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?
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.