick to my stomach.

shipitfish: (poker-not-crime)

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.

shipitfish: (poker-not-crime)

Excellently insightful as always, Ed Miller posted an excellent piece on the Neteller situation and the danger that has always been inherent with online poker that many don't see. I recall distinctly when I started playing on Pokerroom in 2001, and then again Pacific a year or so later, that it was extremely important for me to be playing not on my preexisting bankroll, but with a new bankroll won on that site. I still try to follow this rule, whereby I attempt to cashout my initial investment as quickly as possible. In this way, I can view any collapse or inability to pay as merely wasted time, not wasted bankroll.

I've modified that somewhat since buying in became difficult; I'm keeping more in online poker accounts than I used to, due to fear that I can't buy in again if it falls. That is probably a mistake, because the trustworthiness of online balances is actually most in question. Miller's right that an online version of the proverbial 1929 “run on the bank” could cause a serious collapse due to cashflow problems.

The most important thing for all of us to do — particularly those of us that receive a serious portion of our real income from online poker — is, in the words of Douglas Adams: Don't Panic. Keep playing your usual games. Do your usual cashouts. We all know we'll see a steady slowdown in the action, and eventually the games will move towards empty as the USA players disappear. But, online poker isn't changing much outside the USA. I hope my non-USA friends can comment, but I bet the feeling outside the USA is these silly USAmericans, always with their morality-oriented legislation. We'll keep doing what we're doing and forget them and their idiot president. If that's the sentiment, which I hope it is, that's the right one. The USA is an important market, but it's not the center of the universe.

I expect I have lots of online poker in my immediate future, and lots of live poker in my medium-term future, which just can't get the EV pumping the way my current online work can. But, I'm happy to let the online scene wind down gracefully around me, and then make my decisions based on what the post-UIGEA and post-Neteller-arrests world looks like. I hope everyone else will do the same. Keep your heads cool; let's all put our chips in, take a flop, and see how this hand plays out.

Update: I forgot to put this link into the slashdot story on the Neteller arrests. Like all slashdot, there are a very few excellent comments and lots of useless ones. Here's a particularly interesting one from a former Neteller employee.

shipitfish: (poker-not-crime)

I've never liked nor used Neteller. It was mostly because I thought it was wrong to have to give an SSN just to do an online payment, but I also thought there was something funky about their post-UIGEA position. At that time, I became convinced that the safest cashout method was paper check, at least while we wait out our (as of today) last 172 days of USA online poker.

There were some arrests of Neteller officials on non-UIGEA (money laundering) charges, and then without warning (other than the omen of the arrests themselves), Neteller service has been suspended for USA users! At least Firepay gave us some time to process final cashouts, even if Pokerstars refused to let you use it.

But, I don't have any time to gloat that I saw Neteller's position as particularly dangerous post-UIGEA (nor is gloating a good thing to do in general, of course). The important item that needs my attention is that most of my opponents use Neteller. I suspect there's going to be an en-masse chip dump (for people who respond with the whole thing is rigged anyway, I'll just ‘play these chips off’ or see if I can double them up), followed by a mass exodus over the next week.

So, for the next 5-10 days, I've got many hours of online poker ahead of me trying to get the last of the money in play from players here in the USA. I was certainly wrong in thinking that we'd get the majority of the remaining days of UIGEA implementation. I figured about 90 days before, we'd start to see a gradual slowdown approaching a crawl of USA players as banks started to roll out implementations. As it turns out, I was off by about 82 days.

Good luck, USA online players. The clock is really ticking now.

shipitfish: (poker-not-crime)

I cleared the PokerStars bonus last night. They have allowed me to request a by-SNAIL cashout via check. It's submitted for processing, so I'll see if it they do it. I sure hope so, because the only options they gave my account on cashout was that and Netteller.

I appreciate and am glad that PokerStars is one of the site that has maintained that online poker is legal, but the FirePay games they are playing really have turned me off from their site. I'll stick to Doyle's Room, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute Poker (and maybe UltimateBet), which all have made statements they they will keep going and are honoring FirePay cashouts until the end.

Since my Epassporte account isn't set up yet, I'm heavily playing through remaining bonuses this Saturday (tomorrow is my home game), to try and get to the point where I can cash out with bonus before FirePay closes.

