Monday, April 29, 2013

Put Your Funds on Lock Poker (And Throw Away the Key)

Like most American online poker players -- particularly those of us who were fairly dedicated prior to Black Friday -- I’ve remained aware of the ever dwindling options available to us for the last two-plus years. And like many in that group, I’ve been wary about sending money to any of the so-called “rogue” sites serving U.S. customers during that period.

I had a conversation with someone a week ago about online poker, a person entirely unfamiliar with its history as well as all of the recent legal machinations here in the U.S. He couched his questions to me within the very reasonable skepticism a lot of people have had about any form of online gambling.

“Is it really safe?” he asked.

People asked the same question before Black Friday, thinking about all sorts of potential issues that gave them pause when it came to online poker. Indeed, they asked the same question even before the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 came along to force all of us to start adding certain disclaimers when arguing for the relative safety (or legality) of our favorite game.

There was a period prior to the emergence of the insider cheating scandals on Absolute Poker (news of which first broke in October 2007) and UltimateBet (which surfaced soon after, finally acknowledged by the site in March 2008) when I think most of us would answer such a question defensively. “It’s totally safe,” we quickly retorted, noting how cheating was unlikely -- why cheat when so much money can be made without doing so?!? -- and how depositing and cashing out posed little problems, if any.

Sure, after the UIGEA the business of moving money on and off sites became slightly more troublesome than before. But few harbored much concern about the games being safe to play.

The scandals certainly introduced seeds of doubt, but even then -- from early 2008 to early 2011 -- most of us continued to play without much fretting, some even on Absolute and UB. There’d be occasional problems with certain sites when it came to moving money, with those issues starting to multiply considerably during the last months of 2010 and first part of 2011. But few players felt too much concern, and indeed, there existed thousands of American players who were secure enough with the situation to consider themselves full-time online professionals.

Thus was the shock of Black Friday made all the more intense (for most). Going forward, nothing seemed certain about playing online poker from the United States, even if the many smaller sites continued to operate without interruption. Indeed, for a short period -- say six weeks or so -- it almost felt like a few of those tiny sites might soon be moving up to claim the spots formerly occupied by the giants who’d been suddenly struck down and driven from the U.S. market.

A lot of us spent those first few weeks exploring those other options, including the Merge sites (especially Carbon), Cake, and Bodog (yet to become Bovada).

It wasn’t always simple, but some of us managed to get some cabbage onto those sites and continued playing. I personally looked into it, found the whole process less than inviting, and quickly gave up. However I did win some money on a freeroll over on Hero (a Merge skin), and so kind of kept my hand in that way playing for nickels and dimes without having to deposit.

Lock Poker was then part of the Merge Network, too. Lock had first launched back in late 2008 on Cake, and not too long after signed noted pro Eric “Rizen” Lynch as a representative who I believe also had a position as a VP in the company. They also signed about a dozen more players to sponsor in 2009, then in April 2010 made the move over to Merge.

By 2011, Lock had become slightly better known thanks in part to sponsoring the BLUFF Online Poker Challenge (starting in 2009) which got the site some extra publicity. Not all of that attention was positive, however, especially when one of the players allowed to participate in that initial challenge was noted multi-accounter Josh “JJProdigy” Field. Previously Field had been caught and prohibited from playing on other sites, then went on PokerRoad Radio (in early 2008) to say he couldn’t promise he wouldn’t find a way back onto the sites from which he’d been banned.

But Field ended up not partaking in the challenge after all once “a situation” arose regarding possible account-sharing on Cake. In any event, by the spring of 2011 that’s pretty much all I knew about Lock Poker. Then a few months later came that whole ugly “Girah” saga on the site, another negative story partly concerning a site-sponsored competition that seemed to show the site failing to act responsibly in response to a cheating scandal.

