One of the things people have been reluctant to address is who is to blame for Black Friday and its aftermath.  Well, I’ve done a little investigation and I can say with certainty I know exactly who is to blame for Black Friday.  Want to know who it is?

It’s you.

Well, technically, it’s you and me.  We’re all to blame.  Whether we be mere players, journalists, employees of the poker rooms, site owners, affiliates, regulators, or whatever, we caused Black Friday.

We’re all at fault because we didn’t demand better.  We didn’t demand more transparency.  We didn’t ask the right questions.

Online poker has always been a **wink, wink, nudge, nudge** sort of proposition going back to its earliest days.  There has always been an unspoken agreement between players, poker sites, and the media to not ask too many questions so that nobody has to admit any sort of uncomfortable truths.

Unfortunately, that veil of plausible deniability just kept growing as online poker exploded across the world.  Nobody wanted to rock the boat.  Players wanted to keep playing.  The media wanted to keep making money referring players to the poker sites.  And the poker sites wanted to keep making money from players playing on their site.  It was the perfect mutually beneficial relationship.

Well, it seemed perfect on the surface.

As the money became more and more staggering in nature the online poker sites began to exert more and more power.  Not that it took much of a struggle.  The media sold out early.  Most of the media became affiliates of the major poker sites and some even flat out sell/sold favorable coverage for a price.

This was never so obvious as during the Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet scandals.  Even though this was, by far, the biggest cheating scandal in poker history, most of the large poker media sites kept running UB and Absolute affiliate banners, kept glowing reviews of both sites in their “Site Reviews” sections, and basically only wrote about the scandal when 2+2 threads revealed new information that was too big to ignore.

And it wasn’t just online and print media that was in their pocket.  All the big poker rooms were buying up infomercials disguised as poker television.  They paid the production costs for these shows, bought the time from the television networks, and then heavily advertised themselves.  Oh wait . . . they advertised their .net site, not the real money gambling site.  **wink, wink, nudge, nudge**

But before we point the finger at the media, what did the players do?  They kept playing on UB and AP.  Bot scandal on Full Tilt?  Numbers just keep going up.  Cheating scandal on PokerStars?  Numbers just keep going up.

Recently players staged a sit-in on PartyPoker because Party was raising their rake caps and moving to a weighted contribution model but where was that sense of collective outrage several years ago when Full Tilt was murky on whether or not they were segregating customer funds?

The players didn’t care.  In fact, many people kept thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars on these online poker sites imagining their funds were as safe as if they were sitting in an FDIC insured account.

What about something as simple as an accusation of chip dumping or collusion on one of these poker sites?  The site granted itself the power to investigate, determine guilt or innocence, and issue penalties such as forfeiture of not only funds involved in the immediate investigation but anything else the player happens to have in their account as well.  There is no right to present evidence.  There is no right to an appeal to a real judge or ever have your case heard in front of a jury of your peers.  In fact, in many cases the poker room simply emails the person telling them that their funds were seized and that the matter is closed and please don’t contact them again.  Where is the due process in that?

When the UIGEA passed in 2006 it was really a massively defining moment for the industry in terms of consolidating power with the poker rooms.  The poker media bought the “poker is a game of skill” argument hook, line, and sinker because it was in their best financial interests.  They would make a killing moving all of the players on Party, 888, etc over to Stars and Tilt.

And players who wanted to continue playing online poker didn’t even flinch before moving their play over to US facing sites.  They were more than happy to rally behind the Poker Player’s Alliance shouting “online poker isn’t illegal.”

So with the press in their pocket, the players completely apathetic, and the DOJ seemingly impotent to stop them, the arrogance of the online poker sites just grew and grew.  At some point nothing seemed beyond limits.

In many ways players should be thankful for Black Friday.  When/If we get online poker back in the US it will be on terms far more favorable to the players.

First off, it will be properly regulated.  That means that the regulatory body will most likely have teeth. Unlike most of the overseas gaming commissions regulating the industry today that, at best, strip a room of its license, in a US regulated market there will likely be criminal and civil penalties associated with violations.

Similarly, cheating, collusion, and other player misbehavior will also likely carry criminal and civil penalties.  No more washing away your sins with an apology posting on 2+2 and simply moving on to another site that hasn’t banned you yet.  Rooms will have the option of submitting evidence to federal or state prosecutors who can bring the full weight of their office down on cheaters and those accused will be given full due process under the law.

And with online poker free of the stigma of being considered illegal by the DOJ more traditional media will be less averse to writing about online poker.  And since they are diversified enough to not have to rely on affiliate deals existing poker media will either need to kick it up a notch or two journalistically or perish.

That might come as little comfort to those who may not receive their funds back from Full Tilt, UB, or AP but this should have been the goal from the beginning.  We should have been demanding higher standards from ourselves, the media, the regulators, and especially from the businesses handling hundreds of millions of our dollars.

Black Friday was the worst case scenario.  It’s not as if the DOJ’s actions were completely unforeseeable (I’ve been warning about the DOJ strangling cash flow since 2006).  Yet, because of the silent collusion to ignore all of the flaws in this model and to overlook the risks Black Friday was a perfect storm of carelessness, ambivalence, greed, and mismanagement.

So if you’re looking where to lay the blame for Black Friday, the first place you should start looking is in the mirror.

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)

(16) Readers Comments

  1. …… Respectfully of U.S citizens… I welcome the tens of millions of legality-seeking Americans who want a peaceful base for their playing of online Poker…even for a partial-yr. timeframe. ..I think god-apprehenders in their arrogance in portraying themselves as ” pure, goodness itself, better than non-group-think-speekers (freedom) can push “Black Friday” laws on all citizens if you do not accept the need to be politically involved in poker law…to protect your right to choose…not blindly follow. CS.

