Deja Vu With Neteller?

(Unfortunate thanks to Falstaff for bringing this issue to my attention first over at his blog.)

Neteller, we have a problem. And I'm not talking about the "I saw an ant on the kitchen floor" kind of problem, but rather more like the "I just saw every wall in the house fall in from termite destruction" kind of problem. Well, maybe it's not quite that serious. Yet. But it's damn close. And getting closer.

After reading all of Iggy's recent posts rehashing the whole Pokerspot debacle (fabulous reads btw, especially in light of what Neteller is now telling us), I cannot help but feel a strong (too strong) sense of deja vu as I read over the latest and greatest news from Neteller regarding how U.S. online gamblers can all get their deposits out of their now-useless Neteller accounts. Is it me, or do the following statements -- taken directly from Neteller's newly-updated homepage statement for U.S. poker players -- sound an awful lot like the statements made by one Russ "Dutch" Boyd a few years ago as the Pokerspot shizz was about to really hit the proverbial fan? Here is what Neteller has to say as of this weekend:

"How can I withdraw funds from my NETELLER account?

At this time, our ability to provide US members with withdrawals is significantly reduced. As a top priority, we are working to resolve all withdrawal issues, but in the meantime we continue to maintain these funds in trust on your behalf. Please check this page regularly for more updates.

Why can't I use my Gold NETELLER Card anymore?

The Gold NETELLER Card is not available as a withdrawal option at this time.

We are doing our best to restore our withdrawal options but don't know how long this will take. In the meantime your funds are safely maintained in trust accounts. We will communicate any updates as soon as possible.

Why can't I get a Gold NETELLER Card anymore?

We are temporarily not issuing Gold NETELLER Cards. The Gold NETELLER Card is not available as a withdrawal option at this time."

Both of these ideas are very troubling to me. Obviously, the inability to get any of our funds -- our funds -- out of Neteller in any way is angering to say the least. What's more, after a useless attempt at emailing Neteller support last week, and eventually having to call Neteller cusotmer service because of the ineptitude of the email I received, I was told by a nice English-speaking woman in Canada a few days ago that the Neteller card was the best and most reliable way for me to withdraw my funds as quickly as possible. Uh huh. Now, not three days later, no more Neteller cards are being issued (presumably including mine), and it wouldn't matter anyways because withdrawals are no longer being permitted via the Neteller card.

Where does this leave us? Nowhere. With nothing. And the worst part is, I swear if you change the name at the bottom of these announcements from "Neteller Support" to "Russ Boyd", I wouldn't even be able to tell the difference between the two sets of communications. Would you?

The Beginning of the End

bodog girlsNeteller is closing up in the USA, and I have to agree with Bill Rini: this is the beginning of the end for online poker in the USA.

I'm in shock, to be honest. I don't see how online gaming hurts ANYONE or does ANYTHING that is bad (mmmkay) and I just don't understand the jihad my idiot government is waging against online poker, while horse racing, dog racing, and state lotteries are still A-OK for anyone.

I'm worried, because though I don't make a ton of money playing online poker, I do make a significant portion of my monthly income writing about it and even though I'm not as good or well-known as everyone else on Team PokerStars, I've been a proud member of the team, and I've worked hard to be an ambassador to normal, every day players who don't play in the hard core 40-80 games. Now that the US market is rapidly closing up, I have this looming sense of inevitability that I'll lose that, too, and eventually I'll lose the ability to enjoy my evenings playing some low-limit SNGs or cash games.

See, I really like poker, but I'm not rich, and while I'm entirely comfortable risking the price of a night out for dinner and a movie to play cards and maybe even leave with more than I started, I don't see myself driving to Commerce or the Bike, or making a special trip to Vegas to play in a B&M room for higher stakes, with the associated
costs of travel and the extra investment of my time.

There are a lot of reasons to loathe my idiot government now, and this is right up there in my top five: they're telling me what I can do in my own home, and they're negatively impacting my ability to support myself and my family . . . and for what, exactly? So Bill Frist can pander to a minority of ultra-conservative whackos, and then not even follow through on his presidential bid?

