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Original Issue

Deal With It

A government crackdown has muddied the online poker picture

The U.S. Attorney's Office cast a shadow over online poker last Friday by unsealing indictments charging fraud against the game's big three (Full Tilt Poker, PokerStars and Absolute Poker, none of which have addressed the charges) and by declaring its intention to recover $3 billion and send top executives to jail. But while shutting down those operations may equate to what's called the turn in poker—the next action after the flop, which in this case would have been the U.S. government's banning companies in 2006 from accepting online gambling payments—the back-and-forth is far from over. So, what does the river hold?

In the short term, online poker will continue legally. (Only in Nevada and Washington state is it illegal.) Some 10 million Americans partake each year, and many of those players wrote angry testimonials last weekend on the Department of Justice's Facebook page and in Internet forums of gambling reserves now seemingly gone into the vacuum of cyberspace. Meanwhile, gamers will find tables at any of the dozens of smaller sites likely to fill the void. (The big three moved to .uk and .eu URLs, from which Americans are blocked.) But for gamers, Friday's actions came at a funny time. This year alone, five states presented legislation for the legalization or regulation of Internet gambling. In fact, on April 12, Washington, D.C., became the first U.S. jurisdiction to allow it.

Opponents of online poker insist that the issue is not in gambling itself but in what they feel is a predatory business that feasts on losers. Friday's indictment alleges that the outfits circumvented U.S. banking policies by disguising credit card transactions through phony financial service merchants. One such company, Intabill, processed more than $543 million in poker transactions from 2007 through '09. "People are still going to play poker," said Les Bernal, executive director of Stop Predatory Gambling. "It's just a question about whether people are going to make billions of dollars off of it."


Wooden Award--winning BYU senior Jimmer Fredette is said to have been asked by school officials to finish his degree online because his presence in classes had become too distracting.



FELT-DOWN Friday's indictments ended U.S. business for sites like Full Tilt.