FirePay changed their fees with no notice to $10/cashout (up from $0/cashout). I can't blame them that much, I'd rather they do that then refuse to let people cashout.

shipitfish: (poker-not-crime)

PokerStars decided unilaterally to screw all of its customers who use FirePay. I encourage all of you to write to <support@pokerstars.com> and their Poker Room Manager, Lee Jones <jonesleeh@aol.com> to complain about this. Even if you are not a FirePay user, such policies are bad for you, because it decreases the pool of bad players you can play against at particularly turbulent time for online poker.

FirePay gives us ten days after signing to cashout, which now looks like is Monday 23 October 2006. Why is PokerStars deciding not to give us those ten days?

Meanwhile, FirePay is now charging $10 to cashout, when it used to be free. Pretty egregious gouging, huh? But, of course to be expected.

To: SIF@SOMEWHERE
From: "Support at PokerStars" <support@pokerstars.com>
Subject: Using FirePay at PokerStars
Date: Fri, 13 Oct 2006 12:27:20 -0400 (EDT)

Dear PokerStars Player,

We regret to inform you that PokerStars is no longer accepting deposits from FirePay or processing cashouts back to FirePay accounts.

To continue depositing at PokerStars, we would recommend that you use an alternative payment option such as NETeller (www.neteller.com) which is a fast, safe and convenient way to transfer money to your account.

[More marketing crap about the glories of the great and powerful NETeller that will probably shutdown itself in 50 days or so deleted.]

Here's what I wrote back:

To: Support at PokerStars <support@pokerstars.com>
Cc: <jonesleeh@aol.com>
Subject: Re: Using FirePay at PokerStars
Date: Fri, 13 Oct 2006 14:01:13 -0400

[ Cc'ed to your Poker Room Manager, Lee Jones. ]

Support at PokerStars wrote:

We regret to inform you that PokerStars is no longer accepting deposits from FirePay or processing cashouts back to FirePay accounts.

FirePay contacted all its customers and indicated that it would allow cashouts for ten days after the signing of the bill. Please explain why you have decided to screw all of your customers by a unilateral announcement without warning that you will not process cashouts that FirePay will permit for ten more days.

I am deeply surprised that you've decided to screw all your FirePay customers in this way. Do you simply not care because you figure you'll eventually lose your US poker base anyway, so why treat your loyal customers who have chosen FirePay well?

Signing up for Netteller is not an option for me at this time, and I planned to cash out in the final few days before FirePay goes away, giving you that much more of my action during that period. I would think you'd want that.

-- Bradley

shipitfish: (poker-not-crime)

Lou Krieger is doing a pretty good job of keeping a running list of what online sites are leaving, staying and unsure. The market is still shaking things out. I'm going to put in a few online poker hours today to see what things look like.

shipitfish: (poker-not-crime)

Here it is, my first thanks, but no thanks from a poker site that has decided that the religious-right-pandering USA market is not worth their time. The first of many, no doubt. Lou Krieger had a good and clear summary of what all the sites have said. Here we go. Strangely, I have been busy at work and haven't had time to log onto a site since Saturday. I wonder if they will be there when I have time.


From: "Adam [SunPoker]" <adam@sunpoker.com>
To: <PLAYER@EXAMPLE.COM>
Subject: IMPORTANT: Your SunPoker.com account

Bradley,

I'm not sure if you're aware of the recent developments in US online gaming industry. In short, the US government has passed a law that would prohibit banks, credit card companies, and other financial institutions from processing gambling funds. This controversial act was attached to a popular and completely unrelated bill regarding Port Security (HR4954) early Saturday morning. In this way, the act was passed because representatives were more concerned with the major bill being made law and knew only in the final minutes of the attachment.

It does NOT make it illegal for US citizens to play online, however drastically affects your ability to enjoy your favorite poker and casino games by making it difficult to send and receive your deposits and winnings.

In light of these events, our software and ECash provider for SunPoker.com, CryptoLogic and ECashDirect, have made the decision to no longer service US registered accounts.

Consequently, all accounts with US based addresses will no longer be able to play in the casino or poker room as of 12PM EST today October 3rd.

Your account will however be available for you to log into and request a withdrawal of your available balance.

All other accounts with non US based addresses will remain unaffected.

Currently it is unclear as to the longer term ramifications of these events at CryptoLogic and should the position change, we will notify you.

In the meantime, we are hoping to make provisions so that you are able to continue to enjoy playing and enjoy the same levels of service and bonuses you've come to expect from us. We will keep you updated.