  2. the doj did it for the money too. they could of done this years ago. they could have dont this right after the bill was passed years ago. no they waited for the sites to collect 6 billion for it or what ever, then sued them for the money. if you pay you can still operate if you cant you get shut down. that simple. this was about money on all sides and nobody cared about the players.

  3. I live outside the US so it is probably easier for me to agree with what you say here than those that have lost money/been stopped from playing online.

  4. Excellent post. I believe what we all suffered from was “Willful Suspension of Disbelief” which also drives the entertainment industry. What always surprises me is the instant change in attitude and opinions amongst the ‘Herds’.

  5. @Issac: Well, like I mentioned, when Party tried to raise their rake players protested by joining tables and sitting out thus filling up all of the cash games and not playing.

    That was with almost no notice. But the difference is that this hit the player’s pockets. Whether online poker was legal or illegal was of no difference to most people as long as they could get money on and off the sites. Thus, no incentive to actually do anything.

    And part of that apathy was a result of the press, the PPA, and most players claiming that online poker always had been and was still legal. If they would have been honest and told players that these sites were operating illegally in the US it might have convinced those poker rooms to go legit and pull out of the US market. But as long as the press, the PPA, and the players were all willing to pretend everything was 100% legal there was just too much money at stake for them to walk away from the US market.

  6. Call me a cynic, but I don’t see what your average poker player could have done before Black Friday/could be doing now to influence the situation. A large number of players contacted their representatives, refrained from giving business to sites with the appearance of impropriety, and encouraged others to do the same.

    Beyond that, the only other option would be to stop playing and organize boycotts.

    I would be quite interested in hearing what individual poker players could have done. Yes, if a million poker players had done something collectively, change could have happened sooner. However, I am not a million people, nor do I have influence over a million people. Trying to orchestrate a group that large to do anything is extremely difficult and rare.

    I would have loved to do more, and would still love to. I believe many poker players feel the same way.

  7. @Poker Blog X : Yes, the lack of regulation is shocking. Kahnawake giving both UB and AP a pass was one of the lowest points in the industry as far as it comes to claiming that these rooms are “regulated” in other markets. The fact Alderney has not jumped all over this and announced rules to prevent this from ever happening again or that it issued a statement post Black Friday saying that it was satisfied with FTP’s efforts to repay player says all there needs to be said about how much regulating is going on.

  8. @guccee: Exactly. No poker room should have the right to be judge, jury, and executioner and be allowed to tell people who want to know what they did wrong that they should bugger off because the poker room doesn’t want to give away its fraud detection secrets.

  9. @Pokeratu : I’m less concerned with taxes (for right now) than about the fact that nearly anyone else in the world holding hundreds of millions of dollars of other people’s money typically have some oversight. FTP treated the money like it was their own and gambled it like Phil Ivey at a craps table by letting a $60 – $90 million go uncollected in a big river bluff against PokerStars to sign up players when all other deposit methods were down.

  10. @Eric: Maybe you should reconcile the following statements from your own comment:

    I blame US poker players, including myself, for not being more influential with our legislators.

    and

    I absolutely don’t believe US poker players are to blame for Black Friday.

    Kind of difficult to defend my thesis when you’re playing both sides :-)

  11. While the author makes many good points, I find the general premise of this article to be off base. I blame the US government for making online poker such a difficult industry. I blame the US government for not being about individual freedom. I blame US poker players, including myself, for not being more influential with our legislators.

    I thought Full Tilt, Howard Lederer, etc. were trustworthy and I was wrong. I thought PokerStars was trustworthy, and I was correct. PokerStars is more trustworthy than most major US financial institutions, which repeatedly break the law and continue to operate. I trust PokerStars more than I trust Caesars Entertainment/Harrahs.

    Some of the media were better than others at exposing fraud. CardPlayer Magazine, which bills itself as the Poker Authority, is far from it. When it comes to investigating and exposing anything CardPlayer is non-existent and fails to look out for poker players.

    I absolutely don’t believe US poker players are to blame for Black Friday.

  12. Poker should be more than its total twisted demise.If only it was vechicle to help people clear their mind so the rest could follow. No one has the clairity of mind that a great poker player has to make the right decisions in stressful situations. Oh but to die only 1000 deaths again in life.

  13. Doesn’t matter in what country you are, there is a need for poker legislation. Because:

    1. Every state has the right to take taxes from this online poker operators. The make profit from that population, they need to play taxes
    2. If poker rooms are playing taxes the player have security of their founds because the poker rooms will be controled by some financial authority to see if they

    The sooner we have a poker legislation, the better!

  14. You are right as rain but being deprived of rights is wrong.Fulltilt turned us into our own worst enemy then the DOJ locked us out of our own accounts ending our chance to further an education with the hardest learning curve of any type subject there is before we could finish fulltilts academy to try to achive pro status. I recieved emails with the sorry you were cheated but we can’t tell you why,here is your entry back bs. All that I know is this long train of abuse has to be broght to light. Stand up America don’t just lay there stunned, disillusioned,crushed,punished,manipulated and mindcontrolled. Its your duty to do something about this being the only victim of your crime which is clearly an invasion of privacy by government and big bussiness.

  15. I live outside the US so it is probably easier for me to agree with what you say here than those that have lost money/been stopped from playing online.

    Even though I can play online legally I find the lack of regulation/transparency appalling. I would love to see legalisation in the US in the hope that decent regulation comes with it… it’s certainly not happening elsewhere.

  16. Fantastic post and well worth the wait. Unfortunately it is the same apathy that allow the political classes in ‘democracies’ to abuse the citizens that employ them in all walks of life but poker is one of the best examples.