This sucks. It makes me angry, and it makes me depressed.

(BoDog Girls tearfully included to remember the good times.)

The Day After

Just a quick update here from the trenches, on D-Day minus one after President Bush signed the port security bill with the anti-gaming legislation tacked on into law in the United States. In case anyone is curious, I can confirm that it is business as usual this weekend for the major poker sites serving U.S. customers following the passage of the anti-gaming provisions. Of course partypoker and a few of the other smaller U.S. sites are going through with their promises to block all players from U.S.-based IP addresses on their sites as of the signing of the bill by President Bush. But otherwise the online poker landscape in fact looks very similar this weekend to how it looked just before the transfer of funds between U.S. players and online gaming sites became illegal on Friday morning at 10am local time in Washington, DC.

For example, pokerstars on Friday night was running its normal operations, including for U.S. players, and things seemed to be going off without a hitch. The main lobby on pokerstars reported approximately 91,000 players online at around 10pm ET on Friday night, exactly 12 hours after the signature of the port security bill, and that 91,000 figure is more or less right around where that number has been for many months, so no dropoff in action has even been observed on pokerstars since the bill went into law.

And a similar story at full tilt, where Friday night's $20,000 guaranteed tournament at 10pm ET boasted more than 1200 players, if anything a bit larger than the recent roll call for this event for a Friday evening. But again the traffic numbers for full tilt are generally in-line this weekend with recent usage levels for he site that was the first to stand up to the U.S. government and announce its commitment to continue to serve the U.S. market, where it maintains its innocence and its right to offer an online poker platform to everyone around the world.

Lastly, I purposefully went ahead and made some transfers with my Neteller account last night and this morning, and again can confirm that it is business as usual for the leading e-wallet application used to transfer funds to and from online poker sites by U.S. players. Again there appears to be no degradation in service, no new terms and conditions or special announcements being made by Neteller, nothing out of the ordinary at all. So for now, U.S. players have the means to get money into and out of and to play at most of their favorite poker sites in just the same way and to just the same extent that this was possible 24 hours ago, which is I'm sure a welcome sign to us all, not only as poker lovers but as lovers of personal freedoms for everyone.

URGENT: Frist Strikes Again. Call Senators NOW.

Bill Frist knows that his anti-poker bill will fail on its own merits, so he attempted to attach it to a defense spending bill. After his Senate colleagues rightly stymied his craven efforts, because they have nothing to do with defense, he is attempting to attach his amendment to a Port Security bill that is in front of the Senate tonight.

This is very real, very serious, and a very real threat to everyone who wants to have the freedom to play online poker from the privacy of their own homes.

From the Poker Player's Alliance:

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is attaching the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act to a bill that is expected to be approved by the Congress early this evening. PLEASE call your Senators today and tell them that they should oppose the Internet gambling bill being part of Port Security legislation.

If the Port Security bill passes, with the Internet gambling language included, your ability to enjoy poker online will be at serious risk.

Each member of the Poker Players Alliance has two Senators which are listed below (or click here). They need to hear from you RIGHT NOW! Let them know that you care about your rights to play poker.

Please Call!!! Tell your Senators to oppose attaching Internet gambling to Port Security!

If this bill is so important, and if online gaming presents such a threat to our nation, this bill should face a vote on its own merits. Please call your Senator right now, and tell them that online poker has nothing to do with port security, and Senator Frist's cynical effort to attach it should be stopped.

I've submitted this story to Netscape News, and if you could vote it up there for a lot of people to see, that will increase our chances of stopping this. There is also a similar story at Digg.

Frist's Efforts to Attach Anti-Poker Bill to Defense Bill May be Failing

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (of the diagnosis -- by videotape -- of Terri Schiavo) recently attempted to attach anti-gaming legislation to a defense spending bill that will be before the senate for a vote before their next recess.

When news of Frist's efforts was released, pretty much every online poker player I know threw up and prepared for the worst, because defense spending bills typically pass no matter how cynically amended they are, especially in election years.

