Weather Updates

Bet it wouldn’t be illegal if U.S. could grab stake

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

About once a month, I’m invited to play in a Chicago area poker tournament that raises money for a worthy cause, from the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation to cystic fibrosis. I also co-host a tournament that benefits the Urban Prep Academies.

One also can play in real money poker tournaments in Midwest casinos such as the Hammond Horseshoe. A first-place finish can yield anywhere from a few thousand bucks to $40,000 or more for a World Series of Poker circuit win.

It’s all perfectly legit and perfectly legal. Texas Hold ’em is a game that requires great skill — some of the top players are math geniuses who think like master chess players — but also a fair amount of luck, which makes it all the more challenging and exciting. The poker boom of the early 2000s has waned, but you still see all sorts of poker shows on ESPN, NBC and the Game Show Network, among other outlets.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans also enjoy playing poker online, where they can stack their wits, money and their brass you-know-what against players from around the world.

At least that’s the way it worked until last Friday, when the three largest online poker sites where charged with bank fraud, gambling offenses and money laundering, and American players were shut out of the online poker community.

Log on, cash out, you’re done

Believe it or not, there are literally thousands of individuals who do this full time — sitting in front of multiple computer screens, playing for eight, 10, 12 hours a day, grinding out a living wage (and in some cases a lot more than a living wage).

Now, unless they leave the country, they’re out of work.

The cat-and-mouse game between the online operators and U.S. authorities has been going on for years, with the government claiming the poker sites are in violation of the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act, even if the sites are headquartered offshore.

In this latest salvo, which could be the death knell for online poker in the States, the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office said the founders of PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker engaged in bank fraud, money laundering and illegal gambling.

The government issued restraining orders against 75 bank accounts in more than a dozen countries and even seized the Internet domain names used by the sites.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said the defendants “concocted an elaborate criminal fraud scheme, alternately tricking some U.S. banks and effectively bribing others to assure the continued flow of billions in illegal gambling profits . . . [and] engaged in massive money laundering and bank fraud.”

Countered the Poker Players Alliance: “On behalf of the millions of poker players across the country, we are shocked at the action taken by the U.S. Department of Justice . . . against online poker companies and will continue to fight for Americans’ right to participate in the game they enjoy. Online poker is not a crime and should not be treated as such.”

God bless America!

One can debate the methodology of the online site operators — but does anyone actually believe it should be illegal for Americans to play poker for real money on their computers? Why? What’s the difference between playing poker online and playing poker in a casino (other than the increased rate of speed online)? Why is online poker somehow more nefarious than playing the lottery, betting the horses, buying a church raffle tickets, shooting craps on a riverboat?

Answer: It’s not. And I’ll bet if the government could figure out a way to take their slice of the huge online gambling pie, it would rethink its position.

Tactics, not politics

Some of Andrew Breitbart’s crowd went after me Monday for condemning Breitbart’s harsh words for detractors at a Wisconsin Tea Party rally. From an article on Breitbart’s Big Hollywood site:

“Breitbart didn’t tell the union protesters to ‘go to hell’ because he disagreed with their politics, but because he considered their tactics reprehensible.”

Fair enough. I stand corrected. I should have written that Breitbart was responding to the tactics of his detractors, not their politics. That said, I stand by my criticism of Breitbart’s hateful “Go to hell!” comments and his reprehensible insults of Ted Kennedy in the hours after Kennedy’s death.

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.