Thursday, January 18, 2007

Playing Without a Net(eller)

As you’ve no doubt heard, Neteller is no longer an option for us American players when it comes to moving funds to and from online poker sites. Sometime yesterday (around 7 p.m., Eastern standard time, I believe), Neteller posted a “U.S. Member Update” on its site announcing that “Due to recent US legislative changes and events, effective immediately, US members are no longer able to transfer funds to or from any online gambling sites.”

I had heard the news about two of Neteller’s founders and former executives -- Steve Lawrence and John Lefebvre -- getting pinched by the FBI on Monday for money laundering conspiracy. I read the articles on sites like Poker News, Pokerati, and CardPlayer explaining how the arrests were not necessarily related to the UIGEA’s passage back in October. Rather, the pair (neither of whom are “officially” with Neteller anymore) were apparently being charged for activities that violated the old 1961 Wire Act -- i.e., not for anything associated with the new legislation. As Amy Calistri explained in her article, the charge concerns Neteller facilitating transactions between U.S. customers and offshore sports books.

I then heard about Neteller’s decision no longer to allow InstaCash transactions for U.S. customers. This happened sometime Tuesday, I believe. InstaCash allows members to transfer funds from their bank accounts into Neteller and then access those funds immediately (i.e., before the transaction has been cleared by the members’ banks). The option made it easier for Americans to fire their moneys into poker sites without delay.

I actually never used InstaCash, and so wasn’t that concerned about this news. As I’ve written about before here, I made an initial deposit (of $50) into Neteller about two-and-a-half years ago, moved that over to Poker Stars, and haven’t had to reload since. I’ve withdrawn a lot via Neteller, of course. And I’ve also used Neteller frequently to move moneys from one site to another. But I’ve never had to worry about sending funds in the other direction (i.e., from my bank to Neteller).

I kept reading around, following the “sky is falling” threads on the 2+2 Forums and checking in on my favorite blogs. Bill Rini’s blog has been particularly informative, with several posts here lately detailing current goings-on. Early yesterday he posted that he interpreted the cancelling of InstaCash as a precursor to Neteller pulling out of the U.S. market entirely, and so advised those of us with funds in Neteller either to go ahead and move it into our bank accounts or stick it back into a poker site, if desired.

After reading Bill’s blog, I went over to Full Tilt where I had a fairly low balance (under $100). I haven’t been playing on FTP much lately, and so wasn’t really too concerned about not having the funds to play my current limits comfortably. I hopped on a table and endured a miserable sequence of hands in a full ring, $1.00/$2.00 limit game. I realized I was getting low and so got out. I had $100 sitting over in Neteller (withdrawn from Bodog a few days before) and so taking Bill’s advice I decided to replenish the Full Tilt account with it. About an hour later came the news that Neteller would no longer allow such transactions. So I owe a thanks to Bill for the heads-up.

At the moment I currently have accounts on four sites -- Poker Stars, Full Tilt Poker, Absolute Poker, and Bodog. Taken together, I have an adequate bankroll to be playing $1.00/$2.00 (limit); however, the money is divided among the four sites in such a way that if I were to experience a bad run on one of them I would have to drop down or risk bottoming out on that particular site.

All of which is to say I’m experiencing three varieties of frustration at the moment.

One is a general, unfocused anger about the UIGEA and the U.S. government’s desire to act as the moral police. I’m mad as a box of frogs about this bill and its effect on me. Last post I wrote with enthusiasm about the new poker books I had recently purchased. I am interested in further cultivating this skill I’ve been working on for some years now, and so look forward to the challenges and pleasures those books represent for me. The fact is, poker is an important part of my life. I receive a tremendous amount of enjoyment and satisfaction playing poker, reading and learning about poker, and interacting with others who do the same. And while I understand poker does involve gambling -- it is, frankly, “a game based on chance” -- I am not one who gambles recklessly. I am also an adult, hardly in need of Uncle Sam to chaperone me through the dangerous labyrinth of $1.00/$2.00 limit hold ’em.

A second frustration concerns how events seem to be playing out so dramatically without reasonable advance notice to those of us being affected. As customers of a service whose legal status is ambiguous, we get treated like crap (and, generally, we don’t complain). When the UIGEA first passed, those poker sites that pulled out of the U.S. market did so with little or no advance notice. Firepay bailed in a similar fashion. Then Neteller blares its “Effective Immediately” announcement. And, as I read over on Bill's blog, Citadel has similarly backed out without notice. I suppose there are legal reasons why poker sites and these third-party vendors cannot be open with us about what may or may not happen down the road. Nevertheless, it would be nice to be treated with a little respect. Of the four sites on which I play, only Bodog has sent me any sort of communication regarding Neteller. (It is early -- I’m writing this only 12 hours or so after Neteller’s announcement.) Now that I think about it, Neteller didn’t email me either. If everyone knows events like Neteller’s pulling out are going to happen, why can’t we avoid such unsettling, stress-inducing moments like happened last night (and before)?

My third source of anxiety is related to my bankroll issue alluded to above. I mentioned last post how I’d ordered Tom Schneider’s book Oops! I Won Too Much Money: Winning Wisdom from the Boardroom to the Poker Table. It arrived yesterday and I started reading the first few chapters. He has one called “Are You the Tortoise or the Hare?” where he makes a point about personality types and how we all must recognize our own “racing strategy” -- in life or at the tables. Like Schneider, I’m “a confirmed tortoise.” I’m willing to take it slow, and if I have to drop back down a level in order to preserve my balance in each of the sites I’m more than willing to do so. The fact that Firepay, Neteller, and Citadel are no longer available certainly means depositing into poker sites is going to be a big hassle. Withdrawing won’t be easy, either, although my sense is it will be relatively less burdensome. While I’m hoping not to have to worry about the depositing issue, I will be affected here. Significantly. With no new players coming in, the games will necessarily become more difficult. When I sit at a typical 10-handed $1.00/$2.00 table these days, I’m reasonably certain that there are a few players at the table who haven’t as much experience or skill as I do -- indeed, sometimes, there will be only one other player whom I can readily identify as worrisome. Moving forward, I anticipate the percentage of good players to rise fairly dramatically. And that’s gonna make it harder for me to continue to earn moneys, I suspect.

Indeed, if I do bust out of one of these sites, that may be it for me at that site (given my conservative approach). And that might prove be the case for a lot of players -- when the well runs dry . . . well . . . bye-bye.

Stay tuned.



Anonymous Anonymous said...


I feel your pain. Citadel pulling the plug suprises me. I had heard that Neteller was going to. It will be interesting to see what happens at the end of the 270 odd day period when the law takes effect.

Damn politicians hate them all. I think I can now add bankers and banks to that list.

Good luck friend

1/19/2007 4:59 AM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Thanks, bud. Actually, the law is in effect -- it went into effect on 10/13 when Bush signed the bill. The 270 days refers to how long federal regulators are supposed to have to come up w/instructions for the banks, "financial transaction providers," etc., to start policing things. My understanding is that it might take the feds longer than 270 days to come up w/such instructions. Doesn't matter, though -- technically speaking, everyone running afoul of the law currently is potentially at risk (i.e., could be retroactively nabbed).

1/19/2007 9:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can see the same scenario happening Shamus, in fact I was talking about it today. If fish cannot deposit then online pokers growth will definately slow down.
What we really want to know is what the U.S. governments 'grand master plan' is? Are they planning on regulating online poker in teh future or what??

1/19/2007 4:04 PM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Dunno. Send more troops?

1/19/2007 4:48 PM  

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