Thanks for your time, and we do sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you.

Regards

Adam
Poker Room Manager
http://www.sunpoker.com

PS: We continue to maintain that it is your individual right to be allowed to play online responsibly in another form you see fit. We therefore invite you to contact your Congressman (or woman) to express your dismay as to not only the bill itself, but as to the underhanded way in which it was passed.


Online poker is more or less done for a long time if there isn't a repeal before the 270 days are up. The casual player just won't use it, and that's where the money is. I always sort of figured that when the poker boom crashed, it would be casino poker games — where former casual blackjack and Caribbean Stud players have switched Hold'Em because it's more fun and you meet more people — that stayed good while everything else left.

I guess if this weren't coming up after the NYC games getting busted over and over, and then robbed a few times, it wouldn't feel like my favorite leisure-time activity was being ripped from me forcibly. But it is. I won't get on a Greyhound, so I guess I'll just wait for the high speed train to be built.

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.

shipitfish: (poker-not-crime)

There is a Poker Players' Alliance call-in to the USA Senate today until 17:30 Eastern. They set up an automated 800 line that auto-forwards you to one of your senators based on your zip code. The line is flooded right now, so calling your senator directly might be better at the moment.

I'm more the faxing type; that's the way I've always chosen to write to my legislative representatives. Below is what I wrote to my New York Senators. Feel free to cut and paste at will if you want to fax them. You can probably dig up fax numbers on the senate.gov site.

Dear Ms. Clinton [ and Mr. Schumer],

I am a new resident of New York state; I moved here only one year ago, so it is my first time contacting you.

I am writing to urge you to oppose legislation that would make online poker and other poker-related activities illegal. I know that there is at least one bill of this nature that might be before the Senate this term.

The game of poker is an American tradition dating back to the civil war era, and perhaps earlier. Mark Twain considered it so important to America's culture that he proclaimed that a man who didn't know the “meaning of a ‘flush’” was “enough to make one ashamed of one's species”. Many famous presidents, such as Truman and Nixon, were known for their love of the game. Truman even played it on the way home from Potsdam with the journalists and staffers with him to help ease his mind as he made the key American decisions of the end of World War II. To make poker illegal would deny our own game-playing heritage.

Poker is unlike other so-called “gambling” activities that Congress seeks to outlaw. Poker is indeed played with cards for money, but it is a game of skill, not chance. It is much more like chess than it is like lotteries. Meanwhile, I find it incredibly hypocritical that legislation under consideration carves out special permission for state lotteries, which can be defined no other way than “pure gambling”. No credible reason is given for allowing these wagering activities, while a traditional and quintessentially American game of skill that includes wagering is declared illegal online.

I hope that you will vehemently oppose this legislation on the behalf of me and all New York poker players. As a New York City resident, I have witnessed first-hand a recent backlash and crackdown against those who enjoy a friendly game of poker here in this great city. Poker players and those who make venues available for us to play are currently treated as if we were criminals, while those who run seedy off-track betting establishments are given an endorsement in the law.

I hope you see this hypocrisy and pandering for what it is. Please, don't let it extend any further for New Yorkers than it already has. Oppose all legislation that would make poker illegal. Instead, support plans that would regulate and tax poker for the benefit of the general good, much like those lotteries that are already endorsed by our government. Prohibition has never worked to prevent activities that certain parties dislike; let's instead find ways to build a tax revenue base from this activity that some misguided politicians find “immoral”.

Sincerely,

Bradley Sif

shipitfish: (poker-not-crime)

A better headline would probably be Idiots Do Stupid Things to Make Poker Look Bad. We're at that special time in the development of a cultural phenomenon on the cusp of permanent mainstream-dom when things like this can really hurt us. I link to it only because no one who is likely to get the story covered in the mainstream press reads my blog. :)

We need people out there speaking for poker who are reasonable, well-reasoned poker. What we're getting is confusing associations with other forms of gambling (yes, sports betting is a skill too, but we have to do this one fight at a time), and the badness of Jamie Gold's financial dispute.

It's unfortunate that people are getting themselves killed in relation to poker, but it's a lot fewer than died from alcohol-related incidents in the last two weeks. For some people, an innocent thing becomes a bad vice. We can't solve the problems by prohibition on any of it.