However, there is some hope that this effort to force legislation which would never pass on its own will fail, according to Lou Kreiger's blog: When learning of Frist's proposal, Rep. Shelley Berkley, (D-NV) urged Warner to reject the amendment, saying, "We must not use this important (defense) bill as a convenient vehicle for political pet issues such as a ban on Internet gaming."

Congress has apparently chosen to ignore the 80% of Americans who say that all forms of online gaming should be taxed and regulated, not just the horse racing and state lotteries that Congress has seen fit to exempt from their efforts to play mommy and daddy to the country. This latest common sense rebuff by Rep. Berkley is a welcome change from business as usual in Washington.

However, this fight is far from over, and this is as good a time as any to remind you all to join the Poker Player's Alliance.

PokerStars Runs Poker Player's Alliance Membership Drive Tourneys

Join the Poker Player's AllianceYou called your senator today, as part of the PPA's Phone March on Washington, right?

Good. Now, if you haven't joined the PPA, PokerStars has quite an incentive for you to learn more about the organization: they're running some really cool tournaments -- with a potentially huge overlay -- so players can support the PPA financially, and think about joining:

PokerStars supports the efforts of the PPA and wants to give PokerStars players a chance to support the PPA as well. To encourage players to join the PPA, we're running a daily $1 buy-in tournament with $5,000 added to the prize pool. The tournaments will run at 21:30 ET so all American players have a chance to play.

There are a few caveats: each player can only play once, and by joining the tourney you're giving PokerStars permission to share your e-mail address with the PPA (the idea is to inform online players about the PPA, after all). All the details are at PokerStars' PPA Page.

Last night's tournament had just over 1800 players, making the prize pool over $6800. That's a hell of an overlay!

PPA Plans Phone March on Washington

The Poker Players Alliance has planned a phone march on Washington for Tuesday, September 12th. The PPA is encouraging all poker players (and everyone who is concerned with government intrusion into our private lives, really) to get on the phone and let their senators know they oppose HR4411.

Via Lou Krieger's blog, here's the important information:

Here's What You Can Do to Stop This Legislation
Please call 800-289-1136 from 9:00 AM to 5:30 PM Eastern Time Tuesday September 12. This is a FREE phone call and will connect you directly to your Senators' offices. Here are some talking points for you to use:

1. I am voter in your state.

2. I strongly oppose any legislation that would prohibit online poker, and urge the Senator to vote against such legislation.

3. Poker is a skill game enjoyed by 70 million Americans.

4. The Senator should seek to regulate online poker much like the government regulates other forms of gaming, like lotteries.

5. Prohibitions don't work. Any legislation that tries to ban online poker will only drive those players underground.

6. Again, I urge the Senator to oppose any attempts to prohibit me from playing the great American game of poker on the Internet.

You can help to continue to enjoy online poker in the United States by taking action now. Just one phone call is all it takes.

As I've written before, while most of us can look at this bill and see it for the transparent pandering that it is, we have to take it seriously. If the Senate passes similar legislation, ISPs could be allowed (or even required) to block access to poker sites (but not horse racing or lottery sites) from within the United States. Even if you don't care about playing online poker, think about how you feel about the government deciding what you can and can't do from the privacy of your own home, and where you can go on the Internets. Do you really want the government making those decisions for you?

SAPD Reveals Evidence Against Richard Lee

They're dogs, and they're playing poker!The San Antonio Police Department disclosed some details about its investigation of WSOP finalist Richard Lee, who they allege is part of a illegal bookmaking operation.

Since February, a vice officer has rifled through trash, tailed luxury cars, gambled online and sorted through a string of local bank accounts and phone records in an effort to gather evidence against Lee and others, according to an affidavit for a search warrant released Friday.

What police found could alter the public poker face of this city's once-celebrated gambling star, who placed sixth last month while hyping San Antonio in the World Series of Poker Main Event in Las Vegas.

Lee, otherwise known as "The Chinaman," is the "biggest bookie" in San Antonio, according to a "credible source" quoted in the document. The affidavit also names Lee as the brains behind an illegal Internet gambling operation run in part from his Shavano Park home.

