On this day seven years ago I was visiting my wife’s family up in Phetchabun, Thailand. Phetchabun is a rural city about five hours north of Bangkok and it’s what I like to call “Real Thailand.” It’s yet to experience any sort of foreign tourism and still maintains many of the cultural charms Thailand was once famous for.
We were there to celebrate Songkran, which is the Thai new year. It is both a religious period where people visit Buddhist temples and “renew” themselves spiritually as well as a holiday most widely known for a nationwide water fight.
From big cities like Bangkok to the smallest of villages people take to the streets armed with water guns and bowls of water and proceed to douse each other with water.
Young, old, it doesn’t matter. Everybody gets in on the action for three straight days (sometimes longer in some areas).
As I mentioned, Phetchabun was, at the time, still rather rural. Few houses had a wired connection to the internet. The best one might do was go to an Internet cafe.
Because my life revolves around the internet, I made sure to buy a cellular modem before this trip and I was able to get connected via GPRS (2G) with a max download speed of 114Kbps. To put that into perspective, most of us throw our hands up in frustration when we are only able to connect to a network at 3G speeds that have a max download rate of 3.1Mbps (27X faster than GPRS).
As I was waiting for my emails to download I saw an email from an old friend of mine in my inbox. I hadn’t spoken to Dave in several years so seeing his name in my inbox immediately had my attention.
His email asked if I had seen a story in the NY Times about the DOJ and FBI shutting down Full Tilt, PokerStars, and UltimateBet/Absolute Poker.
I clicked on the link in his email and, for what seemed like ages, waited for the NY Times website to finish loading. As I read the story, I sat there with my jaw on the floor.
The US legal system had closed a few bank accounts here and there, which amounted to nothing more than being a mild irritant for players and the sites themselves, but this was a major, unprecedented move on the part of the DOJ.
Only after lifting my jaw back up off the floor did I start diving into my inbox and seeing more and more people reaching out asking if I had seen the news or what this actually meant for online poker in the US.
I spoke with my wife and told her that we had to get back to Bangkok immediately, if not sooner. We ended up catching an overnight bus back to the superior internet speeds of Bangkok.
While on the bus, I used my cellular modem to send off emails to industry people I knew. Everyone was still in a state of shock.
It was about 6am by the time the bus arrived back in Bangkok and we had taken a taxi across town to my apartment. I was finally able to get on Skype and start talking to people. But most of what was flying around was a mixture of rumors, apocalyptic predictions, and “they can’t do that”.
I also started hearing from players that I was close with that were looking for some clarity and hoping that I had something to add to everything they were seeing and reading.
Only over the coming days and weeks would the full extent of the impact on online gaming really come to be known. News slowly dripped out about payment delays, mismanagement at certain rooms, and infighting.
While, eventually, often years after the fact, most players got their money back, it’s difficult to say that people were made whole.
But as I see friends of mine back in Thailand posting pictures of the water-fights happening across the country and I reflect back on Songkran 2011, I can’t help but think how Black Friday was, in a way, a new beginning, a time when you wash away the old to begin anew.
Shortly after Black Friday, several states took up legalizing online gaming with NV, NJ, and DE being the first to authorize online gaming in their jurisdictions. And by 2013 all three states had launched online gaming under their regulations.
PA was next to authorize online gaming in 2017 and many other states are in various stages of passing bills to allow it.
So, Sawadee Pee Mai (สวัสดีปีใหม่) and Happy New Year. Here’s to new beginnings!