Ok, I sound more libertarian than liberal at the moment, so I better stop. :)

BTW, there may be good news, no one I know can actually confirm the closing of the NYC club that I mentioned earlier. Apparently, they have a new phone number and are still going. Phew.

shipitfish: (poker-not-crime)

Perhaps this is a premature report, but there is some circumstantial evidence that one of the two remaining lower limit poker clubs on the island of Manhattan was busted on Friday. I had previously reported the bust of this particular club, as it was shut down temporarily but reopened a few weeks later. Some information indicates that it's really gone this time, but I'll keep reporting as I get confirmation and/or more information.

I have apparently included my luck of visiting clubs just before or after busts. I showed up the afternoon after the New York Player's Club bust to find it gone; I was at All-In the very night of the bust, having left early. This time, I finally decided to visit the highest raked game in the city, find the club bustling with 7 (!) tables, and hear about a probable bust the end of that very week.

I believe the E. Club — a tiny two table club somewhere on Manhattan — keeps rolling on. I know of a few clubs in the boroughs which I haven't visit but may. However, if this bust has happened, it's another major blow to the possibility that New York City poker for the casual player will continue to exist. Heck, maybe AC casinos are bribing the busts in preparation for the high speed train next year?

Of course, there are still super small stakes home games, and there are giant private games (I won't be playing $75/$150 Stud or $10/$20 NL any time soon, for example). But, for the lower limit enthusiast who'd like to play bigger than $.5/$1 NL but below $10/$20 NL, the games are disappearing.

There was an interesting article recently in Bluff Magazine about the NYC poker scene. It's further evidence that if you have really big money to put in play around the city, you can find a game without a problem. But, small-time poker is becoming less and less worth the risk for most club owners. Even the last group associated with the famous Mayfair club, who were still operating in the city as recently as a year ago have given up and aren't running clubs. When I was in Vegas, I ran into the floorperson who, after living through the New York Player's Club bust, ran The Loft then the Studio then the New Studio and finally gave up. Instead, he's a $30/$60 limit HE pro in the games at the Wynn every day now. It's just not worth his while to run his club.

I have the urge to rant and rant about how the city could build a nice tax base making poker legal, that it's no worse than the Off Track Betting store-fronts on every corner, and that we'd find what California has — legal poker doesn't lead to degeneration of society.

I don't know if it's really worth it. Everyone reading the rant likely agrees with me, and we know the legislature is absolutely fine with being two-faced about what gambling they will permit. You see, New York City isn't a dump truck; it's a series of tubes. We can let horses ride through those tubes, but poker chips clog it. Only lottery balls can clear such a clog. (I was fortunate enough to have been in the studio audience of The Daily Show the very day that particular sketch aired. It vaguely makes me feel better. Laughter the best medicine and all that.)

Anyway, I'll go back to being a degenerate New Yorker engaged in activities shunned by my government. People playing poker must be the worst social problem we face in the USA, no? I'll log onto an online poker site and wait for the jack-booted thugs to bang down my apartment door to stop me from engaging in such socially harmful activity.

shipitfish: (poker-not-crime)

There have been a series of busts over the past few weeks in the New York City clubs. Since early March, I have been playing mostly online (if at all). I was only occasionally visiting the clubs — about once every two and half weeks. Each time I look up to see where to go, the whole landscape has been changed by busts.

A club that I once visited called Satellite was busted a long time ago. Another club opened in its location, called Playground. I went once, but it was still busted within weeks of its grand opening. I went to Playroom once, and but it got busted before I could go again. All In (which I called the L Club) has been gone for months. Another club I hadn't mentioned yet, the Straddle Club (made up of some old Ace Point people), was busted a few weeks ago.

I have to admit that the police attack strategy is starting to work on me, for two reasons. First, I am simply fed up with the comedy of errors the casual player must go through to find what clubs are open. I am never a regular; I haven't been one since the old R club and 72nd Street (aka the NY Players' Club). If you aren't tuned in constantly to the NYC poker scene, you have to do some leg work to find out what has happened. I'm in touch with some regulars, which helps, but it's still impossible to go to a club on the spur of the moment unless you are constantly “tuned in”.

Second, the games are nowhere near as good as they once were. Sure, there are some fish about, but the line-ups have gotten substantially tougher. The casual players simply aren't going out to the clubs. Think about this, and it's obvious why: a heavy poker enthusiast like myself, who, all things being equal, wants to play live once every week or two, cannot find out who's in business without 24-hour lead time to email out to regulars to see what's going on. Can you imagine that any casual $1/$2 NL player wants to do that work? Do they even have any regulars' email addresses?