Wow. "The Chinaman." Welcome to 1956, everybody.

The SAPD allege that Richard Lee is connected to a website called which claims to be located off shore, but is, in fact, in San Antonio.

More details, including how the SAPD became aware of the operation and how they conducted their investigation, can be found at PokerGazette, via the link below.

My (pretty useless) analysis? Though he seemed like a really good guy when I saw him at the WSOP, and his recent comments to the press appear to confirm that, things look very, very bad for Richard Lee right now.

We should also be very concerned that opportunistic lawmakers, with an eye toward the election, will attempt to conflate this illegal bookmaking operation (if they prove their case in court) with online poker, and online poker players, especially since -- oh shit -- it appears that Mr. Lee was playing online poker when his house was raided which the District Attorney says "that act in and of itself is illegal." Oh boy. Here we go.

Michael Craig on Richard Lee

Michael Craig, who authored the spectacular book The Professor, the Banker and the Suicide King has an equally spectacular blog. He says, Richard Lee has not only not been convicted of anything, he hasn't been accused of anything. Yet a bunch of people came into his house without his consent and took his cars, his money, and his TV.

I thought the police were supposed to prevent that kind of abuse, not perpetrate it, and then have the nerve to brag about it.

I don't know how tall [SAPD Spokesman] Joe Rios is, or whether his nose looks like a nipple, but he came off sounding like a gigantic boob. "Now that we have the evidence, we can move forward."

Don't you need evidence before you move forward? Especially when you are going to steamroll into someone's house at night and steal their property. It sounds like the search was a fishing expedition to build a case.

In another life, Michael was a lawyer, so I'm inclined to give his legal opinions a bit more weight than, say, my commentary about the wisdom of jamming with pocket jacks against the one guy who can bust you at the final table. He goes into much greater depth in his own blog, which I encourage everyone to immediately go read, before doing anything else today. I'm serious. Get out of here.

Richard Lee Responds

Photo by Flickr User MonocleThough no arrests have been made, Richard Lee issued a statement from his home today, regarding the raid and allegations against him I wrote about earlier.

"Just a few hours ago I was one of San Antonio's favorite sons," Lee said, sitting outside his posh home Wednesday morning beside a gurgling stone fountain. "It seems like maybe I've gone from hero to zero in the course of a few hours."

Lee added that he didn't feel he'd done anything wrong, and "if they prove differently on something I thought was OK, well, I guess I'm going to have to cross that bridge when I get to it."

Uh, Richard, there's this little thing called the Wire Act that pretty clearly states that what you were doing -- if proved -- was about as far from okay as you can get, so good luck crossing that bridge, sir. Some free advice: fold the jacks this time.

(Via Pokerblog, where Jennifer observes, "I find it interesting that Jamie Gold, in response to his lawsuit, needed a publicist to speak for him while Lee told reporters face to face outside his home." Indeed, Jennifer.)

WSOP Final Tabler Richard Lee Raided

Justice, from Flickr user MonocleI was in the media room when Richard Lee virtually guaranteed that Jamie Gold would eventually win the World Series. Jamie Gold hadn't made any friends at the Rio, as spectators, dealers, fellow players and members of the media enjoyed his inflated opinion of himself, his entourage, his body guards (allegedly hired so nobody would talk to him in the bathroom) and his outrageously rude, insulting, "I'm from Hollywood so I'm better than you" behavior. When we saw Richard Lee get all his money in with pocket jacks against the only guy at the table who could bust him, we wove a tapestry of profanity that still hangs over Las Vegas to this day[1]

The general consensus among the poker professionals and writers I know is that Jamie Gold and Bodog are bad for poker, (Bodog girls quite obviously excluded) so Richard Lee got himself a spot on a lot of lists when he gave Gold a nearly insurmountable chip lead with a questionable play.

It would appear that Richard Lee has gotten himself onto another, more serious list with another questionable play, possibly running an ilegal bookmaking operation out of a home in San Antonio. Police say that tax records indicate that the home is owned by Lee, and that it was the "brains or the nerve center" of an operation with payouts in excess of $500,000. At the house, police found a money-counting machine, five Lexus cars, multiple plasma-screen TVs, and a large amount of cash with receipts for dozens of bets.

