I spit my faith on the city pavement
To keep a smile
I bought my legs from the US Government
To keep me in line
- Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, “US Government”
Every time something bad happens to the poker industry, it seems to bounce back in solid shape. After yesterday’s bad news, I have my doubts about its resilience this time around. I don’t feel this way because I think the actions by the Department of Justice actually have any basis in law. I actually feel this way because the DOJ’s action don’t have any basis in law.
As I recall, one “feature” of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 was that it made processing financial transactions for “illegal online gambling” a crime, even though the bill did not define what “illegal online gambling” actually was and no previous law had ever codified the meaning of “illegal online gambling.” Because of the lack of a definition for this supposed crime, it seems pretty obvious that the DOJ is resting its case on its long-standing opinion that online poker is illegal rather than on any words that actually made their way through the House of Representatives and the Senate before being signed into law by the President. That opinion most likely has something to do with the Wire Act of 1961 since there are few other precedents for them to rest on, despite the fact that the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has previously rejected the Wire Act’s relevance to modern online gambling.
Normally if the law says something, it matters. But when the United States federal government is the party pressing a case that goes against the law, you can toss reason and logic out the window. The federal government doesn’t play fair because it doesn’t have to play fair; after all, who is there to hold the government accountable when its citizens have long since checked out and left the governing of this nation to whomever would take it up? The DOJ is not only a player in this game, it’s also the dealer. Given the federal government’s proud mastery of the mechanic’s grip in its games, I don’t expect online poker will get anything other than a raw deal when this case is fully resolved.
In the meantime I’ll need to find a new hobby since playing ultra-low-stakes online poker is fully off-limits to me. Worse yet, the livelihood I’ve made for myself writing about the game and the people who play it is at the very least going to suffer greatly, if it’s not altogether wiped out for the foreseeable future. At least there’s a silver lining here: some assistant US Attorney in the Southern District of New York is probably going to make a name for himself in this case and go on to a bright political career because of it, and online poker will eventually return as an above-board business with the major Las Vegas corporations backing it (and, of course, taking ridiculous amounts of rake that nobody would stand for in today’s market). The only real question is how long the process will take – and on a much less important and much more personal level, whether I’ll stick around to see how the story ends.