shipitfish: (Default)

The UIGEA turned out to be challenged from a number of directions. The story has been well covered elsewhere, and I don't know enough to do it justice, but my understanding is that banks are simply saying that they can't implement the complicated rules and are appealing to regulatory agencies. Like most court/legislative maneuvers, this will take some time to sort out.

Meanwhile, online poker remains as grey as ever. Money goes in and out to the sites still operating, and some payout systems still work (although fees have reached new heights).

I've been just too busy doing actually useful work to spend time playing much poker, but as a change of pace I often play on weekend mornings until it becomes boring. I decided, though, that I wouldn't deposit. Instead, I'd take from Chris Ferguson's challenge and try to literally get something for nothing.

Having played so much online, I have a number of player points on various sites. So, during the latter half of last year, I decided to see if I could build an online poker bankroll and/or win some prizes without ever redepositing even $1.

I started on a UltimateBet, because their player points are most valuable. Well, they are most valuable because you can actually play “cash games” for points, with a 2500 point buy-in and 10/25 point blinds. Since deep-stacked NL HE cash games against weak opponents are the best spots I've ever found for myself in poker, these games were ready-made to get me lots of points.

My first big win was to win my wife's holiday gift: an Ipod bought with points on UltimateBet. This had the added bonus of fighting off the don't spend money on a music player for me; the one I have basically works attitude my wife was taking. This way, I could invest only my time and get her a gift that she actually really wanted but couldn't justify the overpriced cost of Apple's (IMO, crappy) hardware.

Now, in the end, I roughly calculated that I got paid somewhere around $3/hour for the time it took me to play to win the Ipod. However, most of that time I could be doing something else like watching TV or talking with my wife. Those point games are extremely low pressure and easy to pick up chips without any hard decisions or good reads. (“Standard bad player” reading ability is all it takes to get the points.)

In next week's post, I'll talk about my next moves for building a fresh online bankroll using only the almost-cash-valued remnants of my former online pro status.

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.

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)

On Epassporte, you can only cash out $300 each 24 hours via ACH, and they charge $2 each time. You can up this to $500 a time only if you give them both a credit card and a bank account number.

I will cut it close getting all the darn money out in the 63 days remaining before the UIGEA goes into effect.

As my wife pointed out, it's better than getting none of it, which is about where I was give that Cake apparently has no check processor now.

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: (Default)

Cake Poker realized that all of things available for purchase in their Cake Store were too cheap. Hard-core players just earned those gold coins too fast. I was playing on there so much, that under the old prices, I would have earned an 80GB iPod every three weeks! Glad I got two of them before they doubled the cost. :)

Still, it will take a lot longer than six weeks to get my next one. I am not playing on their as much as I was. The Neteller thing really thinned out the player base. I would still declare Cake Poker's NL HE games the easiest to beat on the Internet right now, but that's all becoming relative.

Cashouts have gotten really slow. I have had a cashout pending for a week and a half and they have yet to even process it. Plus, you can't buy fedex shipping for the cashouts anymore. Their answer when I email them is: Checks will be received 15-20 days from the date requested. Most of that time seems to be waiting for them to even process the check request in their system, not the time it takes after they've sent it off to Chexx.

I've decided to pull most of my online bankrolls out at this point. I'm going to be writing more about my plan to substantially reduce the amount of poker I play soon, but I might as well start moving the money out at this point.

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)

(To be bloggy again,) I'd like to point people to Lou Kreiger's coverage of former indictments of Neteller officials for money laundering (an earlier post on the same topic, and (update) actual news story).

Yes, it's former executives/directors and this isn't really an UIGEA issue per se, but it indicates some desire by the USA Attorney's offices to continue enforcing existing legislation, getting closer and closer to poker itself. (Previous actions have been against online sports book executives.)

You all keep acting like I think the sky is falling when I say online poker is doomed and it will lead to a crash of the poker economy, but the evidence is all around us. I feel like Dumbledore trying to tell everyone Voldemort is back. :)


I should note to those of you who read my journal not logged into LJ that I have begun making a few “friends only” post. They likely will become public at a later date, but will remain locked for some period. If you want to be on my friends list and have just created an account, please comment on this post to tell me so.

shipitfish: (poker-not-crime)

In the interest of making my affiliate links on the side of my journal useful, rather than merely annoying advertising (despite the fact that I get free money if you sign up using the links on my journal, I still encourage you all to use something like privoxy to block them. :), I'd like to make that list on the side include all the places I know that accept players from the USA.

Strangely, I'm having trouble determining which of the smaller sites still take them. For example, I can't seem to find definitive information on whether or not Doyle's Room and the larger Tribeca network is still taking USA players. There are conflicting news reports in Google. Does anyone know for sure (i.e., is a USA player still playing on Doyle's Room)?

I just discovered today, that Cake Poker, a small startup site, is accepting USA players as well.

Does anyone know of others? The only ones I know about are those on the side, plus Pokerstars. I've left off Pokerstars from my list, mainly because I don't encourage USA players to go there after the fiasco they pulled on Firepay customers. Yes, I know some of my fellow poker LJ'ers make their livings on PokerStars; YMMV. :)

BTW, 178 days to go for USA players. :)

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