Going Bust: Local Online Poker Players React to Government Ban

Monday, April 18, 2011


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For most people, Sunday is a day best spent relaxing after an early dinner or a morning at church. But for some of Rhode Island’s top online poker players, it’s normally the busiest and most expensive day of the week. That is, until yesterday.

Three of the world’s largest online poker companies are no longer accepting Americans players after a Department of Justice raid led to the arrest of 11 industry officials accused of fraud and money laundering last Friday. The websites, PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker, are among the most popular companies in the unregulated, billion dollar industry, and normally offer guarantees of millions of dollars in prizes for major Sunday tournaments.

But the online poker rooms were significantly quieter Sunday and American players with frozen accounts are now questioning whether they’ll ever get their money back. They contend that playing poker online is legal (depositing money on the sites is against the law) and many feel as though they have been put out of work by the federal government.

Black Friday

Cranston resident Bill DelSanto, one of the many 20-something online poker wunderkinds who have made thousands (in some cases, millions) of dollars playing online, said he was shocked to find out about his favorite poker sites abandoning the country.

The reason: He was planning to add $2,000 to his accounts the same day the sites went down. The 21 year old, who won over $30,000 in one tournament last year, said he was planning for an upcoming series of tournaments.

“Yea I mean it’s scary,” DelSanto wrote in an e-mail to GoLocalProv. “There are thousands of people who considered that their main source of income.”

DelSanto said the online poker community is buzzing about when and if American players will have their accounts unfrozen so they can withdraw their funds.

“All the pros are calling it Black Friday and the Pokerapocalypse,” he said. “Because from what I’ve read on Twitter and through the grapevine, it’s going to take at least a few months to get your money back and some people are afraid it won’t even be full cent on the dollar.”

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We Need To Wake Up As A Country

As professional online players try to figure out whether to move to another country or quit and find another job, Chris Bellamy says the government has a simple solution on its hands: Tax the industry.

Bellamy, a 24 year old small-time Rhode Island online player who estimates winning a few thousand dollars in recent years, says the poker industry wants to be regulated and taxed. He said the country could make millions from taxing the game, but instead it chose to block out the top sites.

“Everyone knows that regulating and taxing online poker would bring in billions in taxes and the poker community would be happy to pay them,” Bellamy said. “This shouldn't even be an issue with our economy right now. The pros definitely outweigh the cons. We need to wake up as a country and see that our rights are being stripped piece by piece.”

A Wakeup Call

For now, however, online poker as Americans know it is at a standstill. As players wait to see what happens, DelSanto, who also works part time at Citizens Bank, said he is looking forward to his future, with or without the game that has made him wealthy.

“This was definitely a wakeup call to a lot of people and I hope this shows poker players you can still be pro and have a backup plan and a degree,” DelSanto said.




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