Is Online Poker Legal? Poker — 13 March 2006

Coppers

According to various sources, Bodog founder, Calvin Ayre’s mult-million dollar home in Costa Rica (‘dem’s US dollars, not Costa Rica Colons) to bust up an illegal poker game. Over 100 police officers raided Ayre’s home looking for any dirt they could dig up but eventually had to settle with picking up his bodyguards on immigration violations. A hundred police officers to catch a few guys who get paid to take a bullet for a billionaire; brilliant.

The more interesting aspect of this is that it is a glimpse into unchecked power of government. Gambling laws are traditionally enacted under the umbrella of protecting poor, idiot citizens from squandering away their life savings. As previously noted, Mr. Ayre is a billionaire. In fact, he just appeared on Forbe’s list of billionaires (which Mr. Ayre thinks was the catalyst for the raid; jealousy). One would have to posses a fairly vivid imagination to think that Mr. Ayre’s home poker games were designed to bilk the local peasants out of their life savings so who are the police attempting to protect? The B and C level celebrities he hangs out with in his mansion? The rich investors he has swing by the pad for a little poker? What exactly was the goal of sending 100 police officers to his home to bust up a poker game?

Now, let’s keep in mind that Costa Rica is no Amish society. They are the base for not only Mr. Ayre’s Bodog online poker site but a good chuck of the online sports betting sites. The government even has special zones with favorable tax status to lure these companies down to Costa Rica. While the rest of the country has to share a single dial-up connection to the internet, these zones enjoy unlimited bandwidth (okay, perhaps a slight exaggeration but this is a blog, not a news site). Costa Rica is also the home of several casinos where one can go play poker. Perhaps most importantly, Costa Rica has some serious crime problems.

According to the US State Dept.

For safety reasons, the Embassy does not place its official visitors in hotels in the city center, but instead puts them at the larger hotels in the outlying suburbs.

Now, I’m not attempting to suggest that Costa Rica is a bad place (the scuba diving is some of the best in the world). The State Dept. information above refers specifically to San Jose, the capital. But it does show that billionaires playing poker in their own homes is not a 100 cop sort of incident. It’s like a food cart vendor in Tijuana getting busted by 100 cops for a health code violation.

No, this is more of a case where a law exists on the books so politicians and law enforcement use the most liberal reading of the law in order to promote their own agendas. They’re acting like America!! :-)

According to some estimates, as many as 70 million Americans play poker. Of that, 70 million, 23 million play poker online. So, basically, we have a game that roughly 25% of US citizens play and about 10% also play online. A recent WSJ poll shows that 84% of respondents do not think the government should ban internet gambling. So, what does the government do? Introduce legislation to ban internet gambling.

When you peel back all of the BS in the Goodlatte Bill currently before Congress, it’s basically a good old backroom/shakedown deal. The idea isn’t to stop gambling as much as it is to stop gambling with people who don’t make mind-blowlingly large political contributions to our elected representatives. You won’t see any provisions that hurt Indian casinos. You won’t see any provisions that attempt to halt the worst scam on the face of the earth; government run lotteries. Why stop people from taking 20,000,000:1 shots when they can keep people from taking a likely coin flip with a pocket pair against an early position raiser?

In the end, I think we’ll likely find that the Mr. Ayre incident is exactly the same kind of deal. Mr. Ayre pissed off the wrong politician. Either he didn’t grease the right palms or he simply became the target of someone who’s running on a vice platform who saw the opportunity to take down someone who just appeared on the cover of Forbes. Either way, the laws are being used to benefit those in power rather than to protect the interests of the people. And that is the biggest crime of all.

Photo borrowed from Flickr user absurdness.com

Ship It Holla Ballas!

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About Author

Bill Rini has been working in the online poker industry since 2004. He was a product manager for poker at Full Tilt and was the poker room manager at PartyPoker. Currently, Bill is the Head of Online Poker for WSOP.   Bill has been blogging about online poker since 2003 and is considered one of the leading authorities on the online poker industry.   "I like What Bill Rini said in his blog" - Doyle Brunson   "In other news, we had Bill Rini write an absolutely home run blog." Daniel Negreanu   "Industry insider Bill Rini has one of the most popular blogs in poker, with thousands of subscribers and fans regularly coming back for his universally respected insight into the industry" - Barry Carter (News editor for PokerStrategy, Co-Author: The Mental Game of Poker)

(5) Readers Comments

  1. Wow, Bill i love you site…this is so great
    btw, such a funny pic^^

  2. If you’re against the online gambling bill trying to ban online casinos, you should definitely check out http://www.gamblingdebate.com. It’s an informational site with both sides of the issue, a poll where you can support your side of the debate and a forum to discuss the news and implications.

  3. The legislators in the US Government are hyporctical morons. They simply don’t understand that the USA cannot control internet gambling (it is legal in Great Britian and the sites are listed in their stock exchange.) If those bible beating idiots would get their heads out of the sand, they would properly regulate and tax interent gambling to benefit the American people. Pathological gamblers will always finds ways to gamble, and millions (perhaps billions) of taxable dollars are floating off to Costa Rica everyday.

  4. Agreed. Laws are created for the privileged to take from the less fortunate. Here’s to hoping we win the coinflip to be in the presence of the former rather than the latter.

  5. “What exactly was the goal of sending 100 police officers to his home to bust up a poker game?”

    The local police chief probably saw an opportunity to collect a ‘contribution’ from a rich American, just to ensure that no similar embarrassing incidents happen again.