Monday, July 30, 2012

Reporting from the Echo Chamber

Norman Rockwell, 'The Gossip' (1948)Like you, I was occasionally distracted over the weekend by all the murmurs regarding that apparent deal involving PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and the U.S. Department of Justice. You know, the one we first heard some rumblings about back in April, though still hadn’t received much in the way of specifics.

The thought then was that Stars might be negotiating its way through some sort of settlement with the DOJ, with a Full Tilt Poker pick-up by Stars being somehow included as part of the agreement. And, of course, the idea that FTP players somehow might be getting their balances refunded as part of the process is what excited the interest of most regarding such a deal.

A statement from Eric Hollreiser, Head of Corporate Communications at PokerStars, acknowledged at the time that “settlement discussions” were ongoing but offered nothing more, and despite all the hubbub the story was mostly set aside over the next couple of months as the poker world’s attention became occupied by the WSOP.

I remember at the time thinking how strange it all sounded. Some of those analyzing motives and speculating about logistics helped make such a deal seem like more of a possibility, but it still was pretty weird to imagine.

On Friday I was writing a little about how things were “back in the day” as far as online poker in the U.S. was concerned, referring to that “wild West” era that had begun before the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act and essentially extended afterwards right up until Black Friday.

It was during the period bookended by those two legislative actions -- the signing of the UIGEA by President George W. Bush (10/13/06) and the unsealing of the indictment and civil complaint (4/15/11) -- that Stars and FTP became the two “superpowers” of online poker. The two sites had become the equivalent of Coca-Cola and Pepsi, co-existing as rivals that in many ways seemed to define themselves against one another, thus making the idea of one actually acquiring the other seem especially odd to contemplate.

The Stars-FTP-DOJ settlement story got revived over the weekend when Wendeen Eolis published a teaser on Friday on the Poker Player Newspaper site saying her “consistently impeccable source” had assured her that negotiations between Stars and the DOJ regarding FTP were “in the can.”

Several other sites in this echo chamber that is contemporary “poker news” quickly reported on Eolis’s report, in some cases responding and/or offering up promises of their own still-to-come articles in which they will once and for all be “breaking” the story.

Then this morning Eolis herself responded to some of those responses in a follow-up article in which the author’s name appears in the title (“Eolis Responds...”), an indication of how some of these articles appear as much about those writing them as they are about the story being reported.

Kind of reminds me of a poker hand that is still ongoing in which a few players remain (Stars, the DOJ, Full Tilt) while a number of others at the table have partial knowledge of what’s to come. You know, like in pot-limit Omaha when there are three hearts on the board and you’ve folded the Ah, then you see a player boldly raising on the river as though he has the ace-high flush when you know he cannot. You know something about what is going on -- and more than others do -- but not the whole story.

Of course, the analogy really doesn’t work since in truth there are only a couple of players in this game -- PokerStars and the DOJ -- while a third (FTP) has been all in for a long while and is just waiting to see how the actions of the other two will affect the outcome.

Is a “showdown” imminent? Perhaps so. In any event, if it does happen and we finally get to see some cards, that’s when the real analysis can begin.

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Blogger Grange95 said...

"Echo chamber" is dead on balls accurate.

Reminds me of my days on law review. We got a lot of article submissions with titles like "A Critique of Professor Smith's Rebuttal of Professor Jones' Theory of Ham Sandwich Regulations". Nobody outside academia gave a flying pig, but to the 100 or so (at best) professors who specialize in that arcane area of legal theory, it was the most important paper of all time.

7/30/2012 6:50 PM  

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