Although I haven’t often written about it, I’ve been playing poker recreationally for the last 9 months. I’m not very good, and I stick to low-limit hold ’em poker games in the local casinos and in Vegas, but for the most part I have fun. (Losing $90 in 90 minutes at a $3-6 table would be the “not so much fun” part. On the other hand, I’ve won that much in 2 hours, too, so like I said, mostly fun.)
Anyway, I started playing poker because I wanted to have a game to play in Vegas in which I wasn’t playing against the house, with the odds de facto stacked against me.
One of my plans for this month was to investigate playing poker on-line. For instance, Poker On a Mac is a pretty nifty resource for those of us who own Macs and don’t want to install Windows on them. My plan was to play in some no limit hold ’em tournaments, since the casinos around here only seem to offer fixed limit and spread-limit games, which aren’t really the same.
It looks like I won’t get a chance, though, since the Republicans passed a bill making it illegal to transfer money to on-line gambling sites from most bank or credit card accounts. Actually, weasels that they are, they didn’t pass a separate bill but attached it as an amendment to the Port Security Bill at the 11th hour. The bill – which I think was regarded as one of those “must-pass” pieces of legislation, on to which some legislators love to try to tack unrelated amendments such as this – passed by a 98-0 vote in the Senate.
(The House passed its own bill regarding on-line poker. It passed 317-93.)
Many think that it’s likely that this bill will destroy the on-line poker industry in the United States – even the Motley Fool thinks so – and I’m inclined to agree. One blogger thinks that the on-line poker companies simply flubbed the ball when lobbying Congress.
Another blogger makes some grim predictions about the future of poker in the US. I can’t argue with his reasoning. One implication of his predictions is worth spelling out, since it affects the little casual players like me directly: It’s going to become a lot harder to play poker on-line. And that means that even if there are a few on-line sites which decide to risk the penalties of Federal law, the barriers for players to figure out how to get their money to those sites to play will be too high for most people (the casual or curious players), because they just won’t care enough to make the effort.
I wonder whether this will spill over into card rooms, too. With fewer members of the general public playing on-line, I could see card rooms lose popularity, and possibly increasing their rakes to make more money. The competition there would become stiffer, which in turn could dissuade new players from coming in to play, because the learning curve relative to the average player would become that much steeper.
And then there’s the elephant in the room: Poker at the big casinos is (I’m told) just not as profitable as slot machines. So a general decline in the popularity of poker could cause many of those shiny new card rooms at big casinos to downsize or go away entirely. Which means more players forced to play in less savory joints, which further dissuades the casual player from showing up.
The end result of this legislation is that it’s going to effectively destroy an industry and ruin a fun experience for hundreds of thousands of Americans in the name of… what? Helping those few gambling addicts who aren’t so addicted that they wouldn’t care whether they’re violating the law when they gamble anyway? (The correlation between the on-line gambling bill and Prohibition seems obvious, and I’m not the only one to think of it.)
For myself personally, the law means I’m probably not going to play on-line poker. Even though the players aren’t being targeted by the law, do I really want to take that risk? Moreover, do I want to go through the hassle of trying to get money to and from whichever sites remain active in the US? Not so much. I’ll still play in card rooms from time to time, but I missed my opportunity to get in a bunch of relatively inexpensive practice at no-limit hold ’em.
It’s too bad.
On the other hand, I’m trying to console myself that I really ought to be working on my writing rather than playing poker.