If the allegations prove to be true, and if reports of it being that Richard Lee are accurate, it will be yet another black eye on the 2006 WSOP, which really can't afford many more.

Further details and analysis can be found at PokerNews, through the link below.

[1] With gratitude and apologies to Jean Shepherd.

WPT Responds to Player's Antitrust Lawsuit

In the middle of the WSOP, several professional players filed a class action lawsuit against the World Poker Tour, alleging that the release the WPT requires players to sign is overly broad, and infringes on existing merchandising agreements many top professional players have. Without signing the release, the players are not allowed to play in WPT events, and the players allege that the WPT "and its partner casinos have unlawfully conspired to eliminate competition, and violated the intellectual property rights of these players," according to a story at PokerNews earlier this year.

The suit created quite a firestorm, with many at the World Poker Tour asserting that players wouldn't have merchandising opportunities if the WPT hadn't helped spread their popularity, a claim that is a bit specious when applied to players like Joe Hachem, Greg Raymer, and Chris Moneymaker, who are widely-known because of their WSOP achievements.

Today, the World Poker Tour responded to the lawsuit, and once again Poker News is on the case with the following observation: "The most interesting portion of the 22 page answer filed yesterday by WPT counsel is the WPT actually attempts to turn the tables. One portion of the answer asserts that any of the players in this suit that are affiliated with, or participate in the business decision making process of an online poker room are actually putting the WPT at an unfair advantage. The answer asserts that by participating in profits reaped by accepting US bettors via their online poker site, these players put the WPT at a competitive disadvantage."

You can read John Caldwell's report and try to wrap your head around the WPT's response via the link below.

Please note that will not be responsible for any damage resulting from heads exploding when readers attempt to understand the World Poker Tour's convoluted response.

Congressional Hypocrites Pass HR4411

If you're a US Congressman, and your party has had 100% control of the levers of power in Washington for five years, your president's approval rating hovers in the low to mid 30s, and your own approval rating is even worse, what do you do when the mid-term elections come up? You pander to your base, of course. You find a scapegoat, jingle your keys, and do whatever it takes to distract the voters from what a complete and miserable failure you are. This week, we got to see this election year strategy in all its hardcore action, as the House voted 317-93 to make almost all online wagering, including playing poker, a crime.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jim Leach (R- Iowa) makes it a federal crime to use a credit card or US-based bank to fund anything deemed "online gambling," with the notable and incredible exception of horse racing and online state lotteries.

Because, you know, gambling is an incredibly dangerous problem, threatening to tear apart the fabric of our society even more than same-sex marriage, or burning the flag, or repealing tax cuts for Paris Hilton and it must be stopped! Except, of course, for horse racing and lotteries; those are totally fine, and, uh, something about terrorists if you disagree with the congress on this one.

While most of us can look at this bill and see it for the transparent pandering that it is, we have to take it seriously. If the Senate passes similar legislation, ISPs could be allowed (or even required) to block access to poker sites (but not horse racing or lottery sites) from within the United States. Even if you don't care about playing online poker, think about how you feel about the government deciding what you can and can't do from the privacy of your own home, and where you can go on the Internets. Do you really want the government making those decisions for you?

There is no bill in the Senate right now, but it could easily be attached to something and we'd see the Repair all the Roads in the Northeast, Give Puppies to kids with Cancer and Ban Online Poker Act of 2006 fly through with no debate in the middle of the night on a voice vote, because that's just the way these jerks roll, you know.

So what do we do? The first thing is to find out if your congressmoron voted in favor of this bill. If it did, you need to write a letter (not e-mail) and tell them that they've lost your vote, and why. Then you need to make a phone call and tell them the same thing, and then you should write letters to the editor for your local papers. Then, join the Poker Players Alliance! They're like the EFF for poker players, and they are our best hope to prevent this ridiculous bill from becoming a law and making criminals out of us all.

