Americans Can't Get Rich Playing Poker On The Internet Any More
Forget all the tornadoes, earthquakes, revolutions, civil wars, and nuclear meltdowns that have been ripping the world apart – for our card-sharp friends over in America, the worst disaster of 2011 occurred on April 15th: the day online poker died. The FBI arrested heads of the three largest online poker websites on a slew of charges that included money laundering and fraud. The sites’ domain names were seized and they banned US players from playing. There’s a thread on TwoPlusTwo, the popular online poker forum, where you can see the crisis unfold in real time. At first people were incredulous, then confused, then angry, then slowly they realised that the era of free money is over.
The story of the “poker boom” has been told several times already, but the Cliffs Notes version goes like this: In 2003, American sports network ESPN televised the World Series of Poker, an event obscure outside of the gambling world, and millions of people watched as Chris Moneymaker – an amateur who made some boneheaded mistakes but got lucky again and again – won the tournament, and $2.5 million. A bunch of people saw Moneymaker and said, “Hey, I could do that!” and the legal-at-the-time poker websites were flooded with new members, most of them “fish” who could barely read the symbols on their electronic cards. As a result, it suddenly became possible – even easy – for someone with basic maths skills and card-playing experience to become a professional or semi-professional gambler. While the vast majority of new players were losers in the most literal sense (their winning days never covered their losing ones), there was a substantial number of people – mostly young men – who discovered that sitting at home in front of a screen, keeping track of nine to twelve games at a time, for several hours a day, paid better and was more rewarding than any other job they could get.
I knew a lot of these guys: slightly geeky 20-somethings – usually college grads – who were smart, good with numbers, and focused enough to pay close attention to details for long periods of time: qualities that would probably have led to a solid career in the pre-recession days. But the way the American job market looked, they decided, rightly, there was more money in poker. You could set your own hours, work from wherever you wanted, and there was a thrill in taking money from the pockets of those donks who didn’t have half the poker-brain you did. Even after online poker became technically illegal in 2006 – much as torrenting music is 'illegal' – and casual players started to drop out, there was still money to be made. It was like a nerdy gambling gold rush.
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