Friday, April 22, 2011

The Hustler, the DOJ, and Online Poker in the U.S.

DOJ breaks PS and FTP's thumbsA couple of months ago I wrote a short post about The Hustler, the great 1961 film starring Paul Newman in which the game is pool, but many of the lessons apply directly to poker. Such was David Spanier’s evaluation in his chapter on poker movies in Total Poker. The PokerGrump spelled out some of the ways the film applies to poker, too, in a post from a while back.

I was reading through various posts and articles over the last couple of days concerning “Black Friday,” including the several written by Bill Rini, one of a few especially lucid commentators on the situation. One of Bill’s posts caused me to think again of a particular sequence in The Hustler.

The scene comes a little over halfway through the movie. Eddie enters Arthur’s Pool Hall, a place where no one knows of his skills as a player. He plays a few friendly games for low stakes. Soon the other players all drop out, leaving just Eddie and the player who is presumably the best Arthur’s Pool Hall has to offer. Eddie is asked if he’d like to raise the stakes, he responds with a jokey comment (“I think maybe you’re a hustler”), and they continue playing at slightly bigger stakes.

Eddie’s opponent wins a match -- Eddie is clearly letting him do so -- and afterwards decides to needle our hero a little. “You sure you don’t want to quit, friend?” he asks. Eddie turns serious. “Let’s cut out the small stuff, huh?” he says, then proposes they play 10 matches for $100 -- a significant jump in stakes. His opponent delivers another dig just before they begin, and Eddie responds angrily.

“I don’t rattle, kid!” he fires back with a menacing look. “Just for that I’m going to beat you flat!”

Eddie proceeds to win the next 10 matches in rapid fashion, not letting his opponent have a single shot. He then tells the “two-bit punk” to pay up. His opponent leaves the money, but also leaves Eddie alone with the other locals, none too pleased at Eddie’s display.

Not so fast, Eddie“We got no use for pool sharks around here,” one says. Then they proceed to take the money back and rough him up, including breaking both of his thumbs.

The lesson -- as PokerGrump points out -- is to show some reserve when beating an inferior player. When you win, keep quiet, or practice a kind of faux humility about it. Don’t trash talk. Don’t “tap the glass” and scare the fish away. You’re only increasing the likelihood that your opponent won’t want to play anymore, and then there’s no game.

Eddie won a lot, couldn’t resist becoming very showy and arrogant about it, and suddenly found himself out of the game entirely.

The post from Bill that caused me to think about this scene from The Hustler was one titled “Why Bodog Wasn’t Kicked Out of the U.S.” I was intrigued to read what he had to say, not least because I still have an account on Bodog. That account is presently empty, however, and so I have found myself thinking off and on about perhaps trying to put some dollars back in and play once more.

“Will the DOJ come after Bodog or any of the other sites still offering U.S. gaming?” asks Bill. “Probably if they get too big,” is his answer. “Right now they’re small fish. If any significant U.S. traffic starts over there then they’ll come up on the crosshairs.”

Thus, Bill goes onto explain, the processing of transactions will become more and more difficult for Bodog should their traffic increase significantly. Then they’ll find themselves in a similar position PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and UB/AP did before they apparently resorted to non-legal machinations to get money to and from players.

Should I try to play on Bodog then? The fact is, I had stopped playing there over a year ago because the traffic had grown too slow. And it sounds like if the traffic were to increase, the likelihood that the site would become the next DOJ target would increase, too. Not encouraging.

Eddie’s showy play and subsequent punishment might be compared to how PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker had become so huge and successful, and prominent, too, via constant advertisements on the web and our TV screens, that their status as “sharks” could no longer be ignored. And recent developments on the legislative front regarding online poker and those alliances with casinos (discussed in that “Some Rambling About the Rumble” post from 4/8/11) only served to increase the the sites’ stature further.

As I. Nelson Rose has pointed out, when we consider the Department of Justice’s decision to pounce, “the timing is suspicious.” He sees the decision to act now as having been directly motivated by the increasingly loud “rumble” that had been created by the online site-casino alliances (e.g., Wynn and PokerStars) and the momentum being gathered behind the various legislative pushes to license and regulate online poker in the U.S.

As Rose points out, the DOJ has been “waging a war of intimidation against Internet gambling for years, successfully scaring players, operators, payment processors and affiliates into abandoning the American market.” To keep an upper hand in this war, they couldn’t wait any longer, allowing legislation to pass or the sites to grow even stronger via various business alliances in the U.S.

In other words, like the locals at Arthur’s Pool Hall, the DOJ had seen the sites run the table -- and perhaps be a bit showy about it as they did -- and decided they couldn’t just sit back and watch.

You could say that part of what has happened here is the DOJ viewed the sites as having thumbed their noses at them for too long.

So they broke some thumbs.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heya Short Stack, I was listening to your podcast, liked it so much I created a whole new blog list for it on my site.

Esp. enjoyed Episode three, laughed so hard I think I had to check myself.

Didn't think you'd see this comment on the other site, so I thought I'd drop it here.

Also agree with the last bit I read of this blog, the three companies got big enough for the government to bring them down.

Well, anyway, good luck, have fun! Deuces!


4/22/2011 4:04 PM  
Blogger PKR said...

Another solid post and read, thanks!

4/22/2011 6:03 PM  
Blogger RGC2005 said...

Over the years I had gotten away from reading Bill's blog. I can see the error of my ways now. There is a reason he has been around the industry as long as he has. Good read as usual.

4/23/2011 4:11 AM  
Blogger Decker711 said...

Very good analysis. This was a shakedown plain & simple. No different than third rate thugs ripping off the neighborhood grocery.

4/23/2011 2:20 PM  

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