All that was more than sufficient to reduce my interest in possibly playing on Lock Poker to nil. Actually for a brief period in there (from around June 2011 to October 2011), Lock wasn’t even accepting new U.S. signups. But they did begin taking Americans again, and during the last year-and-a-half I noted in passing the site gradually building a large roster of nearly 30 sponsored pros, among them Lynch, Michael Mizrachi, Chris Moorman, Paul Volpe, Melanie Weisner, Casey Jarzabek, Brett Jungblut, Matt Stout, and Annette Obrestad.

It was just about a year ago that Lock popped back up on the radar a bit, right about the time they signed Obrestad. That’s when the whole brouhaha erupted between Lock and the Merge Network involving the canceling of the LOCKOPS series and Lock bolting from Merge altogether to buy up Cake and start their own Revolution Network.

Now the situation at Lock has apparently taken an especially unpleasant turn. Complaints from players facing lengthy cashout delays -- as in several months -- have recently come to dominate all current news about the site. And after a long time simmering, that situation presently appears to have reached a kind of boiling point with reports of players being informed they can no longer cash out funds received via player-to-player transfers on the site.

The sudden introduction of the new ban on cashing out transferred funds -- the news of which was delivered to players via an email last week -- considerably heightened already significant player concerns about the money currently sitting in their Lock Poker accounts. You can read some details of the current situation over on 4Flush. Haley Hintze has a story on it for Pokerfuse as well (although you can only read the first half of that one without a “PRO” account).

Skimming the various 2+2 threads concerning players’ present predicament, it sounds as though there were a decent number of full-timers in the U.S. who had found themselves ultimately choosing Lock Poker as a current option for playing significant volume and at meaningful stakes. Weighing all of those risks discussed above, a number appear to have stubbornly taken to Lock and tried to treat it as a replacement for Stars, FTP, Absolute Poker, and/or UB.

Considered in a vacuum, a prohibition against withdrawing funds that have been obtained via transfer is not unreasonable. I remember once long ago getting paid for an article I had written via a transfer on an online poker site, and when I tried to withdraw the money immediately I was informed that I could not do so without first playing a certain number of hands.

I understood the purpose behind the policy. The site felt obligated not to allow willy-nilly transfers and withdrawals as though it were a financial transaction provider -- not to mention one with zero transaction fees -- and not an online poker site. In fact, even though the exchange of funds between players has always been a significant part of poker, generally speaking, I’ve always thought it would be perfectly within reason for sites not to allow player-to-player transfers at all.

Such a prohibition certainly seems like it could be in the sites’ interest from a legal perspective, as talk of money laundering and other questionable practices that sometimes get associated with sites would become less applicable. It also would probably help lessen problems with collusion, multi-accounting, and other terms-and-conditions-defying behaviors if swapping funds back and forth between player accounts weren’t possible.

I’m not entirely up on how the regulations have been drawn up in Nevada (or where they are headed in New Jersey), but I am guessing player-to-player transfers aren’t going to be an option when it comes to Online Poker in America 2.0. (Perhaps someone better informed on this can let me know what to expect along those lines.)

That said, this new policy move by Lock is not happening within a vacuum, but within a full-blown crisis, it appears, when it comes to the site being able to facilitate withdrawals. For the American online poker player who wants to play full-time and try to earn a living, this last, desperate example of the impossibility of doing so should provide a kind of ultimate deterrent, I’d think. To go back to my friend’s question (“Is it really safe?”), the answer these days for those of us here in the U.S. -- when it comes to the offshore, U.S.-facing sites, that is -- is most assuredly that it is not.

As I say, I was never too tempted by Lock to try them out, but I can’t imagine anyone would be today. Thinking back, the name of the site probably turned me off right away.

I mean, sure, I might have been able to figure out how to get some funds on there. But was I ever going to be able to withdraw money from a site called Lock?

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Blogger Tony Bigcharles said...

well if u see my blog, (grump posted a link to ur article) u will see i deposited on lock but since i bought the money at 40c on the dollar, i wont lose a dime if i end up reselling at the same price. really didnt have much choice, if i want to play 10 man DON sngs, and i can always get it off quickly using 2+2 trading forums. too many other sites didnt have those, or had them in 6 max instead of 10 max.

6/08/2013 2:38 PM  

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