History of Online Poker in the United States
Though poker has been around for more than two centuries, the online version of the game was introduced just about two decades ago. The first online poker room, called Planet Poker was introduced in 1998. A lot of the site’s traffic was from the US. For a few years, the site enjoyed the status of being the only destination for playing poker online. Following growing popularity of Planet Poker, many such poker rooms were established. Most of them accepted US players. Each poker site tried to draw US customers by offering attractive rewards and features. Real money online poker in the US gained popularity during the early 2000s. Chris Moneymaker’s huge success in a poker tournament series in 2003, drew Americans’ attention to the game.
Chris Moneymaker – The American Player who Made a Mark in Poker History
Chris Moneymaker made a mark in the history of online poker with his exceptional performance in 2003 WSOP. The player had entered into a PokerStars satellite tournament, a qualifier event to the WSOP, with a buy-in of $39. His win in the event fetched him an entry to a bigger satellite. It had a package for WSOP Main Event on offer. Chris won the second satellite. After this, he went to Las Vegas to play the WSOP Main Event – the first live poker tournament of his life. Chris made it to the final table of the main event and took home 2.5 million.
Chris Moneymaker’s big win enhanced the interest among American players to play live poker tournaments. He is remembered in the history of US Poker as the man behind the internet poker boom.
Popularity of Live Poker Events Enhanced
Events like the WSOP recorded huge success in the US. TV coverage of the poker series through ESPN was initiated. A late night show called ‘Poker After Dark’ was started which made poker more popular among Americans. These shows caught the interest of fans of the game. Those who felt motivated to play poker, opted to enter games through online poker rooms which were easily accessible.
Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act – 2006
In 2006, the US government passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). It prohibited payment solutions from facilitating transactions to online gambling sites. Real money gambling on the internet became difficult in the US under the Bush government. Players were unable to deposit money in their online poker accounts. A large number of American players started gambling with offshore sites. Canadian players were also largely affected due to the passing of the act.
Due to the UIGEA, many reputed online poker rooms closed their doors to US players. However, sites like PokerStars.com and Bodog.com stood against the act. They continued to accept US players inspite of the prohibition made by the government. At this point, PokerStars achieved the status of the leading website in the world of online poker. Another poker room which continued to accept US players was Full Tilt Poker. The site gained a lot of popularity owing to its attractive offerings. Full Tilt became the second most trafficked gaming rooms in a short while since its launch. PokerStars recorded the maximum player traffic. Eminent professionals in the industry were associated with Full Tilt Poker. The free interactive training program of the site, called Full Tilt Academy became highly popular among poker enthusiasts. Full Tilt established its own game format called Rush Poker. It gained a lot of popularity within a short time.
Even after the passing of the UIGEA, the growth of online poker in the US has been steady. Americans placed real money wagers through offshore sites. However, the Black Friday incident in 2011 changed the scenario of online poker in the US.
Black Friday 2011
In April 2011, three leading poker rooms were indicted by the US Department of Justice (DOJ). The poker sites were PokerStars, Absolute Poker and Full Tilt Poker. Among these sites, PokerStars managed to get back on its feet. The site continues to be the leading online poker room in the industry, although it is not allowed to accept US players. Full Tilt’s license was suspended by the Alderney Gaming Control Commission in September 2011 due to several charges filed against the poker room. Since then, the site has become non-operational.
French investment firm, Groupe Bernard Tapie approached Full Tilt Poker after this, with a proposal to purchase it. Full Tilt was not only in severe economic crunch but also had several legal charges against it. Hence, it took a while for the investment firm to get the deal approved by the DOJ. Ultimately, an agreement was settled between the DOJ and Groupe Bernard Tapie according to which Full Tilt has to surrender its assets to the DOJ. The Tapie group will acquire Full Tilt assets directly from the DOJ. The body will be responsible for paying back American players previously associated with Full Tilt Poker. On the other hand, the French investor will pay back non-US players of the poker room.
Wire Act Clarification by DOJ and its Impact
In December 2011, an announcement made by the DOJ came as a welcome surprise for the online poker world. The DOJ changed its opinion on the Wire Act and stated that the law is applicable solely on sports betting. Hence, according to the statement, online poker is not illegal in the US.
The announcement was made by the DOJ primarily to meet the budget deficit that the US economy is facing. Legalization of online poker will add to state revenues significantly. Following the DOJ announcement, several US states started preparing the stage for online poker. Nevada became the first state to adopt online poker regulations. California and New Jersey are expected to follow Nevada’s footsteps.
With the Wire Act clarification made by the DOJ, poker enthusiasts had their hopes raised for the legalization of poker in the US. There are ongoing debates and discussions in several US states regarding the issue. Lobbying groups like Poker Players Alliance (PPA) claim that legalizing poker will create thousands of jobs and that the US gambling market is a lucrative one. Eminent poker rooms have set their eyes on the market. Once legalization becomes a reality, these sites plan to open their doors to US customers. However, there are several opponents of legalizing the game in the US. According to them, problem gambling may lead to several American families facing financial distress.
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