This week thousands of poker fans and players will gather at the Rio Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas for the much anticipated 42nd Annual World Series of Poker (WSoP). Despite the April 15 federal crackdown, what is solemnly referred to in the online poker world as “Black Friday,” it appears that this year’s championship game will draw as many and possibly more professionals and viewers than last year’s event to the Rio Casino and Hotel where the tournament is taking place.
“This is the year people are going to see how big poker has become around the world and what a juggernaut the modern World Series of Poker has become,” said Jack Effel, the tournament’s director. According to Effel, attendance will be up by 20 percent.
Yet, even as players arrive in Vegas and settle up to the green felt in an attempt to focus on playing for a while, instead of legal matter, federal prosecutors are at it again for black Friday, round two.
Eleven bank accounts located in the U.S. and abroad were seized along with 10 online gambling domains as part of the indictment that was unsealed on May 23, 2011, by Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein of Baltimore. The indictments allege that the defendants own and operate illegal gambling businesses serving American customers.
“We cannot allow foreign website operators to flout the law simply because their headquarters are based outside the country,” Rosenstein said.
One of the domains seized in the indictment was DoylesRoom.com, the popular site which uses the name and likeness of Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson — a veteran player and poker strategist who publicly distanced himself from DoylesRoom after Black Friday and requested that the site discontinue the use of his name and image.
While news of this latest round of seizures has yet to fully circulate through the poker community, the original Black Friday had already fueled the push for legalized online gambling. As Dan Michalsky at Pokerati.com reported, after April 15, the American Gaming Association (AGA), which is the political lobby for America’s brick-and-mortar casinos, announced that it was working on legislation to legalize, regulate, and tax online poker (though it didn’t exclude the possibility of expanding online gaming to other activities such as slots).
Traditional casinos, once an opponent of online gambling, have now become one of the most vocal supporters of federal legislative efforts to legalize the activity. On May 10, Gary Loveman, CEO of Caesars Entertainment (which is the parent company of the WSoP) wrote in their SEC financial filing:
“…we believe strongly that the recent federal indictments of illegal online poker operators should convince Congress to allow American citizens to play online poker and to allow American companies to compete in a multi-billion-dollar industry…By acting now to legalize a game enjoyed by millions of adult citizens, Congress can clarify ambiguous federal laws, generate tax revenues for federal and state governments and bring thousands of jobs to this country.”
While observers at this year’s WSoP wait to see how the April 15 Black Friday will affect attendance, it is certain that for those players who do show up, conversation will probably not be about who has the best hand, but rather how to digest this latest government smack down of their beloved sport.
ESPN will be airing coverage of WSoP events.