No More Online Poker? What Now?
On April 15, 2011 , the FBI shocked the online poker world by seizing the domain names of the most popular poker sites on the web. Effectively, US players can no longer place a bet on such well known sites as Full-TiltPoker.com, Ultimatebet.com, AbsolutePoker.com. Even the grand-daddy of them all, PokerStars.com, felt the wrath of the FBI’s strict enforcement of the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA), which forbid internet money transfers from financial institutions to online gaming sites.
What does this sudden federal action mean to the online poker playing community? In short, it means that millions of poker players will have to find their poker action elsewhere. Two likely venues pop to mind: brick and mortar Casinos will get an immediate influx of new business, and traditional home games will once again proliferate over time.
Will poker players accustomed to the anonymity of online play adapt to sitting at a poker table and looking their opponents in the eye? They better, because they really do not have an alternative since Congress does not seem to be in the mood to change the law any time soon. There has been a push to introduce legislation, which would legalize (and regulate) online poker in the States. Most notably, the Poker Players Alliance has been advocating for the rights of US poker players to play online. The PPA has two noteworthy congressional champions of their cause in Alfonse D’Amato (former Senator from NY) and Barney Frank (D-Mass). So far, their efforts have not been fruitful, but they continue to try.
Some folks may wonder why poker players insist on playing for real money online; after all, why not play with ‘play money’? Most experienced poker players will agree it is impossible to play real poker with fake money. If it costs you nothing, why fold to your opponent’s bet? The calculation as to whether to call a bet, or not, is much different if you are risking 25 real dollars, versus 25 dollars of play money. Forcing an opponent to fold his hand because he is unwilling to risk real money, is an integral part of the game.
Can casinos adequately fill the void of online play? In many cases, ‘yes’ they can. Thirty-four states offer casino poker rooms of some kind. Players within a reasonable driving distance of, say 50 miles, can simply take a short ride and find plenty of action. But this is not the case for everyone. Sixteen states do not offer poker games in a casino environment. If you are fortunate enough to live near a casino poker room, you will have to adjust your game a bit:
- Do you have a good poker face? Can you pull off a well-timed bluff without giving yourself away? Can you contain your excitement while holding the nuts? If not, you better learn quickly!
- ‘Live’ play in a casino is likely to be much slower than what the online player is use to, so you will have to throttle back your impatience, and learn to enjoy the more relaxed pace of casino play.
- The online player will be expected to learn table etiquette in order to keep the game enjoyable for everyone. Example: cell phone use at most tables is prohibited.
- Finally, online players will learn they are expected to tip the dealers if you win the pot in a cash game, or if you make the final table and finish ‘in the money’ of a tournament.
Casinos typically take a ‘rake’ (or share) from every poker game they host. 10% house rake is not uncommon for cash games (usually with a reasonable maximum amount per pot), and 20% is common for larger tournaments. In either case, the winner(s) are still expected to tip the dealers in addition to the house rake. If the casino’s take is too much for you to swallow, you will prefer to play in home games where the rake is likely to be non-existent (and possibly illegal in your area).
Home games have been enjoyed by poker players for generations, and remain popular today. Before you agree to play in a home game, you should familiarize yourself with the local law governing such games in your area. Be sure any home game you play in is structured in such a way as to be legal. Assuming you are able to structure a legal home game, a group of friends can assemble to share a common interest in poker, and have a great evening with many social benefits. The social benefits of a home poker game should not be overlooked. Many friendships and business relationships have developed while playing poker.
The flavor of home poker games can vary widely from loose and casual, to very competitive. Be sure you find a game to suit your personality and style. If you are a high-stakes player, you will not enjoy playing ‘dealer choice’ games for nickels and dimes. Likewise, if you just want a fun social evening of playing cards, you should avoid high stake games such as Pot Limit Omaha. The great thing about poker is that there is a game for everyone.
If a group of friends get together and pool a few dollars each, they can invest in the items that make their game more enjoyable and professional. Such an investment should include a quality poker table, with cup holders and a felt surface. Next, a case (or two) of quality poker chips will make the game seem like you are playing in a Vegas casino. Finally and perhaps most importantly, a few decks of 100% plastic playing cards will make all of the difference in the world, and are considered an absolute must for a good home game.
So while many online poker players are lamenting the recent FBI crackdown, in the long run, most players are likely to find a nearby casino or home game that will fill the void. With that final comment, let’ go play, it’s time to ‘shuffle up and deal’!
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