The public policy here is ludicrous, given that Off-Track-Betting is legal throughout the city — it's not like we are a gambling-free zone. But, that argument doesn't help much to solve anything. Meanwhile, rumors abound that owners of some clubs are calling in competing clubs, but this seems quite unlikely. A rising tide of “reduced police heat” would raise all boats here, and I am sure everyone is savvy enough to realize that. More likely, the best of the best club workers are heading the relative safety of dealing and running high-stakes private games (see below).

I know of four clubs still operating around the city, but I have not been racing to get to them. The regular fish that I watched move from 72nd Street to the Loft and Satellite have either quit, or have returned to the baby-limit home games from whence they came, as far as I can tell. For my part, I am finding amazing games online. I miss the social side of it, but I must admit that even that has decayed.

Indeed, I realized something: most of the people in the clubs now are not the people I want to hang around. This is something that [livejournal.com profile] roryk might have been correct about. I've noticed that the people that I meet at these clubs now — those people that keep coming even after multiple busts and reopens — are not really people whom I want in my poker games. Now, I wouldn't say they are “seedy” people, by any means. It just seems that most of the people who have “stuck with it” are either sharks looking for a good game (who are generally nice people, but not the people I want to be playing against all the time), or just plain jerks who clearly have no ability to be socially connected in any other way.

That's a sweeping generalization and an exaggeration, but it has some truth. I have noticed that once clubs have been around a while, they attract some weak competition who are also nice people. But, the hard-cores really are jerks or sharks. Compare this to the casino, where you get to meet retirees who are just relaxing and enjoying their time off, and vacationing people from all over who play a home game from time to time and have simply picked poker instead of blackjack to burn their vacation dollars. I loved getting to know and “entertaining” people at Foxwoods when I played there regularly, but that's not the feel of a “just opened and could be busted next week” NYC club.


There are, of course, many private games throughout the city, but nothing at low or even medium stakes. I know of a $50/$75/$150 Stud game and a $200/$400 HE game, for example. Those are, of course, way above my bankroll. There are probably serious fish (and serious pros) in those games, but I can't imagine I'll ever play those kinds of stakes, frankly.

I have been invited to, and attended twice, a private “study” game. It was started by one of the local limit sharks who practices securities law in his “real life”. The goal of the game is for everyone to learn mixed games. If it were a pure limit HE game, I'd be throwing my money away with the tough lineup there. But, we play quite a large mix of games (more on this in a later post), and I'm probably a favorite to the game in most of them, given my diverse poker experience.

I look forward to posting about that game, which I'll call “C.H.'s Game”. However, they all have the URL of this journal, so I have to be prepared, as was with the late River Street days, to have all the players reading the posts.

shipitfish: (poker-not-crime)

The U Club was busted. I've confirmed it from multiple reliable sources. It was a false alarm last time, but I think it's for real this time. I'd love to be wrong, of course. Why in the world are we a top priority for the NYPD?

shipitfish: (poker-not-crime)

So, while the U Club remains open, the L Club was in fact raided on Thursday night! I was actually there that night; W.D. and I couldn't be gladder that we left early to head over to the H Club!

I am sure this was a bust, because there was a a post on Craig's List, a comment in my journal, and W.D. himself stopped by after work yesterday to play a half only to find them gone and not answering the phone.

This club had a number of questionable policies and practices. I heard a rumor that the house people, who often played in the game when they should have been paying attention to the customer needs, were cheating. I doubt this was true, but what I do believe is that they structured table assignment to get a pyramid scheme going whereby extremely weak players dumped stacks to mediocre players who then would be placed at tables with big stacks than they could lose chips to the house players. They implemented this scheme through a creative and strange “must move” policy. (It was unlike any must-move setup I've ever seen at any casino I've visited, in part because the floor manipulated and changed the order of people's moves. They would also arbitrarily suspend the must-move policy for a few halves depending on who was where.)

I can't say I'm sad to see the club go. They had bad customer service, were rude to the customers, and treated their dealers badly. They flaunted their existence on public fora, so it's not surprising that they eventually got busted. I just hope this isn't a beginning of another round of city-wide busts.

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