The Poker Players Alliance has worked very hard to educate members of congress that poker is a game of skill and shouldn't be lumped in with luck-based games like roulette and keno, and they've made a lot of progress in a very short time with the more intelligent members of congress (yes, there are at least 93 of them.) They've posted a letter in response to the passage of this bill, which you can read at Bill Rini's blog:

"We are disappointed that the House of Representatives would assail the rights of Americans to enjoy the great game of poker on the Internet. It is unconscionable that a skill game like poker gets swept into the net of prohibition, while online horse betting and Internet lotteries get free passes," said Michael Bolcerek, president of the Poker Players Alliance.

For you fence-sitters, Absinthe makes a good case for joining the PPA:

We often talk about poker books as reasonable investment because the information contained therein can help us profit in the future . . . So consider for a moment the number of future big bets you might earn from a successful PPA defense of the right to play online poker:

All of 'em.

Washington State Extends Poker Ban to Writing about Poker

Lawmakers in Washington state, not content to make Class C felons out of online poker players, are using their new law to threaten legal action against their citizens who merely write about or link to online poker sites.

Techdirt links to a story in the Seattle Times about Todd Boutte, a Bellingham man who created a website that included casino reviews, tips on improving your poker game, and warnings about unscrupulous sites. There was no actual gaming happening at the site, which is just like hundreds (perhaps thousands) of poker blogs online, but Rick Day, director of Washington's gambling commission, says that Mr. Boutte was "aiding and abetting" people who were engaging in an activity that the state decided was illegal. Mr. Boutte was sent a C&D letter, including the threat of criminal prosecution if he kept the website up.

It was bad enough when Washington was going after people who played online poker from the privacy of their own homes. But threatening criminal action against a man who just writes about the game and links to websites? Are they serious?

Washington is very happy for you to place online wagers on horse racing, or play the state's lottery, but seems to think that you need to be prevented from playing online poker from your own home. Of course, the state is also very happy for you to go to one of the tribal casinos that bought and paid for this outrageous legislation.

Washington's law is overreaching, and invasive, and flies in the face of common sense. In fact, the Seattle Times may run afoul of the new law, because the paper publishes a column by Daniel Negreanu that frequently includes tips on improving your poker game. What's next? Burning poker books?

The state is very committed to stopping these dangerous criminals who threaten the very fabric of society when they play online poker from their own homes, or dare to write about it online: an investigator will be hired by the state to enforce the new law.

If you live in Washington, is this the way you want your taxes spent?

(06/19/06) Edited to add: Wicked Chops Poker suggests joining the Poker Player's Alliance, a group formed specifically to represent poker players' interests in cases like these (though this one goes so far, it's likely that the ACLU will also get involved in the first test case.)

Los Angeles Time Editorial: "Moralistic members of Congress should not be allowed to thwart online freedoms."

As Washington State turns people who choose to play online poker in their own homes into class C felons, just like sex offenders, the Los Angeles Times editorial board comes out in favor of common sense:

"Doesn't the federal government have better things to do than try to block people from going online to make a wager on the Super Bowl or the Final Four?

Supporters of the measures [prohibiting online wagering, poker, and gaming]  insist they are trying to curb the spread of gambling addiction, protect minors and crack down on unscrupulous offshore operators. They may be right about online gambling's link to self-destructive spending, given its isolating, rat-at-the-pellet-bar quality. But the fact that the House bills wouldn't outlaw online betting on horse racing, which Congress allowed states to authorize in 2000, seems to belie the sincerity of the effort. And isn't it a hallmark of a free society that we don't outlaw otherwise inoffensive vices simply because some people harm themselves?

We've been saying this for months, and it's nice to see a widely-read paper in the mainstream media pick up the common sense refrain.

The prohibition of online gaming, including poker and other casino games, in the name of "protecting" anyone is disingenuous and hypocritical while the government turns a blind eye to horse racing (lobby) and more state lotteries than there are hookers in Amsterdam. We're all adults here, and we're very capable of taking care of ourselves.

(Thanks, Russ!)

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